The Foundling Museum reopened on 8 July and extended the exhibition until 23 August 2020.
Portraying Pregnancy is a major exhibition exploring representations of the pregnant female body through portraits, over 500 years. The Foundling Museum is just 15 minutes’ walk from the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station.
Until the twentieth century, many women spent most of their adult years pregnant. Despite this, pregnancies are seldom apparent in surviving portraits. This exhibition brings together images of women – mainly British – who were depicted at a time when they were pregnant (whether visibly so or not). Through paintings, prints, photographs, objects and clothing from the fifteenth century to the present day, discover the different ways in which pregnancy was, or was not, represented; how shifting social attitudes have impacted on depictions of pregnant women; how the possibility of death in childbirth brought additional tension to such representations; and how more recent images, which often reflect increased female agency and empowerment, still remain highly charged.
Portraying Pregnancy, is curated by Karen Hearn and brings together, for the first time, rare examples of these portraits providing an exceptional opportunity to situate contemporary issues of women’s identity, emotion, empowerment and autonomy in a 500-year context. The selection primarily British artists is accompanied by a number of northern European artists, including Hans Holbein II, Marcus Gheeraerts II, Anthony van Dyck and Peter Lely.
The exhibition includes Holbein’s beautiful portrait of Thomas More’s daughter, Cicely Heron, which was sketched from life; the maternity dress that Princess Charlotte wore for her portrait painted by George Dawe in 1817, the year that she died in childbirth, both on loan by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection; and the Foundling Museum’s celebrated painting by William Hogarth, The March of the Guards to Finchley, 1750, which features a heavily pregnant woman at its center. Also on display a previously unseen work by Jenny Saville, Electra, 2012-2019, as well as, Alison Lapper (8 Months), 2000, by Mark Quinn and Girl with Roses, 1947-8, Lucien Freud’s portrait of his first wife Kitty.
Accompanying the exhibition is the book Portraying Pregnancy: from Holbein to Social Media by Karen Hearn (Paul Holberton Publishing). The book is extensively illustrated with painted portraits, drawings, miniatures, prints, photographs, sculpture, textiles and objects.