Handel and the Foundling Hospital

6 March to 2 November 2003

'The Purest Benevolence'

The Museum's first major exhibition will focus on Handel's remarkable relationship with the Foundling Hospital, England's first hospital for abandoned children. Drawn from the extraordinary collection of Coram Family in the care of the Foundling Museum (currently closed for refurbishment), this exhibition of over 30 objects includes such rarely seen treasures as the complete Messiah copy and parts which Handel gave to the hospital in his will - displayed here for the first time in its entirety - the score of the "Foundling Hospital Anthem" which Handel composed and performed for the hospital's benefit, tokens left with the children by their destitute mothers, as well as paintings, prints, manuscripts and costumes.

The hospital was instigated by Capt Thomas Coram, who was moved by the terrible sight of babies - many born to unmarried women - and young children left to die in London's streets. After a 20-year struggle, the hospital was founded in 1739.

Stimulated by "motives of the purest benevolence and humanity" (Charles Burney), Handel's involvement began in 1749 with a concert in aid of the hospital's chapel building work. In 1750 he donated the chapel organ and from that year onwards Messiah was performed under his direction on an annual basis for the Hospital's benefit. It is estimated that within a decade Handel had generated income of £10,000.