See Illustrations Of Harry Potter, Peter Pan And Matilda At The Foundling Museum

Drawing on Childhood at the Foundling Museum ★★★★☆

By Zoe Craig Last edited 22 months ago
See Illustrations Of Harry Potter, Peter Pan And Matilda At The Foundling Museum Drawing on Childhood at the Foundling Museum 4
Illustration by Jim Kay (c)Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2015

Think of a favourite story, and you're likely to find an orphaned, adopted, or fostered child involved in some way.

From 18th century heroes like Tom Jones, through to 19th century characters like Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist, onto Peter Pan and Mowgli at the turn of the 20th century, and then Harry Potter and Hetty Feather for our generation — the dramatic opportunities afforded by alternative childhoods have always influenced literature.

The latest exhibition at the Foundling Museum explores the tradition of looked-after children in popular culture through the work of book illustrators. Exhibits include work by well-known names like Arthur Rackham, Quentin Blake, Nancy Ekholm Burkert and Nick Sharratt.

Pictures from books by Dickens, Emily Bronte and Roald Dahl might not immediately seem connected but this show demonstrates illustrators (sometimes working with the authors, sometimes not) choose to highlight similar moments from the stories: isolation, the moment of escape, and the 'replacement' or new family.

So, a beautiful 1991 work by Angela Barrett shows Snow White's Mother in terrible solitude, empty crib behind her, bleeding onto the freshly fallen snow. A 1969 piece by David Hockney reveals another kind of isolation: Rapunzel's mother imprisoned both physically and metaphorically by her own greed, looking over the gardens below.

Snow White's Mother by Angela Barrett. 1991

The dramatic moments of escape provide some gorgeous pictures too, particularly in Stref's 2015 graphic novel of Peter Pan and Nancy Ekholm Burkert's unforgettably action-packed take-off in James and the Giant Peach.

The moment of escape. Nancy Ekholm Burkert for Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. Plus Stref, from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan: The Graphic Novel, 2015, published by BC Books

Then there's the replacement family. You can see Matilda, enjoying tea with Miss Honey (the latter is an orphan with one of Dahl's signature wicked aunts); there's Pip taking tea with Joe; Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, with Wendy being 'mother', in an underground house.

Mabel Lucie Atwell from Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie. 1921

Drawing on Childhood is a small show, but one that broaches many vivid and varied subjects. Childhood, family, freedom, social change, literature, even the plight of today's Syrian refugees are touched on by this wide-ranging and thought-provoking show.

It won't take you more than 40 minutes to look round, but these pictures and ideas will stay with you for a long time after that.

Drawing on Childhood runs at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ until 1 May. Adults £8.25; Concessions £5.50; Children (up to age 16), and Art Fund members free.

Last Updated 27 January 2016