The Foundling Museum acquires the portrait of a key female supporter of the Foundling Hospital.

The Foundling Museum has acquired a painting by celebrated 18th-century artist Andrea Soldi of Isabella, Duchess of Manchester, one of Thomas Coram’s key female supporters who provided the catalyst for the establishment of the Foundling Hospital. This is a significant acquisition for the Museum, being the only portrait of a female supporter of the Foundling Hospital, prior to its foundation in 1739, to enter the Foundling Museum Collection and one of the first paintings of a woman to hang permanently in the Museum’s Picture Gallery.

The acquisition follows the success of the Museum’s year-long programme in 2018 marking the centenary of female suffrage. You may recognise the portrait of the Duchess from the Museum’s exhibition Ladies of Quality & Distinction.

On 6 January 1730, the Duchess of Manchester became the fifth Lady to sign Thomas Coram’s petition, submitted to King George II, calling for the establishment of a home for ‘abandoned and deserted young children’. The support of these highly placed women was crucial in overcoming moral concerns about Thomas Coram’s project, enabling his campaign to gain the critical momentum that led to the establishment of the UK’s first children’s charity. Isabella’s husband would subsequently put his name to the Royal Charter in 1739.

The portrait now hangs permanently in the Museum’s Picture Gallery, a landmark in the history of the Picture Gallery’s permanent display, which until now has never included a portrait of a woman. Surrounded by paintings of the male governors who were the public face of the charity, the Duchess of Manchester is flanked by temporarily loaned portraits of other key women in the hospital’s history. These portraits enable visitors to appreciate the crucial role that women played not only in establishing the Foundling Hospital, but also in shaping British society.

The acquisition of the portrait has been made possible with the help of fellow Knowledge Quarter partner Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Friends of Thomas Coram, and a number of generous individuals donors.