London's Foundling Museum Will Temporarily Replace Male Portraits With Artwork of Women

dvdbramhall, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
dvdbramhall, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / dvdbramhall, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Foundling Museum in London owes its existence to women. A group of 21 women petitioned to open the Foundling Hospital, the UK's first children's charity, in the 18th century, and today the museum celebrates its history. But you wouldn’t know the important role those women played in the hospital’s origins from looking around the museum’s all-male picture gallery.

Now, in honor of the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK, the Foundling Museum hopes to change that. The institution is raising funds to swap the portraits of men on the walls with those of women, The Art Newspaper reports.

Thomas Coram founded the hospital for babies at risk of abandonment in 1739, but he didn’t do it alone. In order to receive a Royal Charter from the king to open it, he needed to gather enough signatures on a petition. The men he approached weren’t interested, but when he started reaching out to women he received a much different response. Charlotte, Duchess of Somerset was the first to sign her name, and many more duchesses followed her lead. The only evidence of these “ladies of quality and distinction” is a page in his notebook listing their names. The museum’s portraits of male governors, however, are displayed prominently.

This year marks the centenary of women’s right to vote in the UK, and the museum is using it as an opportunity to exalt the women who have been written out of the hospital’s story. They’re seeking £20,000 (about $28,400) to gather portraits of the women currently scattered around the nation and hang them in place of the men who have dominated the portrait gallery for centuries. For the women whose portraits have either been lost or destroyed, the museum will display reproductions or empty frames in their honor.

The Foundling Museum hopes to run the "Ladies of Quality and Distinction" show from September 21, 2018 to January 13, 2019 if they successfully raise the funds they need. Either way, the museum plans to host additional talks and displays through the year in honor of women’s suffrage. You can donate to their campaign here.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]