Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego: At The Foundling

BY ALISON OLDHAM Brit artists Tracey Emin, Paula Rego and Mat Collinshaw put the issues raised by the Foundling Museum – and which still continue today – into even sharper focus The most poignant items in the collection at Bloomsbury s Foundling Museum are the tokens

Brit artists Tracey Emin, Paula Rego and Mat Collinshaw put the issues raised by the Foundling Museum - and which still continue today - into even sharper focus

The most poignant items

in the collection at Bloomsbury's Foundling Museum are the tokens mothers left with their relinquished children to identify them if they were ever reunited.

The idea of separation imbued in these humble artefacts echoes in Tracey Emin's tiny bronze casts of things which a child has tossed or lost from a pram - a bootee or glove abandoned, its companion still with the baby.


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Three such casts are to be found outside the museum as part of its current exhibition - Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego: At The Foundling.

One is placed on the steps, another below a bench in the park opposite and the third on the railings behind the statue of Thomas Coram - the hospital's creator.

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Between the 1740s and 1950s, thousands of children were put under the care of this charity, the first of its kind in Britain.

Their stories are told in oral histories, photographs, archival material and artefacts as well as works of art on permanent display in the museum, founded in 2004.

Now the three artists - known for their responses to anguish associated with aspects of childhood, motherhood, abortion and loss - have installed works throughout the museum which further illuminate the realities of life for less fortunate children - and sometimes their parents too.

The most powerful piece is Rego's Oratorio, a new work by the Portuguese artist, whose studio is in Kentish Town.

It combines panels in the form of a devotional altarpiece, more than three metres high, with life-size figures of Foundling children in uniform.

These include a distressed or deformed boy attempting to suckle from the bared breasts of a girl scarcely older than he is.

The panels tell of rape, giving birth alone out of doors, attempts to drown the newborn and a dance with Death.

The drawing is as violent as the subject matter. The imagery refers to Hogarth's Gin Lane, on permanent display at the museum, and also to the notorious photograph of Michael Jackson dangling his son in mid-air.

Collishaw's major contribution is Children Of A Lesser God, a large transparency in a light panel, which evokes the legend of Romulus and Remus. It's a savage scene, where a snarling feral dog stands guard while a bitch nurtures two babies.

The most affecting of Emin's installations of baby clothes is a pristine white knitted ensemble with rosebuds.

It is lovingly laid out on tissue paper in cruel contrast to nearby pictures showing massed ranks of Foundling children in the institution's chapel.

In the exhibition gallery are Collishaw's photographs of intense Indian street children - The Idle Young - posed before backdrops painted as 18th century landscapes.

There are also Emin's wistful monoprints of mother and child, made in 1990 when she was pregnant, and some of Rego's dramatic preparatory drawings for the breathtaking Oratorio.

Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego: At The Foundling runs until May 9 at the museum at 40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm. Entry is �7.50. Concessions �5, children free.

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