2017 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


The Pleasure of Doing Good:
The Arts and Cultural Activities of London Foundling Hospital and
the Philanthropic Culture of Mid-Eighteenth Century Britain

Kuei-Ying Huang

Graduate Institute for Studies in Visual Cultures, National Yang-Ming University

In 1746, based on his enthusiasm for the newly founded Foundling Hospital in London, William Hogarth gathered a group of artists to decorate the interior of the charity institution. The works generated by this project, which were donated by some of the most distinguished artists of the time, have long been regarded as a precious legacy of eighteenth-century English art. This artistic cooperation combined benevolence and artists’ self-interest, and it reflected the way in which art and philanthropy worked together in an era of drastic political and economic transformation. Considerable scholarly attention has been given to the institutional history of the Foundling Hospital and to the history of the Hospital art project, but only as a prelude to the exhibition culture of the 1760s. However, the present study argues that the 1746 art project played a crucial role in inspiring the Hospital to construct a unique cultural image for an audience consisting of the upper class and “the middle sort of people.” By analyzing the cultural and social meanings of the Hospital’s art works and charity events, this article examines how the Foundling Hospital made such an innovative transformation. It argues that the Hospital deftly utilized the concept of “philanthropic commerce” to promote its cultural assets; it also accentuated its appeal by emulating leisure activities then popular in pleasant gardens, targeting similar clients/donors by hosting elegant cultural events. The Foundling Hospital, nevertheless, remained a charity institution. Its unique combination of charity and cultural activities met the demand of the rising “middle sort” both for pursuing public virtue and self-love and for performing politeness. The Foundling Hospital, therefore, not only set a new model for other charity bodies of the time but showcased the multi-faced dimensions of mid-eighteenth century charity culture in Britain.


Keywords: mid-eighteenth century Britain, London Foundling Hospital, Hogarth, philanthropy, the middle sort of people