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Hand-Stitched Sampler from 1825 Finds Home at Foundling

A Sampler, Sarah Ann Quartermain, 1825, depicting the Foundling Hospital in 1763, embroidered in fawn and green silks on a natural ground, within a floral border, 20in. (50.8cm.) square, framed and glazed © CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD, 2010.

LONDON.- The Art Fund today announces that London ’s Foundling Museum has acquired a rare embroidered sampler made by a ten year-old girl in 1825. The sampler is the only known child’s depiction in any medium of the original Foundling Hospital , London ’s first home for abandoned children, which was demolished in 1928. The girl who worked the sampler is believed to have had close family connections with the Foundling Hospital .

Acquired at a Christie’s auction on Tuesday 9 March, the sampler cost a total of £10,000 of which £5,500 was contributed by The Art Fund. Generous contributions were also made by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Worshipful Company of Weavers. The museum does not often make additions to its collections, making this acquisition particularly important.

The Foundling Museum was established in 1998 by the childcare charity the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children (now known as Coram), which is the successor of the original Foundling Hospital . Its collections mainly focus on the history of the Foundling Hospital between its foundation in 1739 and its closure in 1954. It also houses the Gerald Coke Handel Collection (GCHC), which relates to the life and work of the composer George Frideric Handel, and a number of works by and relating to celebrated artist and social documenter William Hogarth.

The sampler was created by ten-year old Sarah Ann Quartermain. Embroidered in fawn and green silks on a natural background with a floral border, the work depicts the Foundling Hospital as it looked in 1763. Experts at the Museum have tracked down records of an ‘S.A. Quarterman’, baptised at St Andrews in Holborn, a church which has links with the Foundling. It is believed that Sarah had a personal connection with the Foundling Hospital , given that topographical samplers of known buildings are unusual, and when they do occur, they usually directly relate to the child’s experiences.

On hearing of the Christie’s sale, The Foundling Museum immediately applied to The Art Fund and MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund for funding.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of The Art Fund, said: “The Foundling Museum is a fascinating part of London ’s social history, revealing the stories behind the famous charitable foundation which cared for thousands of orphaned children at the Foundling Hospital . The Art Fund is absolutely thrilled to have helped secure this beautiful sampler for the Museum, bringing to life a child’s vision of the Hospital as it appeared in the eighteenth century, and highlighting an important element of a girl’s education at the time.”

Lars Tharp, Director of the Foundling Museum , said: “The Museum’s trustees are deeply grateful to The Art Fund and to the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund for allowing us to bid for this wonderful piece. This sampler is exceptional on many counts: it is the only known needlework depiction of the Foundling Hospital , home for “ London ’s exposed and deserted young children”, and the image itself is at once naive and sophisticated. While many young girls’ samplers of the period convey an air of austerity, compulsion, drudgery even, Sarah Ann’s “Foundling Hospital”, worked in simple cross-stitch seems to convey a simple sense of enjoying a scene familiar to the young seamstress.”

Historically, samplers were used as reference works for embroiderers. They showed 'samples' of patterns and stitches and recorded how to achieve particular effects. From the 17th century onwards they were used for teaching young girls rudimentary needlework skills. Making a sampler was part of a girl's school education throughout the 18th century and into the early 1800s.

The image depicted on Sarah Ann Quartermain’s sampler has been adapted from a print of 1763, separating and flattening out each of the building’s various elements, including the chapel, boys’ and girls’ wings, the forecourt, side colonnades, and front gate. The whole composition is carried out with simple cross-stitches, and brought alive with the addition of over-sized figures dotted around the cloth. It was common for girls to add their names onto samplers they created. Here, Sarah Ann has artfully squeezed her name, age and date into four cloud panels arranged symmetrically at the bottom half of the composition.

The sampler is to go on display at the museum’s forthcoming exhibition, Material Witness, alongside some 6,000 fabric tokens left by mothers in the 18th century when handing over their babies, usually for the last time, to the care of the Foundling Hospital . The exhibition opens in October 2010. When the exhibition closes it will join the museum’s permanent display of social history, currently on view on the ground floor of the Foundling Museum .

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