Exhibition | Finding Family

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on April 18, 2023

William Hogarth, The Graham Children, 1742, oil on canvas, 161 × 181 cm
(London: National Gallery)

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From the press release for the exhibition:

Finding Family
Foundling Museum, London, 17 March — 27 August 2023

One word, with many meanings: family lies at the heart of all our lives and is considered one of the most important units of society. The exhibition Finding Family, now on view at the Foundling Museum, explores the idea of family through art from the 17th century to the present day. Uncover and explore new perspectives on what family is and can be through this original, insightful exhibition. Involving participants of Tracing Our Tales, the Foundling Museum’s award-winning programme for young care leavers, Finding Family also includes their creative responses to works of art and the exhibition’s themes, from the context of their own lived experience, with challenging, moving, and surprising results.

Le Nain Brothers (Antoine, Louis, and Mathieu), Four Figures at a Table, ca. 1643, oil on canvas, 45 × 55 cm (London: National Gallery).

Is it Blood?
Is it Connection?
Is it Bond?
Is it Love?

Through these four themes, the exhibition presents a series of historic and contemporary works that explore blood relations, social bonds, personal connections, and love—to look at the ways in which artists have represented and responded to ideas of family, past, and present. The show encourages an exploration far beyond the idea of family in a nuclear sense, suggesting a broader, more inclusive definition that also invites us to consider where our own sense of connection and identity lie.

“Our family is always going to form in our hearts because we need role models, connection, and a sense of identity—so we learn to seek family in other places and things, like pets, fashion, friends, culture.” –Tracing Our Tales participant

“Family is very much what you make it. It doesn’t have to be those who you share the same blood with, but those who you share the same interest with.” –Tracing Our Tales participant

Thomas Gainsborough, The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly, ca. 1756, oil on canvas, 114 × 105 cm (London: National Gallery).

In partnership with The National Gallery, the exhibition includes three large-scale masterpieces from the Gallery’s collection, by Hogarth, Gainsborough, and the Le Nain Brothers. Objects from the Foundling Museum’s collections and creative responses from the Tracing Our Tales participants invite visitors to look afresh at these well-loved paintings and to question their assumptions. Works by contemporary artists who have responded to the theme of family, as well as newly commissioned pieces, further enrich the exploration of the themes, revealing changes and continuities over time. Contemporary artists loaning work include Matthew Finn, Sunil Gupta, Chantal Joffe, Gillian Wearing, and Hetain Patel, alongside Mark Titchner, Annabel Dover, Tamsin van Essen, Harold Offeh, and Helen Barff who have created new work.

As a charitable home for children whose mothers could no longer keep or care for them, the Foundling Hospital was an alternative to family for the 25,000+ children who were admitted between 1741 and 1954. Without family, foundlings were forced to find connections elsewhere—through their foster families, peers, teachers, and places of employment. Within the context of the Museum’s historic story of care, Finding Family challenges the social construct of family and asks important questions about who and what defines who we are, how we interact with one another, and how we perceive others. The exhibition also showcases the ongoing power of art to challenge, question, and encourage us to see the world with new eyes.

“Writing poetry whilst being in the Foundling Museum is important because we get a sense of how we would feel in the foundlings’ shoes. We have a lot to relate to, especially if you’ve been in care.” –Tracing Our Tales participant

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