Children and Charity: The Double-Edged Didactic Sword

The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood
An exhibition at the University Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley
August 23 - November 19, 1995

The British charity movement promoted charity for the poor throughout British society, and was one of the most far-reaching social movements of the Georgian period. Children often stood at the center of the charity effort, both giving and receiving society's beneficence. The establishment of London's Foundling Hospital in 1739 for the care of abandoned children was one of the greatest achievements of the movement. In the hospital's first four years, it admitted 15,000 children prior to placing them with families, schools, and workhouses. Artists themselves gave both works of art and money to support the hospital, anticipating the establishment of charitable efforts to benefit the children of poor and deceased artists in the 1760s.

Besides the Foundling Hospital, the charity movement created a system of workhouses for poor children, often criticized as little more than sources of inexpensive labor. The Sunday School movement was set up to educate poor children on their day free from labor, and focused on their spiritual well-being.

Many artists created didactic images, especially in printed media, intended to instill charitable habits in both children and their parents. Late in the century, William Blake's engravings for Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794) depict a privation not only condoned but abetted by society, suggesting that the charity movement had proved inadequate in the face of disintegrating social institutions.

William Hogarth
Study for The Foundlings
pen, brush, and gray ink
4 7/16 x 8 3/8 in. (11.4 x 21.4 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Joseph Francis Nollekens
Children Playing with a Hobby Horse
about 1741-48
Oil on canvas
18 x 22 in. (45.7 x 55.9 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

William Ward
The Sailor's Orphans, or the Young Ladies' Subscription
June 1, 1800
Mezzotint printed in color after William Redmore Bigg
18 x 23 3/4 in. (45.7 x 60.5 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

William Mulready
Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go; and When He Is Old He Will Not Depart From It
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 31 in. (64.8 x 78.7 cm)
The FORBES Magazine Collection, New York. All rights reserved.

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