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Picture frames at the Foundling Museum, London

The Foundling Hospital contains the most significant body of documented Palladian frames in a London collection. This note marks the redisplay of the collection as the Foundling Museum in 2004.

The Foundling Hospital was established in 1739 as a result of the campaigning activities of Captain Thomas Coram. Its buildings were constructed between 1742 and 1752 to the design of the gentleman architect Theodore Jacobsen, only to be demolished in 1928. The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, on the site of the original hospital, traces the history of this great charitable enterprise. It contains the Court Room, reconstructed from the old building. It also houses many of the fine pictures given to the hospital by such artists as Thomas Gainsborough, Francis Hayman, Joseph Highmore, William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds and Richard Wilson.

The Foundling Museum is remarkable for the variety and quality of its picture frames in the Palladian style, almost all of which were made for the hospital itself, rather than being supplied by the artists, since most of the pictures were donated without frames. The use of this style for picture framing had its origins in the Palladian revival and in particular in the work of William Kent in the 1720s, as seen for example in his designs for the saloon at Houghton Hall, Norfolk of 1724, and as adapted and popularised in architectural publications of the period such as James Gibbs's A Book of Architecture (1728) and Isaac Ware's The Plans, Elevations and Sections of Houghton (1735).

Three leading carvers are known to have supplied frames for the Foundling Hospital: William Hallett who made most if not all the frames for the Court Room in 1746 and framed three other pictures, William Linnell who was responsible for framing a lost sea-piece by Peter Monamy in 1748 and the altar-piece by Andrea Casali in 1750, and James Dryhurst who supplied frames for a sea piece by Charles Brooking in 1754 and for the Reynolds full-length and another in 1757. Some craftsmen gave of their work while others charged. Frames given to the Hospital, as in the case of Linnell, can be identified from the General Committee minute books, while those subject to payment, as with Hallett and Dryhurst, can usually be identified from the Hospital Book of Furniture (apparently an abstract from vouchers no longer available), or from the summary in the Hospital Cash Books.

The hospital's governors relied on their architect, Theodore Jacobsen, for advice on picture framing, as for example in 1750 when instructions were given for Andrea Casali's altar-piece for the chapel to be framed 'in such a manner as Mr Jacobsen shall direct'. There is some evidence that the governors were anxious to limit the number and extravagance of frame patterns in use in the new hospital. They turned down Linnell's offer of a 'Curious Carved Frame' for a picture by Peter Monamy in December 1747, ordering instead a frame 'agreeable to the pattern of those in the General Court Room'.

Unusually many of the more substantial Foundling frames were originally painted a stone colour rather than gilt, perhaps to save costs in deference to the hospital's charitable purpose, but also presumably with the intention that they should read as part of the architecture, rather like the stucco frames found in contemporary country house interiors. Over the space of 250 years their off-white appearance had become obscured by discoloured layers of varnish which had left them a dark brown colour. Work by Arnold Wiggins & Sons has now revealed much of their original finish.

William Hallett and the Court Room, 1745-7

The Court Room was the most elaborate interior in the Foundling Hospital and was used for meetings of the court of governors. It is richly decorated in an amalgam of the Palladian and the Rococo: almost all the wall decorations including the marble fireplace and overmantle frame, the picture frames and adjacent plaster decoration are in the Palladian style with occasional rococo detailing, while the plasterwork ceiling, given by William Wilton, is in a much more free-flowing rococo.

Much of the carved work in the Court Room appears to have been supplied by the leading cabinet-maker, William Hallett senior (c.1707-81) of Great Newport Street, Long Acre. Hallett was a significant figure in the cabinet-making world and he had built up sufficient funds to make purchases at the demolition sale of the Duke of Chandos's great Edgware mansion of Canons in 1747 and then construct himself a new house on the site. While his son continued in business for a period, his grandson led the life of a gentleman and was painted in 1786 with his wife in the double portrait, The Morning Walk, by Thomas Gainsborough in the National Gallery.

William Hallett's charges included £3.15s on 12 November 1745 for 'an Oval Glass in a Carv'd Frame' (presumably the frame between the windows in the Court Room, with an egg-and-dart cabochon moulding surrounded by scrolling foliage and rocaille work), £5.10s on 16 December 1746 for 'Carving 4 Frees's over Doors' (the oak-leaf-and-acorn door friezes, tied with ribbons) and £3.10s in March 1747 for '2 Carved Bracketts to set Bustoes on' (now supporting busts of Caracalla and Marcus Aurelius). He also charged £11.4s on 15 November 1746 for '8 Carved Oval Frames for Pictures'. These very fine oak-leaf-and-acorn frames, matching the door friezes but smaller in scale and gilt rather than painted, were used to house the small landscapes which were presented to the hospital over the space of the next few years, including Thomas Gainsborough's The Charterhouse (1748).

William Hallett made other charges which are not so easily linked to surviving picture frames. On 15 November 1746, in the sequence of payments for work for the Court Room, he charged £20 for '4 Carved Whole Length Frames for Pictures & Altering D[itt]o'. At £5 a frame, this is somewhat less expensive than one might expect for framing the four religious scenes by William Hogarth, Francis Hayman, Joseph Highmore and James Wills in the Court Room. Three of these scenes were put up early in 1747, according to George Vertue, the fourth by Hayman being in place by April that year. The use of the term 'Whole Length Frame' is unusual but the pictures are very close in overall dimensions to a full-length portrait painting. In style these frames are of a sort commonly found at this period, with projecting corners, a top central shell set in rocaille ornament, with swags of fruit and flowers, between paired scrolling egg-and-dart mouldings, rather like the scroll pediments found in contemporary architecture, and at bottom a planted inscription tablet set in palm leaves.

Subsequently, on 16 December 1746, Hallett supplied a 'Carved Frame to go over a Chimney' at £3.15s, conceivably for Joseph Highmore's Thomas Emerson in the Picture Gallery (see below). Two weeks later on 31 December he charged the same sum 'For Altering a Frame & Carving the Moldings & an Ornament to the Bottom', with a further unaccounted charge of £5 on 31 March 1747, 'For 1 Picture Frame new Gilt'.

Fig. 1 Dr Richard Mead, by Allan Ramsay, 1747, detail of architectural moulding

Fig. 1 Dr Richard Mead
by Allan Ramsay, 1747,
detail of architectural moulding

Full-length portraits in the Picture Gallery, 1746-58

The Picture Gallery houses a set of full-length portraits which are framed in narrow egg-and-dart architectural mouldings, of a sort associated with architectural interiors of the Palladian period, although here found in a particularly simple form. With some minor variations in the ribbon-and-stick sight edge, the pattern is found at the hospital on the portrait of 1740 by William Hogarth of its founder, Captain Coram, two portraits of 1746 by Thomas Hudson, Theodore Jacobsen and John Milner, and a portrait of 1747 by Allan Ramsay, Dr Richard Mead (fig. 1), as well as on some later portraits.

In the case of the Coram we know that in April 1741 Hogarth gave the 'Gold frame in which Mr. Coram's Picture is put'. It is sometimes assumed that this must be the portrait's present frame. But the egg-and-dart moulding seems too simple a choice for Hogarth to select for his portrait , a work in which he had vested so much pride. It is a highly likely that the moulding was chosen by Theodore Jacobsen, as architect to the hospital from 1742; it is consistent with his architectural style which tended to a rather plain Palladianism that was well suited to the austerity expected of a charitable institution. In Jacobsen's own portrait by Hudson, a Composite capital lies at his feet; interestingly the egg-and-dart frieze between the volutes of this capital is close to that used on the picture frame. It would seem that Hogarth's Coram was reframed in this style in 1746 to match the other portraits; how the picture may originally have been framed is the subject of further discussion below. It seems unlikely that the Picture Gallery frames are those supplied by William Hallett for four whole-lengths (see above); instead, they are simple enough to be masquerading in the hospital accounts under the guise of a run of architectural carving.

The pattern was used again for three portraits of the late 1750s, Joshua Reynolds's Lord Dartmouth, for which a frame was ordered on 18 May 1757, John Shackleton's George II, for which a frame was ordered on 21 February 1758 and Benjamin Wilson's Lord Macclesfield, given in 1760. A payment of £3.15s on 15 June 1757 to James Dryhurst for '50ft large ovelo to 2 frames with Egg and Tongue and bead with Ribbon and Stick' would appear to be associated with Reynolds's Lord Dartmouth, and another full-length, possibly Benjamin Wilson's Francis Fauquier which may have started life as a full-length, meaning that each frame cost £1.17s.6d, or 18d per foot. Reynolds's portrait measures 91 1/2 x 54 ins and with a 2 ins wide frame would have required almost exactly 25 feet in moulding. James Dryhurst (fl.1727-62) also supplied architectural carving for the hospital and it is as an architectural carver that he is best known. At the Foundling Hospital the frame pattern seems to have been a house style, rather than being associated with a specific room, at least initially. On 16 December 1747 the portrait of Coram was ordered to be moved to the Secretaries' Office and that of Dr Mead, formerly in the Committee Room, hung in its place. In 1757 many of the portraits were moved to the girls' dining room, where they can be seen in a watercolour by John Sanders of 1773 (which conveys the impression that some of the frames may have had outset corners at the top and some sort of cresting). Later the portraits were concentrated in the Picture Gallery.

Fig. 2 Flagship before the Wind, by Charles Brooking, 1754, top shell ornament of frame by James Dryhurst

Fig. 2 Flagship before the Wind
by Charles Brooking, 1754,
top shell ornament of frame by James Dryhurst

Other works in the Picture Gallery

Over the fireplace Joseph Highmore's Thomas Emerson of 1733 has a painted Palladian frame with a name tablet in a rococo cartouche at top and projecting scroll corners at bottom. It may have been supplied by William Hallett, as described above, and is close in style to the mouldings used for the four religious scenes in the Court Room. Emerson bequeathed his estate to the hospital at his death in 1745, and the portrait probably came to the hospital as part of this bequest. The framed picture can be made out in an engraving published in 1749, The Admission of Children by Ballot after Samuel Wale.

The largest painting now in the Picture Gallery is Charles Brooking's Flagship before the Wind, given by the artist in 1754. On 13 November 1754 James Dryhurst charged a total of £9.18s for an elaborate and richly carved frame for this work, which is described as housed in the Dining Room. This sea-piece was intended to match one by Peter Monamy, given in 1747. At that time a frame had been ordered from Linnell 'to the Pattern of those in the General Court Room', and the Brooking frame is indeed on the model of the Court Room frames, albeit richer in detail and half as large again (figs. 2-3).

Fig. 3 Flagship before the Wind, by Charles Brooking, 1754, bottom cartouche of frame by James Dryhurst

Fig. 3 Flagship before the Wind
by Charles Brooking, 1754,
bottom cartouche of frame by James Dryhurst

Dryhurst's bill describes the frame in detail: £3.1s.3d for the outer moulding specified as '36[ft].9[ins] Running - of Ovolo scoopt Shells & Anchor and bead beaded at 20p. p[er] Foot', £1.16s.9d for the inner moulding, specified as '31[ft].6[ins] of Astragal, bubbles & double Ribbon at 14 p[er foot]' and, most costly of all, £5 for 'An ornam[en]t at Top & bottom of Frame Shell & Palms, Shield & Leatherwork'. Leatherwork was a descriptive term used by craftsmen since the 17th century for auricular and other free-flowing organic ornament. The shells and other marine decoration are appropriate to the subject of the picture and are very finely carved.

William Linnell and the chapel altarpiece

Now at the head of the museum stairs, Andrea Casali's Adoration of the Magi altarpiece comes from the demolished chapel. When it was completed, by April 1750, the hospital governors turned to their architect, Theodore Jacobsen, for advice on framing, resolving that Mr Linnell should make a 'proper frame' for it. The result is a large-scale egg-and-anchor moulding of deep section with corner leaves and an inner twisted rope sight edge, clearly reflecting Jacobsen's taste. The frame was apparently gilded by Samuel Leightonhouse who on 20 March 1751 'offered a Benefaction of Gilding' it. It would seem very likely that Linnell is to be identified with the father, William, rather than the son, John, who is not known to have been active as a carver at this date. The carver and cabinet maker, William Linnell (c.1703-63) of Long Acre, had earlier made the offer of a picture frame for the now lost Monamy sea-piece but the Governors had other plans and suggested its 'curious' frame might be adapted for the chapel altarpiece, though this idea was quietly abandoned and the fate of this frame is unknown.

Two pictures on the ground floor

Fig. 4 The March to Finchley, by William Hogarth, 1749-50, detail of frame reduced to fit picture

Fig. 4 The March to Finchley
by William Hogarth, 1749-50,
detail of frame reduced to fit picture

On the ground floor, the substantial frame (fig. 4) on William Hogarth's The March to Finchley of 1749-50 has clearly been cut down from a much larger picture frame. This frame could either have been provided by Hogarth himself, perhaps to lend grandeur to the picture when he sold it by lottery in 1750, or by the hospital although nothing has been located so far in the hospital records to suggest this. Could the frame be that supplied by Hogarth in 1741 for his portrait of Thomas Coram, which it has already been suggested was reframed in 1746? The frame appears to date to around the 1730s; its heavy carving in the French style can be related to the portrait itself with its indebtedness to French models. However, the symbolism of ears of corn and vine leaves with grapes at the corners and centres of the frame is difficult to link with the Coram (or indeed The March to Finchley or even the rejected 'curious frame' for the Monamy).

In the same room, George Lambert's Landscape with Rural Figures of 1757 is housed in a painted stone-colour Palladian overmantle frame, surmounted by a bust of Mercury with winged helmet set between quiver, bow and arrows, symbolism which is hardly appropriate to the subject of the landscape, suggesting that the frame is not necessarily original to the picture, nor to the surround of the fireplace below, which is clearly by another hand. Though smaller in scale it is broadly of the same type as the large frames in the Court Room with carving set between paired cresting scrolls. In Nichols and Wray's 1935 history of the Foundling Hospital the frame is said to have been designed by Lambert's friend, William Hogarth, without any evidence being quoted to support this unlikely supposition. More recently Elizabeth Einberg has described the frame as being carved with symbols of the trades for which the children at the hospital were being brought up but the relationship to these trades is not immediately apparent. Could the frame have been a donation to the hospital which was then used for the Lambert?

The frames at the Foundling Museum would repay further study and a more thorough trawl through the hospital records. The purpose of this note has been to highlight the importance of this collection of documented Palladian picture frames. The Foundling Museum is at 40 Brunswick Square London WC1N 1AZ, telephone 020 7841 3600, website

Jacob Simon
[email protected].
20 August 2006


It was Rica Jones who most kindly directed me to the Book of Furniture (London Metropolitan Archive, A/FH/B), which I used in my article, 'Allan Ramsay and picture frames', Burlington Magazine, vol. 136, 1994, pp. 444-55, and in my book, The Art of the Picture Frame, 1996.

For information on the Foundling Hospital pictures, see Benedict Nicolson, The Treasures of the Foundling Hospital, Oxford, 1972; Hallett appears to have been responsible for framing Nicolson nos 31, 34-36, 38-39, 41, 77-79, 82, 85-86, Linnell for framing no. 24 (and see p. 83) and Dryhurst for nos 17 and 71; see also nos 40, 42, 44-45, 57, 67-68, 74, 84, and plates 24, 47, 54-60. See Rhian Harris and Robin Simon, Enlightened Self-interest. The Foundling Hospital and Hogarth, exhibition catalogue, Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, 1987, especially p. 25, fig. 4, a view of the Girls' Dining room, dated 1773, showing the full-length portraits (some of the frames appear to be crested and have extruded corners but there is no other evidence that this was in the case). George Vertue, Walpole Society, vol. 22, 1934, pp. 134-5, is useful in narrowing down the dates when pictures entered the hospital.

For older accounts of the hospital, including views inside the hospital before demolition, see R.H. Nichols and F.A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital, London, 1935, pp. 74, 262, and Anon, 'The Foundling Hospital', Country Life, vol. 48, 1920, p. 538. See also Alan Borg , ' Theodore Jacobsen and the building of the Foundling Hospital', Georgian Group Journal, vol. 13, 2003, pp. 12-34, with appendix by Richard Hewlings, 'The Builders of the Foundling Hospital', pp. 35-53, especially p. 42 (for Samuel Leightonhouse).

For the picture frames, see Manners and Morals. Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1987, pp. 177-84, reproducing 12 works at the Foundling Hospital in their frames , several of them before cleaning. For Linnell, see H. Hayward and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell, London, 1980, pp. 94-6. For Dryhurst, see the Book of Furniture; he also did carving for the Foundling Hospital chapel. See also Elizabeth Einberg, 'Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of George Lambert', Walpole Society, vol. 63, 2001, pp. 114-5, 164-5.

This text has focused on documented 18th-century picture frames but there are other frames of interest, including that on the portrait of one of the 19th-century governors of hospital, Charles Pott, by Thomas Phillips of 1842, which is housed in a typical Phillips gilt compo frame. For the sake of completeness it is also worth noting that Jeremiah Robinson was paid £5.4s.6d on 20 November 1749 for 'Frames for prints of the Hospital & writing Peices'.



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