A Visual Journey of Art Publications on the History of Children and Youth
By: Loren Lerner
Loren Lerner is Professor Emerita of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal.
FC episode 32 offers a visual journey through Loren Lerner's career working on the history of representations of childhood. She hopes you will discover subjects and themes of interest as our field continues to develop a cultural history of childhood and youth across different time periods and places.
“Agency and Authority," in A Cultural History of Youth in the Enlightenment, Adriana Benzaquén, ed., Bloomsbury Academic, in publication.
In the Critique of Judgment, the philosopher Immanuel Kant defines art as “a mode of representation" that "has the effect of advancing the culture of the mental powers in the interests of social communication" ( 1911: 306). With this statement and in related writings, Kant affirms his standing as an early exponent of what we now call cultural history. Significantly, he recognizes that works of art are influenced by the social, intellectual and artistic forces of a particular era. He also explains that the main objective of art is to communicate a culture of ideas and feelings based on the moral autonomy of the individual (Haskins 1989). This entails the ability of the autonomous artist to create pictures and the autonomous viewer to contemplate them with a “critical faculty” that recognizes art's purpose—to reflect “the collective reason of mankind" ( 1911:293). In concert with Kant's viewpoint, the visual images in this chapter provide evidence of the cultural history of youth in the Age of Enlightenment. The analysis shows the ways artists conveyed the ideas, social behaviours, values and beliefs that effected the agency of youth and their interactions with authority. Such an analysis is possible because during this period the depiction of youth became a popular subject.
Pompeo Batoni, Portrait of Francis Basset, 1st Baron de Dunstanville and Basset (1757-1835), 1778. Prado Museum.
The Italian artist Pompeo Batoni was well known for his paintings of wealthy young men during their sojourns in Rome. Typically, he placed them in the presence of antiquities such as bas-reliefs, statues and Renaissance monuments. In his portrait of the future English baron Francis Basset (1778), the Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's Basilica shown in the distance refer to Rome's classical architectural heritage, although the Roman altar Basset is leaning against is a fabrication created by the artist based on a sculpture of Orestes and Electra. Notwithstanding Batoni’s efforts to legitimize these tours, the real fabrication was the amount of time and energy these travellers spent in learning. For a good many, being away from family was valued for the freedom it afforded to indulge in sexual pursuits and other decadent behaviours such as drinking and gaming, which were not readily accepted at home (Kriz 1997). James Boswell boastfully reminisced about his Grand Tour experiences in his London Journal, 1762–1763, writing that he "sallied forth of an evening like an imperious lion... I remembered the rakish behaviour of Horace and other amorous Roman poets, and I thought that one might well allow one’s self a little indulgence..."
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Young Beggar, ca. 1645 -1650. Louvre Museum.
Attitudes towards impoverished youth were varied. Some people blamed them for their idleness and bad habits, while others were sympathetic given their abandonment and hardship. The dishonesty and debauchery of youth characteristic of Hogarth's scenes of London life are absent in The Young Beggar (ca. 1650) by the Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Macdonald 2018). Clad in tattered clothing, his bare feet dirty and swollen, the boy is independent and self-assured, sitting on the stone floor picking lice off his chest as the sun streams in on his sad face. Self-delousing was recognized as symbolic of the purity and innocence of the young person. As in this painting, Murillo's ragged urchins in Seville are often accompanied by a few crumbs of food to emphasize their hand-to-mouth existence. Baskets or jugs might be nearby to suggest their personal agency as labourers performing menial tasks as water sellers or market porters.
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, The Kitchen Maid, 1738. National Gallery Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection.
Most paintings of female youth are of servants performing a household task, whether on a farm or in a town or city. This is because women were expected to engage in domestic activities as housemaids or wives and mothers. In homes where female servants were treated fairly, the experiences were positive; for others, the work exposed them to exploitation and abuse. The Kitchen Maid (1739) by the French artist Jean-Simeon Chardin portrays a young maid taking a moment to pause from her task of peeling a turnip. The food in the kitchen—the turnips and pumpkin, as well as the kitchen utensils, modest in their arrangement and appeal—are painted with such precision and care as to suggest Locke's belief that the perception of external objects can in some way affect the internal operations of the mind. Captured in a moment of self-reflection, the girl's sweet face gazes into the distance, enjoying a private consciousness. Beyond the notion of interiority that is closely related to the physical space of the house and the abstract idea of a woman’s realm, the girl's dream-like look suggests personal autonomy in a liminal figure, caught between girlhood and adulthood.
Francesco Guardi, The Parlor of the Nuns at San Zaccaria, 1745-50. Museo del Settecento Veneziano.
Countless female adolescents who were compelled by their families per vim et metum (by force and fear) to become nuns, largely for patrimonial reasons (Schutte 2010). The rationale for monastic confinement was simple—the fewer the heirs the greater the chance the family could provide substantial dowries for one or two daughters, and in this way arrange for marriages with men who had social, political and economic power. In Venice, the use of this technique for getting rid of daughters was excessive. At least fifty nunneries housed the city’s surplus of noble young women who had little possibility of marriage because few eligible men were available. The increase in dowry rates and the decrease in trade had caused Venetian men to remain bachelors and seek other forms of female companionship such as mistresses, courtesans and street prostitutes (Bhasin 2014). The Parlor of the Nuns at San Zaccaria (ca. 1745–50) by the Italian artist Francesco Guardi reveals that Venetian nuns participated in activities not normally associated with convent life. The young women are seen performing a play for visitors, separated from their audience by large meshed windows. The plays were staged despite convents being repeatedly cited by the Church for infractions such as presenting dramas that were more secular than religious, which might involve the nuns wearing non-religious clothing or cross-dressing as men. The cloistered life varied considerably according to the nuns’ socio-economic origins, the local traditions and convent regulations. The nuns in Venice were a privileged group because their families had given the convents large dowries, though they were much lower than what would have been paid in marriage dowries.
"The Ethical Development of Boys in Rousseau’s Emile and Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s Artworks." Lumen 40 (2021): 121-146.
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), one of the most popular artists in pre-revolutionary France, was well known for his moralistic depictions of family life. In this paper I suggest that the artist's paintings and drawings go beyond being ideological representations of the moral virtues of the family and intentionally focus on the ethical development of the male child. My discussion undertakes two readings of Greuze’s works: as images that correspond to the ideals of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and as comments on the historical era. Rousseau was instrumental in defining familial love and devotion in the eighteenth century and probably had more impact on public opinion than any other writer of his day. He wrote extensively on the proper education of a boy through each stage of his development in Emile, or On Education, a multivalent text published in 1762. The book functions as an educational manual for raising a male child, a philosophical prescription for an ideal civil society, and a novel that chronicles the upbringing of the protagonist.
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Return from the Wet Nurse, ca. 1763, brush and black, brown and grey wash over black chalk underdrawing. London, British Museum.
The drawing depicts the moment the wet-nurse who breastfed Thibault from birth brings the child home. Greuze offers this commentary: "Young Thibault arrives home with his wet-nurse and all his luggage; the nurse presents him to his mother who runs to welcome him; the child draws back fearfully into the arms of the only mother he has known, and in this way reproaches his real mother for her indifference.“ The pattern is set. Having been denied the maternal breast and sent away to be fed by a wet- nurse, Thibault was poorly educated and by the age of six has become a bad person. Greuze’s drawing parallels Rousseau's criticism in Emile. Rousseau believed that the bond between mother and child was a powerful natural force and an intense expression of sensibility.
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Father Reading the Bible to His Children, 1755, oil on canvas. Paris, Louvre Museum.
Rousseau's Emile considers the teachings, beliefs and skills that should be handed down from one male generation to the next. This is the father's role that begins when the boy's infancy ends, at around the age of five: "The real nurse is the mother and the real teacher is the father. Let them agree in the ordering of their duties as well as in their method, let the child pass from one to the other." In this painting the father is the moral educator. The emphasis in the composition is on the boys. It is fitting that the boy's good education at the hand of his father takes place in their unpretentious cottage. For Rousseau, the city "breathes forth a constant pestilence which finally saps and destroys the nation."
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Father's Curse: The Ungrateful Son, 1777, oil on canvas. Paris, Louvre Museum.
The Father's Curse expresses the anguish of a father who curses his son for joining the army. Members of the family desperately try to hold back the irresponsible young man while an unsavoury companion standing by the door observes the scene with a devilish look on his face. He is the cause of the son's disregard for his father's authority. When a person falls under the influence of another person, or a thing, Rousseau argues, he becomes passive, powerless and overcome by the wrong desires. The painting refers to the frequent warfare provoked by France during this era. Rousseau believed that seeking world dominance was the biggest mistake a society could make. Fighting was inspired by the belief in patriotic duty and the idea that becoming a man meant becoming a soldier.
"The Infant, the Mother, and the Breast in the Paintings of Marguerite Gérard." In Domines Veliki and M. Duffy C., eds. Romanticism and the Cultures of Infancy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, 65-89.
This chapter analyzes a selection of paintings of the infant, the mother, and the breast by the French artist Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837), painted at a time when pictures of the breastfeeding mother were in vogue. The works are considered in relation to early romantic concepts such as le goût moderne and sensibilité, and to writings and images featuring breastfeeding and the infant that first appeared in France in the eighteenth century in highly influential publications focused on philosophical, biological, and social issues. Gérard also draws on Classical sources as well as Dutch paintings from the seventeenth century to express ideals central to the country’s new Revolutionary spirit. The intent in surveying the elements the artist employs is to demonstrate how her genre scenes explore a distinctive domestic female culture that complements the politically motivated historical and mythological works of the period. Gérard’s articulation of this domestic culture strongly suggests that modern depictions of family life did not originate in French Impressionist art but in the romantic spirit of her maternal, infant-centric paintings.
Antoine-Jean Duclos after Charles Monnet, La Fontaine de la Regeneration sur les debris de la Bastille, le 10 avril 1793, probably 1794. Etching on laid paper, 36.5 × 51.4 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington.
In the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789 and during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), allegorical images of the mother, the maternal breast, and the infant were widely circulated in France. Their purpose was to express ideas of nationalism and citizenship. In 1793 the artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) designed a fountain for the Festival of Unity and Indivisibility that celebrated the first anniversary of the Republic. The Fountain of Regeneration consisted of a large statue of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of fertility, with water flowing plentifully from her breasts. It was situated in Paris on the ruins of the Bastille, a fortress dating back to the mid-fourteenth century and later a prison for those who dared to oppose the King. The popular attack on the Bastille on 14 July 1789 signalled the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the French Republic. The festival (10 August 1793) was attended by thousands of Parisians, including eighty-six delegates to the National Convention. One by one these men, in their capacity as newborn citizens of the state, drank the ‘maternal milk’ of Isis’s breasts.
Marguerite Gérard, Les premiers pas ou La mère nourrice, 1803-4, oil on canvas, 48 x 37 cm. Villa Musée Fragonard, Don de M. Gabriel Cognacq. Inv. 2010.0.371.
The Nursing Mother is an intimate quartet of mother, maid, infant, and cat, in a domestic grouping characteristic of Gérard's mother-and-infant scenes. In the intimate space of their home, the mother offers the child her protruding breast, readily available for nursing. As a woman of distinction who invites her child to breastfeed, the mother represents the femininity, domesticity, and natural devotion of the new Revolutionary culture. Gérard fuses the mythological female of Classical aesthetics with the temporal reality of the new French woman to reveal how the romantic memory of ancient Italy fed into interpretations of contemporary society. Gérard took the time-honoured myth of Venus and Cupid, and transformed Venus into the ideal mother and Cupid into the infant child. Her objective was to create a visual rhetoric based on Classical sources that articulated contemporary ideas about self-awareness, sensorial experience, and social relations.
Honoré Daumier, The Third-Class Carriage, ca. 1862–64, oil on canvas, 65.4 x 90.2 cm, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929, accession number: 29.100.129.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Paris experienced rapid industrialization and overpopulation. The resulting rampant poverty in large measure explains the leading role played by the city’s residents in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, which precipitated a new and radical interpretation of the breastfeeding mother and infant child. Artists were no longer interested in idealizing the domestic life of the middle class family. Rather, the neglect and misery of the proletariat inspired them to create paintings and prints of impoverished mothers attempting to nourish their unfortunate children in The Third-Class Carriage an exhausted mother gazing down at the infant cradled in her arms. She has found repose in a dark, crowded public space, and is accompanied by a sleeping child and very tired grandmother who looks at the viewer with an expression of grave concern.
Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay.
Maternity as representative of the ideals of the family and the virtues associated with a regenerated French republic only returned with the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot (1841-95), born four years after Gérard’s death. Morisot would have been well aware of Gérard, who was the most recognized French women artist of her era. In fact, her fame eclipsed Fragonard’s during the 1790s and 1800s. Furthermore, there was a family connection.The artist’s first picture of motherhood, titled The Cradle shows her sister, Edma, gazing fondly at her sleeping newborn daughter, Blanche. The resemblance to Gérard’s paintings can be found in the echoes between the mother’s body and the child’s and the sense of tranquillity that pervades the scene. As well, the mother’s mesmerized look of maternal love is a similar emotional expression of maternal bonding. The lace cradle-covering and window curtains that structure the composition also recall Gérard’s use of fabric to complement the arrangement of the figures in her paintings. Moreover, like Gérard, Morisot is attentive to fashion in the rendering of Edma's dress and hair style, clearly aware that her paintings are catering to middle class female viewers.
"Youth and Sunlight: Reflections of Childhood," in Canada and Impressionism: New Horizons, 1880-1930, Katerina Atanassova, ed. National Gallery of Canada, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2019, 83-94.
The objective of this essay is twofold: to retrieve the values important to Canadians of this era through interpreting these paintings with the aid of contemporaneous Canadian writings, and to explore the paintings within an international context influenced by Impressionism. While Canada’s artists in the 1890s and early 1900s were determined to create a national art, they typically spent time studying in Europe and the United States, where Impressionism was becoming the quintessential way of expressing modern society. Of importance is the surroundings of the child subjects – whether in the country, at home, in the garden or on vacation by a river or lake – given the strong link between place and memories, emotions, symbolic references, moral and cultural notions, and social and religious undercurrents.
Sophie Pemberton, Little Boy Blue, 1897, oil on canvas, 30 x 20 cm. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Directly evoking the transience of life is Sophie Pemberton's (1869–1959) Little Boy Blue (1897), painted while she was studying in Paris, which refers to a poem about the death of a child by the American Eugene Field. First appearing in 1881 in the Chicago literary journal America, Little Boy Blue was reprinted in several Canadian magazines, often in relation to the loss of a child. The child mortality rate was high in the late nineteenth century, when about one in five children died before their fifth birthday. Pemberton's farm boy is a stylistic example of the juste milieu in that it combines aspects of the two principal art movements in France during this period – Impressionism and the academic style Pemberton learned at the Académie Julian. So well received was Little Boy Blue that the artist was the first Canadian to be awarded the Prix Julian in 1899.
Left: Laura Muntz Lyall. The Pink Dress, 1897, oil on canvas, 36.8 x 47 cm. Private collection. Right: Michelangelo, detail, Sistine Chapel ceiling, fresco painting, 1513.
Lyall painted domestic scenes and portraits of women and children in which she encourages the viewer to look at the face of the young person. The Pink Dress (1897), a close-up of a little girl's face bathed in summer light, was probably appreciated not only for the child’s beauty but for the conjuring of appealing childhood memories. Upon viewing a child's portrait, the poet Arthur Stringer wrote: “I find lost summer in epitome/ And all that better life that I would lead/ Writ small in this, one childish face, I read." The inspiration for The Pink Dress was not Impressionism but the Roman and Renaissance works Lyall saw in 1897. In a letter from Rome to a friend, she describes her reaction to various putto, including those on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo: "the way they draw children...as cupids flying, running, sleeping, always in motion, alive, and, what is more, childish.. .and the beautifully modelled little faces are just as childish as anyone could wish." In The Pink Dress, Lyall transforms these works from a different time and place into a charming Impressionist painting.
Helen McNicoll, Cherry Time, c. 1912, oil on canvas , 81.7 x 66.4 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection Gift of Hubert B. Sceats, 1995.
Cherry Time situates girls within the feminine space of the garden, which became associated with Impressionist artists. Concurrent writings about educating girls identify the family garden, removed from the dangers and ugliness of the world, as the best place for them to grow. Of significance was John Ruskin’s “Of Queens’ Gardens,” published in 1864 in Sesame and Lilies. This essay was eventually regarded by Canadians as the ultimate guide. Ruskin describes exactly what is appropriate: “you have first to mould her physical frame ... But you cannot hammer a girl into anything. She grows as a flower does.” He believed that the environment for “such physical training and exercise as may confirm her health, and perfect her beauty” was the home garden. Quoting Wordsworth’s poem “Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower,” he emphasizes that to make a girl lovely you must first make her happy, and that only through physical freedom and freedom of the heart will she experience “vital feelings of delight.”
"George Agnew Reid's Paintings in Relation to English Canadian Collective Memories of Rural Childhood in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Canada." Our Rural Selves: Memory and the Visual in Canadian Childhoods, Claudia Mitchell and April Mandrona, eds. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2019, 20-40.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, the lives of many Canadians changed radically with the widespread movement of young people to the city. As Castell Hopkins, the editor of Canada: An Encyclopaedia of the Country, wrote in 1900, “Up to within a decade or so Canadians have been emphatically an agricultural people, and it would seem that the vast unsettled lands of the country should maintain them in that condition... [however,] restlessness and ambition amongst the young... have tended to drive the young men from the plough.”This essay explores the social norms, attitudes, values, and beliefs associated with rural living at the time, when these newly arrived city dwellers were nostalgic for country living. The paintings of George Agnew Reid (1860–1947), a well-known artist who grew up on an Ontario farm will serve as the cornerstone of this analysis, in conjunction with writings in Canadian magazines and books from that era. The objective is to demonstrate the role pictures and texts played in remembering rural childhood during this pivotal period of change from rural to urban living and the development of a Canadian national identity. Of central importance are the writings of sociologist Maurice Halbwachs (1877–1945), philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1184–1962) and historian Simon Schama (b. 1945), who look at how objects and spaces, communication, and landscape contributed to the emergence of individual and collective memories.
George Agnew Reid, The Visit of the Clockmaker, 1893, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 116.8 cm., private collection.
The Visit of the Clockmaker was painted in memory of Joseph Shuter, a clock cleaner and distant cousin who had spent a winter at George Reid's home when he was a young boy. The painting depicts Reid, with three of his eight siblings at his side, gazing in rapt attention at the intricate work being done by the aged craftsman. His artisan skills had become rare in the new era of industrial production. A grandfatherly figure, Shuter is a holdover from the past and a reminder of the tenuous relationship between older people and the quickly changing community. Reid situates The Visit of the Clockmaker in his childhood home, decorated with the sparse furnishings typical of the dwellings of nineteenth-century British settlers. This type of space is a unifying force for viewers because it creates, as Halbwachs explains in The Collective Memory, a sense of permanence: the similar objects and decor offer Reid’s transplanted community "a comforting image of its own continuity."The artist, however, who now lives in the city, painted this picture from the vantage point of someone nostalgic for his rural boyhood. For the many other Canadians recently arrived in Toronto for whom farm life was a not-so-distant memory, the craftsmanship in the grandfather clock recalls an older generation and things that were significant in a different kind of society.
George Agnew Reid, Forbidden Fruit, 1889, oil on canvas, 77.8 x 122.9 cm., Art Gallery of Hamilton, gift of the Women's Committee, 1960 (60.105.Y).
According to Bachelard, the childhood reveries remembered by the adult occur in solitude in hiding places within the home or nearby, away from the structure of household routines. These remembered secret places might be moulded from the natural landscape or purpose-built adult spaces the child has taken over for his own use. In Forbidden Fruit Reid depicts himself in repose in just such a space – the hayloft of the family barn, where he reads a book and daydreams. For Reid the hayloft offered delicious solitude and a chance for private reverie. The forbidden fruit in the painting, Reid told Muriel Miller, his biographer, is the book Arabian Nights, which contains exotic folktales he read in secret to avoid his father’s disapproval. Perhaps the term forbidden fruit also refers to the many illustrations Reid saw in the books he read. These illustrations were essential to his formation, as it is through them that he learned about art. One day, when he was eleven, he declared that he wanted to become an artist. His father deplored the idea. While his father was a staunch proponent of developing the mind through reading, he considered art a trivial activity with no practical use. The only life for a child, he believed, was to submit to divine will and work the farm as his ancestors had before him.
George Agnew Reid, Mortgaging the Homestead, 1890, oil on canvas, 130.1 x 213.3 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts diploma work, deposited by the artist, Toronto, 1890, acc. no., 86.
The portrayal of difficult childhood memories is depicted in Mortgaging the Homestead. Reid was barely thirteen in 1873 when the family farm was almost lost. During those years in Canada’s history, mortgaged farms and foreclosures were a commonplace. Thousands of families experienced the humiliation of working a farm that had been taken over by the bank or the disgrace of being forced to leave it when the mortgage payments could no longer be made. Viewers of Mortgaging the Homestead would certainly have identified with the dire situation and directed their feelings of anger at the indifferent banker, who appears not to notice the broken family around him. They would have responded emotionally to everything in the scene, knowing too well the difficulties caused by higher tariffs on agricultural goods destined for the United States even as American farmers were benefitting from selling their produce in Canada...Reid makes the pivotal figure in the painting his mother. In keeping with Halbwachs' idea that communication forms the basis of human relationships and remembering is dependent on it, she connects with the viewers, imploring us to respond to what is taking place. Her accusatory stare is an attempt to initiate a conversation that asks us to do more than look on silently. Reid uses her expression to tell us that the picture is not an objective rendition of an event, but part of a process wherein memories are formed through experiences made meaningful by talk. Through his mother, Reid beseeches his audience to embrace the values negated by the mortgage, to be moved by what happens when a nation stops caring for and protecting the family.
The Manipulation of Indigenous Imagery to Represent Canadian Childhood and Nationhood in 19th Century Canada." Nineteenth Century Childhoods in Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives, Jane Eva Baxter and Meredith Ellis, eds. OxBow Books, 2018, 15-33.
This inquiry looks at the part played by Indigenous imagery in representing Canadian childhood and nationhood from 1867 to the end of the First World War. 1918. The objective is to demonstrate how an English Canadian nationalist mode of thinking, which emphasised geography and nature, falsely used Indigenous peoples as a reference point for defining Canada's youth and teaching them about the country's past. In fact, during the period that these representations were widely disseminated, Indigenous peoples, who had inhabited these lands for at least 15,000 years, were systemically mistreated by the Canadian government and its citizens. As residents of reserves created through treaties, they were victims of rampant prejudice, discrimination and institutional racism. Their cultural traditions were outlawed and restrictive educational regulations were imposed in an attempt to assimilate Native children into Canadian society. With these contrasting Indigenous and British realities forming the backdrop, this essay focuses on different examples of Indigenous imagery by artists and writers of mainly British heritage that can be found in artworks, photographs, books, journals, newspapers, children's stories and textbooks.
Charlotte Schreiber, Springfield on the Credit (Harrie, Edith, and Weymouth de Lisle Schreiber), c. 1875, oil on canvas, 21.9 x 27.5 cm, National Gallery of Canada, gift of James R.G. Leach, Hamilton, 2005, acc. no. 41778.
Springfield on the Credit shows Schreiber's three step-children on a sled in a white forest landscape, comfortably dressed in winter wear, readying themselves to descend a hill. In this Canadian winter scene, which pays attention to the natural surroundings of trees, bushes and hills and to the white tonal shadings of the snow, these strong, healthy children appear at home in nature. They engage with the cold Northern landscape in a free and playful manner, delighting in their experience of this beautiful wilderness setting. Significantly this painting is closely associated with Indigenous clothing through the colourful red sash tied around Harrie's waist, a staple among Indigenous groups that was often bartered or offered as a gift by the Hudson’s Bay Company as part of the fur trade. In fact, this painting belongs to a paradigm of tobogganing scenes in vogue at the time that was cultivated by numerous artists. Toboggans were invented by Indigenous peoples in North Eastern Canada well before contact and were initially appropriated by settlers to help them adapt to the winter climate. In those days, toboggans were fashioned out of parallel slats of birch that were curled upward at the front, where a rope was attached to provide basic steering. They were used by their originators as a convenient way to travel in winter and to transport animals killed in the hunt back to camp.
Henri Julien, Young Canada, 1885, supplement to the Montreal Daily Star - Carnival Number, a large sheet folded twice.
An illustration published in 1885 in a supplement to the Montreal Daily Star by Henri Julien, the well-known French Canadian artist and illustrator for English newspapers and magazines, depicts vignettes of children happily engaged in winter activities such as tobogganing and snowshoeing. The warm, durable Hudson Bay coats on plentiful display were made from material originally used in the manufacture of woollen blankets sold to Indigenous peoples.
Aboriginal People of the Plains, photograph, glass lantern slide, ca. 1900, silver salts on glass, Gelatin dry plate process, 8 x 8 cm, Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs, McCord Museum (MP-0000.25.532).
In this stark photograph of Indigenous children we see that the Hudson Bay blanket was a kind of warm clothing were used at least until the late nineteenth century.
Indian Child's Book: A Primer in English and Cree languages (ca. 1870-1890), p. 10 and p. 31.
Most Canadians had little respect for Indigenous peoples and their way of life. Of course, few had firsthand knowledge of them, given their imposed isolation on reserves in accordance with the Numbered Treaties of the 1870s that compelled Indigenous peoples to relinquish their lands and live on government-regulated territories away from European settlements. Rather, Canadian children, while learning from the Native in some respects, were mainly exposed to negative stereotypes of the primitive “Indian” fashioned by white artists, writers and educators. While Canadian children played, Indigenous children were being taught to adapt to the norms of a Christian settler society. They were encouraged in this by politicians and missionaries. Beginning in the 1880s, government-sponsored religious residential schools that reached across most of Canada were intent on assimilating Indigenous youth into Euro-Canadian culture and eliminating their languages and traditions. A typical tool in this endeavour was this primer used by missionary educators to teach English to their charges. In it, one “is a bad Indian, for he wants to kill,” while “the other Indian looks idle, standing near the tent." In the next line, the primer teaches, “To be idle is not good” and “It is better to work." In a picture that upholds this virtue, a farm boy named Tom hauls a bag of flour home from the mill. The flour is transported on a sled, a mode of conveyance very familiar to the Indian child.
Guest editor for a special issue on Children in Museum Settings for the Journal of the History of Children and Youth (Fall 2018). "Guest Editor's Introduction: Children in Museum Settings." The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 11, no. 3 (2018): 289-297.
This special issue consists of eight papers that engage with one of two meanings of the phrase "Children in Museum Settings." The first explores how social concerns, economic conditions, and cultural trends influence the meaning of children and, as a consequence, the representations of childhood in museums and galleries. The second examines the way exhibitions for children perceive the attitudes and educational needs of the young person. Examining images from the perspective of how the artists intended viewers to understand them can offer critical insights into conventions, practices and beliefs. At the same time, when studying the material culture relating to children and youth, it is understood that most of the objects belong, or once belonged, to adults who had the means to create, commission or procure them. Thus, it is acknowledged that the artifacts associated with children and youth are mainly the result of adult interpretations. Still, objects made by adults in the form of paintings, sculptures, photographs and other media can provide a roadmap of changing perceptions of childhood, as well as of the social and cultural issues that have affected adult expectations of young people over time and in different places. With the understanding that numerous art exhibitions on this subject have taken place in the first two decades of the 21st century, here are some examples from diverse historical periods and geographical locations that provide a sense of the wide variety of works available for research and study.
Bernadino Poccetti, detail from Strage degli Innocenti: Wet nurses feed and gaze fondly at their infant charges. Photo credit: Museo degl’Innocenti and Alaric Powell.
Philip Gavitt’s subject is the recently renovated Museo degli Innocenti in Florence, a foundling hospital opened in 1445 and active into the mid-twentieth century. He considers how the orphanage was transformed into a museum focused on the history of childhood, through the interpretation of art works donated to the hospital over the centuries as well as documents and photographs from its archives, and recent video interviews. As a whole this collection provides a context for the children who were institutionalized and the realities of abandonment, exploitation, fostering and adoption.
Detail of Raymond Brand case study in On Their Own – Britain’s Child Migrants, 2010. Each case study in the exhibition featured a personal quote mounted beneath a backlit portrait, to suggest a sense of physical presence for the individual child migrant. Courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum.
On Their Own, by Kim Tao, examines the exhibition on British child migrants, that attempted to evoke the history of the 100,000 unaccompanied children from ages three to sixteen who between 1869 and 1970 were sent countries in the British empire. She explains how the exhibition developed by the Australian National Maritime Museum chose to present this story of child migration through the life histories of fifteen former child migrants. In her analysis Tao discusses the challenges of representing difficult childhood histories, and the effectiveness of including personal stories along with photographs and objects belonging to these children's past.
Kusakabe Kimbei, “Country Children,” colorized albumen print, 1880–90s. Harald Salomon's private collection. It is likely that the photograph represents a field trip of a school class to the countryside.
The subject of Harald Salomon's study is The Paradise of Children, an exhibition on the Western discovery of Japanese childhood since the 1850s developed by the Mori Ogai Memorial Center in Berlin. In his discussion of the photographs, illustrated books and other visual materials that were on view Salomon explains how the West chose to perceive children in Meiji Japan and how this perception was based on turn-of-the-century romantic European ideals about child rearing.
Thomas Moore Keesick, a student at the Regina Indian Industrial School in Saskatchewan whose before and after photos taken in 1897 were used in the Indian Affairs Annual Report to illustrate the positive “civilizing” effects of the residential school system. Courtesy of Saskatchewan Archives Board, R_A8223_2.
Karine Duhamel's contribution is to analyze the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. She looks at how the museum developed content that educates viewers about Indigenous childhoods and rights through a program of public learning based on human rights and social justice.
Advertisement in Dongfang zazhi 東方雜志, The Eastern Miscellany 5, no. 6 (1908).
Limni Bai investigates Chinese-character picture cards, an educational toy produced in 1908 by the Shanghai Commercial Press and held by the Museum of Shanghai Toys in Singapore. Her concern centers on literacy education and a new concept of education through play that came into prominence in early twentieth-century China and the resulting changes in educational practices.
ReCollect display cabinet. On display, the rag doll of Fatima Cristerna Adame, the cotton bolls of Wilmer Amina Carter, the newspaper article of Roxy Gantes, and the camera of Delila Vasquez.
Arianna Huhn's objective when considering ReCollect, a community-based exhibition at the California State University San Bernardino Anthropology Museum, was to discover from the interviews with the sixty adult participants how things saved from childhood recall memories relating to family and kin. From the diverse assortment of commonplace and atypical objects Huhn reveals how things saved from childhood are less salient than the memories of kinship ties attached to them.
Guidebook for Children, A Visit to Madame Tussaud’s, 1890s. Madame Tussaud’s.
Barbara Gribling examines the attempts of Madame Tussaud’s in London to engage a child audience in Victorian and Edwardian England. In its early years the museum focused on creating an inviting and respectable space for families, but over time its exhibits reflected new understandings about children’s education and visual learning.
When it was completed in 1901, songbirds kept in gilded cages drew on the images in Temple’s fresco encouraging children to imagine they were immersed in the natural world. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image #2002-12159.
In Jessie Swigger’s study of the Smithsonian Institution’s Children’s Room, Samuel Pierpoint Langley's determination to create a natural history exhibit for children in the Smithsonian Castle is chronicled. She explores how this endeavor, which took place in 1900, reflects Progressive Era ideas about childhood and the role of children in exhibit design.
Canadian Art: A Child's World, Annual Loan Exhibition, October 28-November 11, 2017. Montreal: Galerie Eric Klinkhoff.
Canadian Art: A Child's World considers paintings of children in Canada between the mid- nineteenth century and the 1950s, and explores how they changed over time. The paintings reveal that artists not only reflect popular definitions of what a child is, but actively participate in creating new visions. As these collective and personal forces invest the child with evolving beliefs, desires, fantasies and expectations, both what it means to be a child and artistic expressions of these early years of life are constantly changing. At the same time, developments in economic conditions, social attitudes and cultural trends also influence the meanings we assign to children and, as a consequence, the way artists represent childhood.
Robert Harris, The Unruly Guest; Portraits of Children of George Stethem, Esq., 1880.
The concept of child’s play has evolved over time to encompass a variety of purposes, from self-development and the learning of new skills to participating in leisure activities purely for enjoyment or amusement. In The Unruly Guest by Robert Harris, the children of G. Stethem, Esquire are depicted at play. The three sisters are posed around a toy tea set in a composition that recalls paintings of bourgeois women at leisure. The artist shows how upper-class girls were encouraged to imitate the elegant rituals performed by their mothers that defined domestic and social life. Boys, unlike girls, were permitted to be more active and assertive, to prepare them for the civic roles they were expected to assume as men. The boy's reprimand of the rambunctious dog refers to the belief that children needed discipline to learn appropriate behaviours. An inspection of the painting reveals a book on the floor near the boy and a folio of illustrations next to the oldest sister at the far end of the table. The serious looks on the faces of these senior siblings reflect their dedication to learning, which leaves little time for child's play.
Emily Coonan, Visiting a Sick Friend, c. 1911, private collection.
Most pictures of Canadian children during this period focus on the happy, healthy family and the positive feelings generated by an inviting home. Few confront the contentious issue of sickness, particularly tuberculosis and other contagious diseases that afflicted all classes of Canadians before the advent of modern medicine. Visiting a Sick Friend is an exception. A tired girl with a sallow complexion lies under a heavy quilt, barely able to peer out at her friend who stands at the far end of the bed. The sick girl's mother looks intently at her child, an expression of concern on her face. Coonan uses an Impressionistic style of sketch-like brushwork, unblended hues and simplified forms to capture the scene’s emotional intensity.
Adrien Hébert, Eaton’s Window, Montreal, 1930s, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 111.8 cm, private collection.
By the 1920s and 1930s the manufacture of toys was a huge industry. Childhood experts helped it flourish by using psychology to confirm the importance of playthings. Harriet Mitchell, a nurse and educational secretary at the Mental Hygiene Institute, wrote in Play and Play Materials for the Preschool Child, a pamphlet published by the Canadian Council on Child and Family Welfare, that “the thing that most needs to be understood about play is that it is a necessity and not a luxury... as necessary to healthy development as are food and rest” (p. 3, 1934). Eaton’s Window, Montreal shows children and parents peering into the store's Christmas window where an elaborate display of toys suggestive of Santa's workshop is on view. The dolls, including two "Eaton Beauty" dolls, a boy on a sled and a cowboy riding a horse, appear to be interacting with the excited children whose faces and hands are pressed against the glass.
"'What This Picture of a Girl Means to Me': The Place of Girlhood Images in the Art History University Classroom." Girlhood and the Politics of Place. Carrie Rentschler and Claudia Mitchell, eds. Berghahn Press, 2016, 175-194.
In 2010, as an art historian interested in pictures of children, I set out to teach what I thought would be a typical art history seminar. The course objective was to analyze imagery of childhood found in the works of Canadian artists, and then, based on the assignments, my students and I would produce a website called Picturing Children: A Canadian Perspective. Part way through the seminar, as a result of input from the young women in the class, the focus shifted from imagery of childhood to pictures of girls. This new focus motivated me to approach the concept of place differently, not as the place of girls in works of art, but as the place of female students in the university classroom reacting to these works. In this paper I explore the female environment of the university classroom, as well as the website we created, now called Picturing Children and Youth: A Canadian Perspective, within a framework that connects an anthropological interpretation of place to feminist pedagogy and art historical ways of seeing. I also consider public pedagogy and virtual networking as ways to introduce girls to works of art that counteract the sexualized images of girls so pervasive in the media.
Angela Grossmann, Gang of Three, 2009, collage, mixed media on canvas.
In Gang of Three Allison Smith explores how the artist exposes a society that blurs the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. The collage, she explains, uses discarded photographs and acrylic paint on canvas to narrate the emotional world of young teenage girls. The various blacks, whites and grays, while excluding the skin's fleshy tones, nevertheless allude to the veiling and unveiling of the three girls' physicality. Sexuality, desire and eroticism are conveyed through the covered and uncovered parts of their bodies. The crossed legs and the girls' unsteadiness in their shoes evoke a sense of their unease and awkwardness. Their upper bodies, however, emanate confidence: backs straight, hands on hips, and heads close together as if the girls are sharing secrets and laughter. Allison argues that Gang of Three speaks volumes about the adultification of girls. She also sees a second connotation in this sexualization of young females: that girls mimic the popular imagery they consume. What is disconcerting about Gang of Three, Allison writes, is that the girls can be compared to Erin Blackwell, the fourteen-year-old prostitute in Martin Bell’s 1984 documentary Streetwise. Erin, who goes by the name Tiny, delivers one of the documentary's most powerful quotes: “I think that it is very strange that older men like little girls. Because they're perverts that is what they is. I mean, I like the money, but I don't like them.” This quote makes tangible a world where men have sex with girls. Allison believes that the childhood innocence envisioned by Angela Grossmann is an innocence that is bought, sold, damaged and, finally, discarded.
Ken Lum, A Tale of Two Children: A Work for Strathcona, 2005.
In Alice Stratford-Kurus's essay, she focuses on the children Ken Lum, a Vancouver artist of Chinese heritage interested in identity, portraiture and language, presents. In A Tale of Two Children the children appear quite ordinary in the context of urban Canada. On view as two billboards in the neighbourhood where Stratford-Kurus was raised, the photographs address the upbringing of children, not just in terms of the children being a product of their upbringing, but in terms of their relationship to others and the moments that influence them. But while children are examined in these images, the viewer, too, is drawn in and provoked to reflect on his or her own childhood. For example, the image of the mother and daughter is very disturbing. The woman has her hand tenderly on the girl’s shoulder, seemingly a sign of support, comfort and encouragement. Yet the woman is not sitting beside her daughter, rather, she is standing behind her with the back of the bench between them, which can be interpreted as a barrier between the two. The accompanying text states, “You so smart. You make me proud you so smart. I so proud you so smart.” These words support the idea that this is a mother who speaks affectionately to her daughter. They also betray that English is not the woman’s first language. The background in the photograph is Vancouver’s Chinatown, so we may surmise that she is a Chinese immigrant who is proud that her child is excelling in Canada. At some level, however, her words may indicate pressure being put on the girl to succeed. Alice points out that it is almost a truism that children are frequently photographed but seldom portrayed. Millions of snapshots attest to the parental proclivity for preserving a record of their offspring’s charming childhood, yet few photographs of children in family albums do more than catch a brief moment in time. Alice concludes that by dismantling notions of idealized images of children, Lum creates loaded images – personal, local and intimate yet anonymous, global and public – that mirror the complexities of family life.
Untitled. n.d. (Image: <www.leaveoutviolence.com/english/journalism.htm>).
Eliana Stratica-Mihail contacted Leave Out Violence, a non-profit organization in Montreal founded in 1993 by Twinkle Rudberg after her husband was murdered by a teenage boy when he went to the aid of an elderly woman whose purse the boy had stolen. Leave Out Violence gives troubled youth between the ages of thirteen and eighteen the opportunity to attend photojournalism classes. There they learn various skills, including how to take pictures and write poems about their violence-related experiences, which range from bullying and physical fighting to assault, homicide and suicide. In her analysis of a picture of a suicidal adolescent girl. Eliana writes: "This photograph taken by a sixteen-year- old teenager from Toronto depicts a suicide attempt by a young girl who ingested a large amount of medication in the form of pills. This action might have many causes as defined by the Leave Out Violence youth, such as depression, a negative self-image, bullying, and parents who are fighting or are alcoholics. The girl lies on the floor, with her long black hair covering her face and her right arm over her stomach; while in her left hand she is holding pills capable of killing her. Next to her, the viewer can see a small open bottle of pills."
Co-Editor with Laura Endacott, Family Works, A Website Produced in Partnership with Concordia University and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2016. http://familyworks.hybrid.concordia.ca/
"Picturing Her: Seeing Again and Again." Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 3, no. 2 (Winter 2011), 100-117.
When Mavis Reimer invited me to participate in a roundtable discussion at the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People at the University of New Brunswick in Spring 2011 she asked me to “outline the primary propositions of a theorist or a group of theorists” whose writings have assisted me in my research “about the lives and representations of children and youth.” In attempting to respond to this daunting task I decided to examine some approaches I had in mind when I curated an exhibition at the McCord Museum of Canadian History in 2005, titled Picturing Her: Images of Girlhood / Salut les filles! La jeune fille en images. I begin with an overview of this exhibition. Following that, I introduce some of the critical thinkers I turned to for theoretical frameworks, contexts and studies. As this paper will make abundantly clear, I am committed to a pluralistic approach, with methods that incorporate different epistemologies, traditions and practices. More specifically, narrative and semiotic analyses, theories of art and cultural history, cognitive and perceptual psychology and a postcolonial perspective have guided an interpretive paradigm dedicated to discovering the constellation of meanings associated with images of young people.
Picturing Her: Images of Girlhood / Salut les Filles! La jeune fille en images, McCord Museum, November 25, 2005 to March 26, 2006. Installation view
Picturing Her considered the evolution of visual expressions of Canadian girlhood between the 1860s and the year of the exhibition. Paintings, prints, drawings and photographs, sourced primarily from the McCord Museum were selected that not only reflected various ideas of what girlhood was, but participated in creating new visions— some restrictive, others liberating—that illustrated society’s continuing interest in investing “her” with beliefs, desires, fantasies and expectations. In the case of Picturing Her, I was aware that, as curator, I had assumed the connection of the exhibition to my research project, “Visual Representations of the Canadian Child,” which had been underway for two years. The objective of this research was to seek to understand the symbolic references, moral and cultural notions, pedagogical principles, political contexts, and social and religious undercurrents that affected the visual images of children. An underlying assumption of this research was that, because adult issues are projected onto representations of children, because adults see themselves in the guise of children, these pictures of children are not solely the visual records of a family album but are indicative of social, cultural and political changes in a society. The objective of the project was three-fold: to show how representations of children can offer new insights about the art and history of Canada; to explore the works of artists, many of them women, who painted pictures of children; and to show the relationship in these multi-faceted images between "low" art in the popular culture of newspapers and magazines and the "high" art of exhibited works.
William Notman, Miss Jacobi, Montreal, QC, 1867. Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process, 8 x 5 cm, Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd., I-28018.1, McCord Museum.
I realized that what was ultimately created in Notman’s portrait photographs of girls who were invariably portrayed at their best, often posed as if caught in the act of reading, was a collective narrative of society and nationhood. These portraits entailed a complex consensual interaction with the client and in many ways codified the assumptions, biases, and ambitions of Montreal’s wealthy citizens. The standards of right behaviour, the constraints imposed by this elite, the display of the appropriate attitudes of the girls, and the subtle play of social and artistic conventions, are some of the elements of this narrative. In what Bruner refers to as a “symbolic system” organized to “mediate thought” and mark “representations of reality,” the girl, when perceived as a symbol, can be seen to personify the hopes and values of Canada as a young nation. The viewer's comprehension of these images can never be completely subjective. While interpretation depends on a person’s own experiences, it is also necessary that other stories and pictures drawn from the surrounding culture confirm the interpretation. The meaning of these images is, in Bruner's words, "so socially conventional, so well known in keeping with the canon, that we can assign it to some well rehearsed and virtually automatic interpretive routine.”
Jean Paul Lemieux, The Orphan, 1956, oil on canvas, 60.9 x 45.6 cm, Purchased 1957, National Gallery of Canada (no. 6684).
In Jean-Paul Lemieux’s The Orphan (1956), in which a French Canadian girl is pictured in a Quebec rural landscape, the anonymity which a French Canadian girl is pictured in a Quebec rural landscape, the anonymity we discern, though countered by the qualities of her face—the tiny mouth, the upturned nose and the sparkle in her eyes—represents a narrative of trauma and exclusion. Is this lonely girl one of the numerous French Canadian orphans, possibly the offspring of an unwed mother, who were removed from their familial environments and placed in the institutional care of the Church? Or is she the personification of a collective grief or an expression of a rupture in the rural continuity of the French Canadian people? .... I consider Rudolf Arnheim, an art and film theorist and perceptual psychologist, to be one of my most important teachers, though many art historians and critics have delved into how to look at art. Arnheim argues that visual thinking “is a form of reasoning, in which perceiving and thinking are indivisibly intertwined.” He challenges the differentiations between intellect and intuition, insisting that “the remarkable mechanisms by which the senses understand the environment are all but identical with the operations described by the psychology of thinking.” To a certain extent, he says, this psychology of thinking is an inborn reaction to balance, shape, colour and movement. In Lemieux’s painting I see a half-length figure of a girl dressed in black and the infinite space of a landscape textured with muted colours. The girl’s black hair and eyes, set deep in grey circles, are echoed in the distant church and scattered buildings. Arnheim’s idea of visual thought encourages me to look at this painting intensely in an effort to bring to light the inventive workings of the artist. I compare the harsh movements of Lemieux’s brush as he conceived the landscape to the delicate strokes that created the girl’s face, and I notice the dark colours he chose and the jarring relationship between the close-up figure and the distance ground. The purpose of visual thinking, according to Arnheim, is to control the urge to immediately identify significance. Instead, studying the effects wrought by the painting allows the viewer to comprehend its multi-faceted meaning.
"Photographs of the Child in Canadian Pictorial from 1906 to 1916: A Reflection of the Ideas and Values of English Canadians about Themselves and 'Other' Canadians." Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 3, no.2 (2010), 233-263.
This study focuses on the many photographs of children published in Canadian Pictorial, an illustrated English-language magazine produced monthly in Montreal between 1906 and 1916 by the Pictorial Publishing Company. In its ten-year run, the magazine strongly advocated “the educational value of pictures” and exalted the advantages of photography for depicting a wide variety of subjects and themes of “peculiar and vital interest to Canadians.”... Many types of children are presented in Canadian Pictorial’s images, including royal children, boys and girls in rural environments, French Canadians, recent immigrants, and First Nations and Inuit people. For the purposes of this essay, the method of examining these images involves an iconographic and iconological theoretical framework based on Erwin Panofsky’s explanation of how to interpret the content of images. In his writings, he makes a distinction between iconography, which is the subject matter of the images, and iconology, which is the interpretation of the works. He explains that images can be explored using a systematic outlook organized into three levels. The first consists of the basic identification of the image and the historical conditions and events that affected its forms. The second consists of the iconographical analysis, in which particular images are associated with themes, concepts, and conventional meanings that originate in the history of particular motifs. The third, which is the iconological interpretation, provides the deepest understanding of the image, particularly its symbolic value as a product of a cultural and historical environment.
“Dignity and Innocence,” Canadian Pictorial, October 1906.
Many genre photographs of children in the country appeared in Canadian Pictorial, ideal young Canadians the magazine’s adult readers could refer to when bringing up their own children. According to the ideology communicated in these photographs, outdoor rural living was the everyday norm of the Canadian middle-class child. A principle of this belief was the idea that males and females had completely distinct characters that fitted them for separate domains with separate codes of conduct. Unsurprisingly, the magazine’s depictions of girlhood are limited in scope. Mostly, they revel in the sweet innocence of the youthful feminine ideal, in keeping with the conventions for representing young girls .... A photograph of a “dainty little maid” who is no more than three years old is titled “Dignity and Innocence” . She wears a lightly colored frock an Journal of the has a matching bow in her hair. In the palm of her tiny hands she holds the reigns of two bulls that are standing placidly in front of a barn. According to the caption accompanying the photograph, which appeared on the cover of the first issue of Canadian Pictorial in October 1906, she is “heiress to an extensive stock farm” whose “magnificent animals . . . have been travelling from one end of the country to the other, carrying ribbons everywhere . . .” The girl is a new form of royalty, a farmer’s daughter-heiress, sweet and innocent yet already comfortable with the daily routines of farm life, “not a bit afraid of the ponderous Herefords.” The “little maid” exhibits an assortment of commendable traits such as industry, health, cleanliness, filial piety, and stability. The image suggests that she is as pure and as healthy as the prize-winning animals on her farm. The bulls in particular descend from a distinguished breed originally brought from England.
"Peopling the Great Canadian West,” Canadian Pictorial, January 1911.
Around 1911, Canadian Pictorial adopted a new rhetoric that expanded the social role of English Canadians. Not only was it their task to preserve the English qualities of the Canadian family, now they were being asked to educate recent arrivals to become more like them. The photographs of a Bukowinian mother and child and a Ruthenian young woman in the January 1911 issue constitute a tenuous attempt to promote an accommodating attitude. The women are referred to as “ladies” who are “peopling the Great Canadian West.” The caption accentuates the fact that they wore exotic costumes “decked up in jewels” and were unaware of manufacturing, “their callings being pasturage, agriculture, and carrying by means of conveyance drawn by animals.” The Ruthenians, the caption points out, belong to one of the “Slavonic tribes” of the Greek Church “to whose clergy they pay a blind obedience.” Nevertheless, there is still hope for their kind since “their ambition is to become Canadians,” and “they are winning the good-will of their neighbours of other nationalities.”
“Making Good Canadians of the Children of the Red Man,” Canadian Pictorial, October 1914.
The conviction that First Nations children could be assimilated is proudly documented in a full-page professional photograph of a classroom of students at Mellapolla near Prince Rupert, British Columbia . The banner-like title above the picture reads “Making Good Canadians of the Children of the Red Man.” The students, who are of all ages and include a few adults, are sitting at attention, while the female teacher at the back of the classroom stands in front of a very large map of Canada. The caption reads: “Only within quite recent times have the Indians of that part of the country come within close touch of civilization.” This statement was untrue. The text continues: “Now there is a well-equipped little school for the Indian children with a young lady teacher from England in charge. The photograph was specially taken for the ‘Pictorial’ by the first man to penetrate far north of Prince Rupert with a moving-picture camera . . .” The words are loaded with the supremacist connotation that the children, until now isolated, are being civilized by the white race that has come to save them from their non-civilized condition. The children’s submissiveness in front of the camera suggests that the experiment is succeeding, though most look unhappy or uncomfortable in the setting. The last sentence of the caption is particularly telling: “The expressions on the faces of the Indian children are worth studying.” The phrase “expressions on the faces” speaks to a longstanding belief that the human face carries signs of character and attributes.56 While it may hide a person’s true nature, if studied correctly, that nature will be disclosed. The expressions of First Nations people were often said to be wild and savage, but if they changed in an appropriate way, it signaled that the person had been successfully converted into a peace-loving Christian. Similarly, indoctrination in the guise of education could lead to the metamorphosis of First Nations children into acceptable Canadian children.
Editor. Picturing Children and Youth:A Canadian Perspective. 2010. http://picturingchildren.concordia.ca/2010/
Editor. Depicting Canada's Children. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009.
Depicting Canada’s Children is an anthology of essays on the visual representation of children drawing on imagery from the seventeenth century to the present. The purpose of this volume is to bring together a rich array of subjects to encourage a critical perspective in the analysis of pictures of Canadian children. Recognizing the importance of methodological diversity, these essays discuss understandings of children and childhood that encompass a wide range of media and contexts. In the process, they provide a close study of the evolution of the figure of the child and shed light on the defining role children have played in Canadian history and our assumptions about them. The topics address many issues, including child imagery; the ideologies of childhood, race, class, gender, architectural spaces, children’s bodies, and sexuality; and the commercialization of childhood.
Comparaison entre la figure d’une Montagnaise tirée de la Carte geographique de la Novvelle Franse, 1612 et d’une Huronne tirée des Voyages de 1619, folio 88 .
Théophile Hamel, Cyrice Têtu et sa fille Caroline, 1852, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Québec.
In “Iconography of the Child in Early Quebec Art,” François-Marc Gagnon introduces the image of the child as it was drawn in Quebec even before the writings of Locke and Rousseau. These early seventeenth-century depictions of non-converted Aboriginal children contrast with the religious paintings of white children produced during the same period. This structure of comparison persists into the modern era. Whereas nineteenth-century Quebec artists treated bourgeois children more as complacent types than as individuals, modern paintings of rural children in Quebec began to reflect the harsh realities of poverty and climate and the strict ideology of the Catholic Church.
Children praying to a statue of the Virgin Mary, newly arrived from France, Holy Angels Residential School, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, 1931. (Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, #795)
Federally sponsored residential schools for First Nations children begun in the late nineteenth century were being driven by the national goals of cultural and racial assimilation. In “Haunted: First Nations Children in Residential School Photography,” Sherry Farrell Racette merges photographs with oral testimony to expose this disastrous social experiment. Racette’s essay unpacks the aesthetic and communicative power of these images, including government photographs and photos taken by the children at the schools, to show how they have acquired new significance in recent years. Giving voice to the generations of children who were forced to attend residential schools and whose experiences have rocked the Canadian conscience, she explains that photographs of this kind have been used by historians and lawyers as documentary evidence, by survivors as tools for healing, and by contemporary artists in evocative and inspiring works.
Photograph taken about 1941 of Inkameep Students in costume rehearsing one of their dramas.
"Shaping Modern Boyhood: Indian Lore, Child Psychology, and the Cultural Landscape of Camp Ahmek” by Abigail A. Van Slyck explores the first Canadian-owned private summer camp in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, opened in 1921, and its close association with two innovations introduced to summer camping in the 1920s. The first was the integration of motifs into camp routine, particularly the practice of encouraging white campers to impersonate Native Americans in elaborate council ring ceremonies. The second was the application of scientific methodologies to the camp program, especially the use of behavioural psychology to shape the character of individual campers. Drawing on a number of archival sources, including extant buildings and brochures from Ahmek’s archives, Van Slyck shows how camps in general and Ahmek in particular constructed a model landscape of childhood that was inevitably complicated by interrelated ideas about gender, class, and race.
Michel Lambeth, Untitled (child behind crowd at Grey Cup Parade), May 1965. Negative Number 65-3018. National Film Board of Canada, Still Photography Division archive, Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.
In “A Land of Youth: Nationhood and the Image of the Child in the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division,” Carol Payne looks at how government photographs served the project of Canadian nationhood. She explains that the changing approaches to documentary photography by the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division show shifting attitudes toward the national citizenry. From the didactic and formalized models that captured a malleable citizenry in the 1940s and 1950s came the seemingly unobtrusive and spontaneous photographs of the 1960s that expressed the carefree spirit of liberal individualism.
Left: Monument to Canadian Fallen, (Korean War Memorial) Young Mun You, inauguration 2002, life- size bronze figures on granite base, Confederation Park, Ottawa. Photo: Author.
Right: Refuge – Mother and Child, (Vietnamese Commemorative Monument) Thê Trung Pham, inauguration 1995, life-size bronze figures on granite base, Somerset and Preston Sts. Ottawa. Photo: Author.
In “A Child’s Place in Ottawa’s Commemorative Landscape” by Susan Hart, the child as “other” is a political metaphor for the child as nation. Hart explores two public monuments commemorating the Canadian Forces that depict children, the Monument to Canadian Fallen (2002, Confederation Park, Ottawa) a statue group representing Canada’s military contribution to the Korean War and subsequent peacekeeping mission; and Refuge-Mother and Child (1995, Preston Street, Ottawa), referencing the Vietnam War. Although superficially these monuments acknowledge the importance of the child in the national narrative, indeed, as the future of the nation, on deeper consideration a more complicated picture emerges. The children represented, Hart explains, are not Canadian children but abstract symbols of underdeveloped countries or infantilized nations that have not yet reached the maturity that Canada imagines it has attained.
Left: Young patient on a stretcher about to enter an elevator at Toronto’s Victoria Hospital for Children (Library and Archives Canada /PA-800076).
Right: This tunnel-like image of SickKids by a 16-year-old girl emphasizes the hospital as a site of confinement (Photo 226-009).
“Pictures of Health: SickKids Exposed” by Annmarie Adams, David Theodore and Patricia McKeever, juxtaposes photographs taken in Montreal and Toronto hospitals prior to World War II with recent photographs taken by patients of Toronto’s SickKids hospital. The earlier photographs present the hospital either as a therapeutic centre where physicians use new technology to cure children or as a welcoming place where the sick play and study, imitating everyday life despite their illnesses. The latter part of the essay positions the children as the image-makers: they take their own photographs of the hospital’s Atrium and are willing to expose themselves in Canada’s largest pediatric facility.
"George Reid's Paintings as Narratives of a Child Nation." Depicting Canada's Children. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009, 325-346.
For the Canadian artist George Reid (1860–1947), fostering a national spirit through his art was of utmost importance. Reid’s objective was to produce work that was distinctly Canadian with its own well-defined characteristics and expression of native sentiments. In turn, his images were intended to evoke an emotional response in his fellow citizens, who would see themselves in his work. At the same time, they played the much larger role of manifesting values and qualities of life deemed meaningful for the Canadian nation. Relating to contemporary literary, social, and political life, his paintings were innately understood by Canadians who could extend his narrative with their own memories of childhood. What was created, ultimately, was a shared vision of nationhood. The wellspring of Reid’s creative inspiration was his boyhood on an Ontario farm. His memories of family life, and rural living in general, informed his personal narrative and significantly influenced his vision of the Canadian nation.
George Agnew Reid, The Story, 1890, oil on canvas, 123.0 x 164.3 cm, Winnipeg Art Gallery, donation from the Hugh F. Osler Estate.
Admirers of images that focused on Canadian family subjects included urban Canadians with social aspirations and the intelligentsia. In 1894 the artist and art critic W.A. Sherwood affirmed the place of genre in his essay “A National Spirit in Art,” published in Canadian Magazine. “Genré pictures,” he asserted, “awaken a love for the humbler walks of life, and a consequent respect for those therein depicted. We are touched by their sorrows and we are cheered by their joys, as we enter with unfeigned affection into the spirit of rural life.”9 Reid’s genre paintings similarly convey a democratic view of human experience through the recounting of the everyday events of country living.
George Agnew Reid, Mortgaging the Homestead, 1890, oil on canvas, 128.3 x 212.1 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts Diploma Work, deposited 1890.
In Mortgaging the Homestead, Reid asks his viewer to become involved in a genre subject that typifies the trials of his youth and the realities of farm life in North America. As Reid explains in Massey’s Magazine in 1896, he created a “new world” story to “direct attention to mortgages, which are engulfing millions of homes intended to be the joy and hope of their founders.” His intention with the painting, he emphasizes, was to expose “how generally the new world, with its pretensions to freehold homes, was being mortgaged.” The “heartrending stories” reminded him of how the mortgage on his family farm had deeply affected him as a young man: “Some cherished hopes seemed to have gone forever, and the homestead changed its character.” He recalls how the mortgage was connected in his mind with “shame as well as misfortune” until he “became better acquainted with the conditions” and “saw that the worthy as well as the shiftless and profligate were being swept by the mortgage of debt.”
George Agnew Reid, Patriotism, 1930, oil on canvas, 13.5 x 15 ft., auditorium, Jarvis Collegiate Institute, Toronto.
Reid stayed the course, adhering in his art and actions to a core narrative that focused on Canada’s children. At least two examples from his later years demonstrate that the child continued to play a role in his construction of reality. The first is a series of murals he painted on the walls of the auditorium of a high school in Toronto, Jarvis Collegiate Institute, between 1928 and 1929.52 The works are part of a World War I war memorial. In the mural titled Sacrifice, cadets guard the cenotaph and hold the drooping flags of Great Britain and Canada, while a Girl Guide kneels and places a wreath at its base. Other cadets and Boy Scouts stand at attention on either side as family groups, students, educators, artists, national leaders, and children approach the monument bearing flowers and wreaths expressing homage to the memory of the dead. In the second large mural, Patriotism, Canada is a female figure standing on a raised dais. Gathered around the figure of Canada are groups representing the family, law, education, labour, government, and defence, each expressing homage to the nation. School cadets bear the flags of Great Britain and Canada, while in the near background soldiers and Boy Scouts fill the width of the composition. At Jarvis, the depiction of Canada allegorically through the imagery of its children references the students who attended the school, including the cadets and Boy Scouts who occupy the central spaces of the paintings as the nation’s future defenders.
"William Notman's Portrait Photographs of the Wealthy English-speaking Girls of Montreal: Representations of Informal Female Education in Relation to John Ruskin's 'Of Queens' Gardens' and Writings by and for Canadians from the 1850s to 1890s." Historical Studies in Education 21, no. 2 (Fall 2009), 65-87.
This essay considers nine portrait photographs of the wealthy English-speaking girls of Montreal, taken in the photographic studio of William Notman (1857-1891). These photographs, now located in the Notman Photographic Collection at the McCord Museum of Canadian History, are also accessible through the museum’s website. The analysis focuses on these images as a pictorial record of the informal education of girls according to the beliefs and convictions of the upper-middle-class. Central to this inquiry is John Ruskin (1819-1900), recognized for his vision of how girls should be educated. With Ruskin’s “Of Queens’ Gardens” (Sesame and Lilies, 1864) as a basis for discussion, this paper also explores the sentiments and opinions expressed in magazine articles, novels, books, and other texts about girls that were read in Canada between the 1850s and the 1890s. The objective in aligning particular visual representations with corresponding historical texts is to explore how the ideals of a girl’s upbringing are embedded in Notman’s portraits, and conversely how the images illuminate the texts.
Miss Florence Allan, Montreal, QC, 1864. William Notman. I-10190.1. Courtesy of McCord Museum.
We begin with a portrait of Florence Allan (1864), who is about ten years old. Florence has been posed in a standing position, her full-length figure set in the centre of the composition. The scene, of a garden terrace, is enhanced by a painted backdrop that includes a trail of ivy cascading down a stone wall. Florence is wearing a play outfit – a long-sleeved bodice with button-down collar tucked into a high-waisted skirt. Her short hair, typical of children in the 1860s, is greased back and neatly parted. In her left hand, which leans comfortably against the edge of a rustic flowerpot, she holds a skipping rope. Florence appears content and secure in the cloistered space of the garden, her charm and natural beauty abundantly evident. Her refined countenance, modest attire, and graceful posture communicate that she is on her way to becoming a reserved and cultivated young woman. In “Of Queens’ Gardens,” Ruskin begins by describing the kind of education that is appropriate for a girl: “Thus, then you have first to mould her physical frame.”21 He continues: “But you cannot hammer a girl into anything. She grows as a flower does.” Here, Ruskin expresses his idea that women grow organically, which explains the title of his lecture. He believed that the environment for “such physical training and exercise as may confirm her health, and perfect her beauty” was the garden at home. Quoting Wordsworth’s poem “Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower,” he emphasizes that to make a girl lovely you must first make her happy, and that only through physical freedom and a corresponding freedom of the heart will she experience “vital feelings of delight.”
Miss May Frothingham, Montreal, QC, 1867. William Notman. I-26445.1. Courtesy of McCord Museum.
Whereas Ruskin’s advice about a girl’s physical development was conventional, the major thrust of his recommendations, that her education depended on the freedom to read, was considered progressive. The main theme in “Of Queens’ Gardens” is the positive influence of reading on a girl’s edification. Ruskin states: “You have first to mould her physical frame, and then, as the strength she gains will permit you, to fill and temper her mind with all knowledge and thoughts which tend to confirm its natural instincts of justice, and refine its natural tact of love.” To accomplish this formation, the girl must “use books rightly,” which means reading the wisest and greatest authors for knowledge, thought, counsel, and the right opinion on matters of difficulty. This blend of thinking and feeling appears on the face of the young woman in Miss May Frothingham. Her eyes are raised as if she is meditating on what she has just read. With her contemplative look, May makes visual Ruskin’s ideas about the thinking girl. As well, she reflects the merits described by Canadian writers who had clear-cut ideas about the right way for girls to read. In her article on children’s reading in Canadian Magazine (1896), for example, Madge Merton underscores the conviction that “assimilation of thought and inspiration for thinking are the true objects of serious reading."
Left: Miss Ross, posed for a composite, Montreal, QC, 1876. Notman & William Notman. II-40916.1. Courtesy of McCord Museum.
Right: Philip S. Ross and family, Montreal, QC, composite, 1876. Sandham. II-41409.1. Courtesy of the McCord Museum.
In the late 1870s, although he continued to portray girls reading at home or in a garden setting, dressed in an everyday outfit or for a special occasion, Notman added a new type of photograph to his repertoire. This was the young woman who demonstrated her talents and accomplishments in art and music. In a photograph of this type, Miss Ross is sitting before a small table, her hands poised as if she is playing the piano. The photograph was later inserted into a composite of the Ross family, to which was added a painting of the setting and piano. In this family portrait, the subject entertains her parents and siblings in a living room full of books and decorated with sculptures displayed under glass on the mantelpiece. Ruskin considered art and music to be essential to the proper acculturation of girls, with their “practice” in these accomplishments, as he emphasizes in “Of Queens’ Gardens,” to be “accurate and thorough so as to enable her to understand more than she accomplishes.”
"William Notman's Portrait Photographs of Girls Reading from the 1860s to 1880s: Pictorial Analysis based on Contemporary Writings." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada/Cahiers de la Société bibliographique du Canada 47, no. 1 (2009): 45-73.
From the 1860s into the 1880s, the Notman Photographic Studio in Montreal produced numerous portraits of girls reading. Unlike boys, who were pictured with a hoop or baseball bat, fishing, riding a bicycle, playing with a toy boat, toppling a garden chair or holding a fur rug as if it were a hunter’s trophy, the girls were usually posed as if caught in the act of reading. At various stages in her development, Notman’s girl subject stood or sat alone or grouped with siblings and parents, a book in her hands or by her side....In posing his subjects in this way, Notman intended to communicate to family, friends, and to the girl herself the ideals of an effective upbringing, which were invariably associated with reading....These portraits of girls convey the mythos surrounding the raising of girls, in particular the idea that their maturation as thinking, articulate people could be achieved through reading. To better understand the meaning of the portraits in question, this study turns to Canadian writings as well as to publications from England, France, and the United States that were circulating in Canada during this period....The assumption of this interpretive paradigm is that the imagery of the girl reader contains information that relates to the social and cultural inferences made in these texts. By extrapolating from the texts, this study will demonstrate how an investigation of published material can reveal more explicitly the messages embedded in Notman’s photographs of the reading girl.
Missie Cramp, Montreal, QC. Wm. Notman & Son. November 22, 1882. Silver salts on paper mounted on paper – Albumen process. 15 × 10 cm. II-67479.1.
Miss Cramp’s left hand is holding the book open while her right hand gently touches the column where she rests her head. With her pensive look, she is a perfect illustration of ideas about the thinking girl, what we want most to see in a girl, according to Maud Cooke, author of Social Etiquette, or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society: Containing Rules of Etiquette for All Occasions (1896). A clear light illuminates her facial features, revealing bright eyes, full rosebud lips, and a healthy complexion. The shape of her body, accentuated by the sash that cinches her waist, hints at the blossoming of “the sweet curves of the lithe form that come but once in a lifetime.” Suitably clothed in an outfit that is simply cut and fashionable, her attire imparts the “speech of her body.”But Cooke explains that we are to focus not on the dress but on the girl who is its soul. Whatever the communicative potential of Miss Cramp’s costume and other elements of the portrait, it is in the subject’s face, particularly her eyes, that we will find suggestions of character.
Bute House school group, Montreal, QC, composite. William Notman. 1871. Silver salts on paper. Silver salts on paper mounted on paper – Albumen process. 20.3 × 25.4 cm. N-0000.73.10
Even as reading clubs were organized such as the Canadian Branch of the Girls Friendly Society in 1882 and The National Home Reading Union of Canada in 1895, and small lending libraries, schools, and churches were developing their first book collections, the home library was the mainstay of a child’s education. As such, it is not unexpected that Notman should depict girls in studio settings with furnishings arranged to simulate the parlours, sitting rooms, and libraries of a Montreal home. Occasionally however the girl may also enjoy the outdoors in the company of her schoolmates and friends, as we can see in the composite photograph of the Bute House School, one of the many English schools for girls in Montreal that offered a liberal education. The girls partake in the same activities they do at home and with family, picnicking, with a book nearby, in spring.
Miss Sweetsey, student, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY. William Notman. 1870. Silver salts on paper mounted on paper – Albumen process.
Towards the end of Woman, Her Character, Culture and Calling, Austin writes about the creation of colleges for women. He states, “When the future historian of this century sits down to describe the intellectual life of this age no feature of his subject will be more marked and interesting than the founding and growth of colleges for women.”A photograph taken by Notman in 1870 shows Miss Sweetsey as a student at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. This is one of many such portraits taken by Notman in studios he set up at several northeastern American colleges. Here, Miss Sweetsey is posed in a domestic setting modified to resemble a college residence. Wearing a fashionable dress, she reads her course notes or practices a recitation while a book rests on a nearby table. In this photograph, a new type of woman appears whose reading is no longer related to the home but is directly associated with her studies at college.
"When the Children Are Sick, So Is Society: Dr Norman Bethune and the Montreal Circle of Artists." Healing the World's Children: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Child Health in the Twentieth Century. Cynthia Comacchio, Janet Golden, and George Weisz, eds., McGill Queen's University Press, 2008, 253-281.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s and into the 1940s, Montreal artists were questioning the social responsibility of the artist and by extension the social role of art. For them, creating and disseminating images of poor and sick children was a significant means of conveying their dissatisfaction with society's neglect of fundamental values, a neglect that was exacerbated by widespread economic and social conditions. Among them, Norman Bethune, a physician and artist who was dedicated to radical social change, was an important catalyst in raising the consciousness of Montreal artists. The first part of this essay discusses Bethune's critical thinking about the child in relation to medicine, politics and art. Part Two explores the concept of the child in the art-making activities of four of these Montreal artists: Fritz Brandtner, Louis Muhlstock, Jori Smith and Marian Scott. The intention is to show how the works of these artists shared Bethune's ideas about the child and invested the image of the child with particular meanings about society.
In December 1926, Dr. Norman Bethune became a patient at the Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York.1 He was thirty-six years old and sick with tuberculosis in both lungs. At the Trudeau Sanatorium, convinced he was dying, Bethune painted a mural about his life and death on the walls of the small cottage he shared with four other patients. Instead of dying, however, Bethune found his own cure in the Surgery of Tuberculosis by Dr. John Alexander, a thoracic surgeon and professor at the University of Michigan. In the August 1932 issue of the medical journal The Fluroscope, Bethune explained the sanatorium mural as a series of "continuous coloured drawings, five feet high and sixty feet long, (that) ran around the walls, fitting in the spaces between the roof and the wainscotting of the doors and windows." He named the work The TB's Progress, "a drama in one act and nine painful scenes.” The first scene is of Bethune's "pre-natal existence." The womb is a dark cave where the infant is already stricken with the tubercle bacillus. In the third scene Bethune shows his childhood as "a dangerous journey through thick wood where lurk wild animals." Based on the theory that childhood diseases can sometimes create a predisposition for tuberculosis, he pictures these "cruel terrifying creatures, the Mump, the Whoop, the Dipth, and the Scarlet (that) either lurk behind trees, or fly in the sky ready to pounce down on the child." Charging into the scene from the left to defend the child against the Dipth dragon is Sir Schick, a knight in shining armour. This is a reference to Béla Schick, a Hungarian-American paediatrician who in the early 1900s developed a test that eventually led to the eradication of diphtheria.
While Bethune's Montreal Group for the Security of the People's Health was addressing the deplorable state of health care for the poor, Muhlstock was recording his observations of the sick and destitute. Four of his portrait drawings appeared in the January 1936 issue of Canadian Forum, a magazine that advocated vigorous social criticism. The drawing of a boy was chosen to illustrate an article called "Bloody Instructions: Protestant Education in Quebec," written by Eric Wiseman. The article describes the deficiencies of the Protestant school system, including the subsistence salaries, inadequate pensions, shortage of playground equipment and lack of medical and dental inspections. In this drawing Muhlstock portrays the adolescent child. During this era adolescence was beginning to develop as a field of study and physicians were starting to devote special attention to the emotional transitions and psychic adjustments of the adolescent child. In Young Boy with Tuberculosis by Muhlstock, the subject’s eyes are downcast as he leans his head on one shoulder. He appears to be on the cusp of adolescence, half boy and half man. His gloom and melancholy, typical symptoms of the fluctuating emotions experienced by adolescents, are exacerbated by his weak physical condition.
Jori Smith painted the regional people and landscape of Charelvoix from 1930 until 1940... Art critics often referred to her sympathetic portraits of sad-faced children. The children Smith painted were sorrowful for good reason. According to Smith, who at the age of sixty-three wrote her memories of Charlevoix County, poverty and childhood diseases were omnipresent in that part of Quebec.... Smith did not paint portraits of the very sick children she wrote about, though a small watercolour of Blanche Tremblay, a thirteen- year-old girl paralyzed by polio, could be found in one of her sketchbooks. Smith's characterization of Blanche is a poignant description of an exceptional child. Seen from a distance, perhaps because Smith did not want her subject to know she was being painted, Blanche is a tiny figure slumped in a rocking chair. The child, Smith wrote, "spent her days sitting in a special rocking chair by the stove. Her large head balancing awkwardly on her small misshapen body, her eyes never ceased to follow everything we were doing with intelligent, sometimes malevolent interest." Blanche was unable to speak. She had learned "to express herself eloquently with her eyes alone," Smith explains, "using a language which the others had learned to interpret. Her eyes were so extraordinarily bright and penetrating in their wisdom , no, wisdom is not too strong a word, that I too, often sensed that she had access to the inner vaults of my mind."
Innocence. Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia. Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid Walsh, eds. Westport: Greenwood, 2008, vol. 2, 365-368.
The originators of the concept of children as innocents were the philosophers John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). In Some Thoughts Concerning Children's Education (1693), Locke proposed that children at birth were a tabula rasa, a blank slate, whose future as adults depended on their education through appropriate lessons and experience. Rousseau's premise was that man is by nature good and that society and civilization corrupt this goodness, and it is only through a proper education that "natural man" can come to being. In Émile (1762), a treatise that concerns itself primarily with the education of boys by focusing on how a fictional boy named Émile should be brought up, Rousseau advocates raising children "naturally,” by which he means gently, with toys and play, out of doors whenever possible, dressed in simple, loose-fitting clothing. The section of the work that touches on the education of girls focuses on the character of Sophie, whose education has the purpose of shaping her into the perfect wife for Émile. Sophie's innocence is different from Emile's in that she is naturally inferior to her male counterpart and inclined to be coquettish, cunning and passionate. Pictorial images have played an important role in identifying the trait of innocence in girls. In large measure, as Anne Higonnet explains in Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (1998), these images depicted innocence as characteristic of the girl’s body, which was innately innocent because it was free of adult sexuality. The girl's mind was equally innocent, being free of base adult thoughts and emotions.
Left: Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Right: Joshua Reynolds, Age of Innocence, 1785 or 1788, oil on canvas. Tate Britain.
Eighteenth-century pictorial images played an important role in identifying female innocence. The concept of the inherently innocent girl, in both body and mind, was confirmed in the public's imagination with the paintings of British artists Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). Here, masculine and feminine roles were often assigned to the young subjects to imply that the boys would soon become men while the girls would remain girls, even as they grew into women. In Gainsborough's The Blue Boy (1770), the boy, who from a standing position is actively engaged in eye contact with the viewer, has a commanding presence, whereas the girl in Reynolds' Age of Innocence (1788) sits passively on a hill while gazing vaguely into space. Paintings descended from The Age of Innocence often likened the girl child to the adult woman, concomitantly sexualizing the female child's body and infantilizing female sexuality.
Left: Kate Greenway, Little Miss Muffet, 1900.
Right: Greenway, Three Little Girls, 1878.
Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), a very successful British children's author and illustrator, modified her water colour images of innocent girls for prints that appeared on every type of commodity, including soaps, towels, stationery, wallpaper, dolls, figurines and clothing. The Romantic ideal that once stressed the idyllic relationship between girls and nature has been replaced by the consumer-culture ideal of girl-as-purchaser, based on the assumption that, for females, consuming material goods is "second nature.“Later, photography, which produced more realistic images than did painting or print illustrations, continued to promote the archetypal image of girlhood innocence. Approximately half of all photographic advertisements today include children and youth, and the large majority are girls.
Britney Spears, who transformed her persona at the age of seventeen, when she donned a skimpy and seductive Roman Catholic high school uniform, was widely marketed to "tweens" and men through such images as her provocative pose in front of the American flag for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The title of the image is "Britney Wants You!" Brook Shields started her modelling career with Calvin Klein in 1980 with the slogan "Nothing can get between me and my Calvins." Klein's preference for childlike models continued into the 1990s with Kate Moss, who at nineteen perfectly embodied the “waif” with her big eyes and boyish figure. She had the body of a child even as her large red lips suggested her sexual availability. The waif remains a trademark of the world’s runways, where audiences willingly fixate on the models provocatively innocent and highly sexualized bodies. Similarly, beauty pageants turn preschool and preteen girls into fetishes by caking their faces with makeup, bleaching their hair, squeezing them into gowns and high heels, and coaching them to adopt the postures and movements that communicate adult sexuality.
"Adolescent Girls, Adult Women: Coming of Age Images by Five Canadian Women Artists." Girlhood Studies 1, no. 2 (Winter 2008), 1-28.
This article examines the concept of female adolescence and the idea of coming of age by Canadian women artists. Marisa Portolese, Angela Grossmann, Natalka Husar, Fiona Smyth and Susan Scott. For each artist there is a summary of the interview and an analysis of the pictures singled out for discussion. The images created by these women are based on autobiographical sources, their experiences as a young person, and present life circumstances as a mother, daughter or teacher. The works assert a girl’s identity and search for bodily knowledge, and affirm female puberty as an intellectual and emotional reaction to physical changes. In 1904, Stanley Hall, a pioneer in the study of adolescent psychology, advanced the concept of adolescence as a time of “new birth” and “storm and stress” in his two-volume publication, Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. Hall’s investigation of adolescence soon became a source of debate among social scientists, physicians and authors of social commentary and popular literature. Before long the teenage years were widely perceived as a stage of life distinct from childhood and adulthood. The fervour of these exchanges developed into a “cult of adolescence” that soon merged with another cult, that of the “new girl”. More than one hundred years later, we are still studying our notions about adolescent girls and the personal relationships, social status and institutional affiliations that shape their lives. Even as this new research is unfolding, a constellation of images is being produced that conveys our assumptions about adolescent girlhood.
In 2002 and 2003, when Marisa Portolese was working on her Belle du Jour series of large-scale colour photographs of women of all ages, she became captivated by her younger models. She was intrigued by the girls’ awkwardness with their bodies and how this revealed itself. She was also interested in the contrasting personalities of the girls, some of whom, in their shyness, were reluctant to be in the limelight, while others, being gregarious and even full of themselves, loved it. Self-aware and engagingly confident, these girls communicated a strong sense of identity. Arianna depicts a twelve-year-old who looks older than her age. Portolese remembers that when she was twelve, she looked twelve, unlike girls of this generation who often appear more grown up. Arianna’s pose and gaze—she appears to be standoffish yet fragile—make this an arresting image, as does the fact that the viewer has no idea why she is emotionally distressed. Portolese says, “It’s a look I would give my mother when I was upset, a stare I feel is very pertinent to the teenage experience.”
Angela Grossmann became interested in depicting teenage girls when her son was in his early teens. Observing him and his female friends she remembered what it was like to be a girl and compared her own girlhood with how life seems to be for girls today. Her Alpha Girls series, first exhibited in 2004, emphasizes coming of age themes. Grossmann personally relates to Shorts, which shows a twelve-year-old girl wearing tiny shorts. Oddly positioned, the girl is looking downward, a handbag dangling from her wrist. She is extremely self-conscious about her exposed flesh. Although she has the physical attributes of a woman and we can see that she is on her way to becoming womanly, her head is bent as if she is looking at herself without truly feeling a part of the process. The tension in her body is exacerbated by a vaguely threatening hand that appears from nowhere to encircle her knee. The purse represents her ensnarement in a world where women are always lugging a bag heavy with accessories, whereas most men carry little more than a wallet and a key, fit snugly into a pocket.
Fiona Smyth’s Spinnbarkeit and the Science of Elasticity (2003) is a large mural painting from a group exhibition titled “What It Feels Like for a Girl” that was held at the Art Gallery of York University in 2004. Spinnbarkeit is the medical term for the viscous and highly elastic cervical mucus that is present in the vagina when the body is at its most fertile. The mural is about resilience in the face of threats and being elastic enough to avert inner and outer assaults that threaten the bodily existence. The work also suggests that instead of being fixed in space, a girl’s iconic images drift in the goo of life. In Spinnbarkeit a fire-red, phallic tongue protrudes from the giant face of a girl who is wearing hair ribbons in the shape of tumours and has a mantra-like menstruating figure straddling her nose and the word Lukkie written above her lips. The tongue is also a road, and walking along it, bent nearly double, is a girl named Sadako, a female version of Robert Crumb’s drawing Keep on Truckin and a reference to the anti-heroine Sadako from the Japanese horror film Ringu. In the film, Sadako has telekinetic powers beyond her control, but nonetheless she is murdered, after which her trauma reverberates throughout the world. Viewers are riveted by Sadako’s plight, and now, in Smyth’s painting, she trudges forward, her hands limp at her side, hiding her face with her straight black hair.
In Pandora’s Parcel to Ukraine (1993) and the series of paintings Blond with Dark Roots (1997–2001), Natalka Husar communicates her impressions of post-Soviet Ukraine. For her, the people and country she portrays in these paintings are at a historical juncture where everything is in a state of flux, leaving it somewhere between the Third World and the First. “I wasn’t really interested in painting teenage girls,” she explains. “I was interested in depicting the in-between-ness of Ukraine. The girls became a metaphor for migration, the crossing of a cultural bridge. I wanted to paint that state of being when you’re innocent and sexual, good and bad. This is a compelling time because you’re just beginning to realize how your beauty can be powerful, but you don’t know a thing about sex.” Within this context coming of age means coming into society and accepting responsibility for your actions. This is the moment when you cross the line between child and adult. Visiting Ukraine in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Husar saw a very shy girl sucking her thumb at the market. “She had that look as if her wings had been clipped,” she says. “She was shy because she was young, but also because of the way she was raised in the general condition of people in Ukraine...She was from the Chernobyl area. I built up a fiction around her.” According to Husar, eating sunflower seeds and then spitting out the husks is a common activity in Ukraine. In Seed Spitter, the action goes hand in hand with the girl’s character. It is as if she is digesting something and then rejecting it. There is also the idea of throwing a seed and not knowing where it will land and grow, as well as the connotation of a bad seed. Standing at the edge of the landscape, the girl in Seed Spitter appears naive. Her face and her awkward expression belong to a young rural girl. Her clothing is also awkward. The boots she is wearing are a part of the “Eurotrash” look.
Currently an art teacher at Concordia University in Montreal, Susan Scott decided to paint her students in the act of painting. These works would not be portraits. Rather, she would use the students as stand-ins for herself. The result is Scott’s Young Artists series, which addresses, among other issues, the question of finding subject matter and style. It is a dilemma Scott has frequently faced since she decided to become an artist thirty years ago, and one she often sees her students struggle with. In The Offering (2006), the young student is looking at a photograph in one hand while painting with the other. She could be looking at a picture of herself as a young child like the one we see on the other panel of the diptych. The girl’s pose is reminiscent of Eduard Manet’s standing figures. This suggests two things: that the student has an image of herself as a girl that she wants to draw, and that she is influenced by the paintings of artists from the past whom she admires.
"From Victorian Girl Reader to Modern Woman Artist: Reading and Seeing in the Paintings of the Canadian Girl by William Brymner, Emily Coonan, and Prudence Heward." Canadian Children's Literature/ Littérature canadienne pour lajeunesse 33 no. 2 (Autumn 2007), 19-50.
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, “the girl reader” was a popular theme
for artists. Concurrently, what girls should read and how this would affect their growth and development was the subject of numerous advice manuals, novels, magazine articles, and books written especially for and about girls. Creating effective visual documents of the transformation of the Victorian girl into the modern girl through reading and seeing were three Canadian artists: William Brymner (1855–1925), director and teacher for thirty-five years at the Art Association of Montreal (AAM); and two of his female students, Emily Coonan (1885–1971) and Prudence Heward (1896–1947).
William Brymner, The Picture Book, 1898, watercolour, oil, and resin on linen, 103 x 74.5 cm, National Gallery of Canada.
The Picture Book reflects the careful drawing, engaging composition, and subtle tonality Brymner learned while in Paris. It was unusual, however, for a painter to use watercolour for a work of this size, and the image of girls reading signified a new theme, different from his earlier depictions of girls in country settings. The Picture Book is Brymner’s interpretation of a type of representation that had been popular for a long time. Pictures of the female reader that contained various encoded meanings had proliferated in Europe from the eighteenth century well into the nineteenth century, in conjunction with longstanding debates on the proper education of women and their role in society.
Emily Coonan, The Blue Armchair, ca. 1929. Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.
Coonan decided to bring new meaning to the depiction of a girl with a book in The Blue Armchair. The girl, who is about ten years old, seems to be consumed with anxiety and nervous tension. Wearing a purple dress and holding a large black hat, she sits stiffly in an overstuffed chair, waiting to leave. Her timid features and rigid posture express her discomfort, while the closed brown book on the floor conveys even further the strained atmosphere. The girl has either ceased to read or is too agitated to do so, given the gravity of her situation. Something is weighing heavily on her mind, perhaps the unpleasantness of the home she is in or the thought of leaving a safe place. The domestic serenity has been invaded by a sense of gloom and apprehension.
Prudence Heward, Rollande, 1929. Oil on canvas, 139.9 x 101.7 cm. National Gallery of Canada.
The girl in Rollande is self-aware and defiant, who is healthy, muscular, and at home with nature. She is independent and strong-willed. Significantly, her vigorous and full character is an extension of her ability to observe and think. The emphasis on Rollande as a thinking person is shown by her head, which is prominently set against the large, white pyramidal shape of the barn in the distance. Rollande has moved beyond the property lines to stand in front of a fence that traverses the painting. The artist has unapologetically placed her subject in the world where she inspects, analyzes, and reflects on what she sees. Her hands, resting firmly on her hips, and her one leg thrust forward emphasize that she is in control of her surroundings and cannot be fenced in physically or intellectually.
Marcel Braitstein, Fossile 882 and 886, n.d.
Marcel Braitstein (b. 1935) is a sculptor who was born in Belgium and lives in Montreal. As a child during the Holocaust he went into hiding with a Christian family and was stripped of his name and Jewish identity. Braitstein’s series Fossils (undated) can be interpreted as his memories of the bombed houses and wounded and dead people that filled his harrowing childhood, which he later depicted in his book Five to Ten: Story of a Hidden Child (1994). Like memory tablets etched in matter, the images, in which body parts jut out from the work’s surface, conjure his early feelings of horror and fascination. In Fossil 885, soles of a pair of feet point upwards, in Fossil 884, fingers reach for the dial of a telephone, and in Fossil 882, hands grasp a Bible.
Left: Carolyn Dukes, My Father Really Wanted a Son...,1991
Right: Dukes, Reaching Out (Memory # 1), 1992.
Caroline Dukes (1929–2002), born in Hungary and a survivor of the Holocaust, came to Toronto in 1958 and moved to Winnipeg in 1967. In 1996 Dukes created the intensely personal Remember . . . Relate . . . Retell, a multimedia installation with drawings, photographs, text, ready-made objects, video, audio, and constructions. The creation of this work was triggered by the death of her mother. It weaves the story of her childhood and connections to her father, who was still young when he died. The work is a journey through her own memory and the recovery of memory using hypnosis sessions.
Graham Metson, Growing up in Wartime - Hero of the Wipers, 1980-2001.
Graham Metson’s Growing Up in Wartime (1980-2001) is a series of mixed-media works that recall what it was to live in East London during the war, when he was age six to 11. Some twenty mixed-media photomontages are images of fire burning out of control, buildings hit by explosives, bombed-out streets, people rushing for cover and impassable streets. A child’s conflation of fact and fiction, these are the afterimages of recollections and sensations as Metson reaches back in time.
Sadko Hadzihasanovic, Self-Portrait as a Young Boy (Gilles of Watteau), detail, 2002.
The youngest artist in the exhibition, Sadko Hadzihasanovic. He came to Canada in 1993 at the beginning of the three-year ethnic war that led to Bosnia’s independence from former Yugoslavia. The series Me, Me, Me in Light Boxes (2002) are self-portraits of gentle humour and serious content that question identity and autobiography. The scene in Self-Portrait as a Young Boy may be lively and light-hearted but the boy is timid, uncomfortable and and self-aware. He has the air of an actor who is looking out at his audience to entertain them and gain their approval.
About Loren Lerner
Loren Lerner is Professor Emerita of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the curator of Picturing Her: Images of Girlhood (McCord Museum) and editor of Depicting Canada's Children (Wilfrid Laurier University Press). Articles on images of young people have been published in these journals: Canadian Children’s Literature, Girlhood Studies, Historical Studies in Education, Journal of Canadian Art History, Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Lumen, and Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada. Lerner contributed essays to Healing the World’s Children (MQUP), Girlhood and the Politics of Place (Berghahn Books), Rethinking Professionalism: Essays on Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 (MQUP), Nineteenth Century Childhoods in Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives (OxBow Books) and A Cultural History of Youth in the Age of Enlightenment (forthcoming, Bloomsbury Press).