Images of Childhood
Images of Childhood
Reproductions of most of the images discussed in this entry can be found elsewhere in the encyclopedia. Please see the list of selected illustrations at the beginning of Volume 1 for specific page numbers.
Not all historians have agreed with Philippe AriÈs that childhood as we understand it did not exist before the Middle Ages. Yet his research opened up the possibility of examining childhood, including the modern Romantic idea of childhood innocence, as a social construction that changes along with the ongoing process of history. This can be applied to the history of art and visual culture. Visual representations of children can be interpreted as being not simply natural or transparently verifiable against some stable external reality, but rather as socially and discursively constituted out of shifting cultural and psychosexual paradigms. Since images of childhood are produced within particular cultural contexts and in response to specific historical moments, examining the changes in them over time does not mean abandoning the embodied historical child.
From the point of view of art history, visual images of children have often been marginalized or dismissed as a trivial, sentimental, or (given the sexual construction of femininity as infantile) feminized subgenre; frequently they have been interpreted as timeless or universal. According to Marcia Pointon, such pictures have frequently been seen as having simple and readily accessible topics, with the result that empathetic notions of shared human experience replace analysis. For this reason, depictions of children can say as much about their reception by adult spectators as they do about the childhood of their subjects. This is especially true for the early twenty-first century, when, as Anne Higonnet has convincingly argued, the image of the child has become one of the most emotionally powerful and contradictory images in Western consumer culture. Intimations of innocence have been retained even as new meanings have been acquired having to do with political, sexual, and commercial forms of public and private power. With the recent development of children's studies, the category of age has been added to those of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation as a focus of critical inquiry. Providing a conduit for cultural anxieties and conflicting social values, visual images of childhood are seen as multivalent expressions of a Western, adult, middle-class search for identity. Interpreting them presents a challenge to map the social and psychological history of their production and reception.
Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
The history of images of childhood in modern times begins with the revolution in pictures of the innocent child in the eighteenth century, yet children were certainly depicted before that time. They show up, for example, throwing snowballs in the margins of an early Northern Renaissance manuscript, "The Hours of Adelaide of Savoy," in December: ASnowy Street. Miniature images of children could similarly be found as marginalia in other fifteenth-century Flemish books of hours as well as in devotional images of the ages of man. Here, however, the image of children does not so much signify "childhood" in its own right as it refers symbolically to a specific time of year or season of human life.
Children retained a marginal social status even as the iconography of childhood was given a more central symbolic or allegorical emphasis in Renaissance images of the infant Christ, of cherubs, and of cupids. Leo Steinberg has discussed how the Christ child, and, in particular, his fleshly genitals, are made the compositional and iconographic focus of numerous Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child so as to signify tangibly the incarnation of God as man. Julia Kristeva has given a more psychoanalytic reading to what Steinberg interpreted doctrinally. Discussing Giovanni
Bellini's Madonnas as a visual (and tactile) recuperation of a preoedipal, prelinguistic maternal space, she emphasized the psychological passion, bodily (even erotic) connection, and emotional splitting between mother and child in his Madonna and Child (c. 1470).
Cherubs, that is, infant angels in the Christian iconography, often accompany the Christ child in Renaissance imagery, attesting to his innocent yet fleshly divinity. In Raphael's famous Sistine Madonna (1513), the cute pair of cherubs at the bottom (whose image would be extracted for a U.S. postage stamp in 1995) are multiplied into infinity in the heavenly clouds composed of cherub heads floating behind and above the levitating Madonna, Child, and saints. Less theological and more sensual, but equally winged and symbolic, are the omnipresent cupids who seem to overflow the frame of Titian's Worship of Venus (c. 1560). This fertile crop of cuddly baby flesh becomes a tangible index of the cupids' symbolic function as collective emanations of Eros. As they gather emblematic fruit, the amorini embody pagan desire, engaging in playful physical activities that are hard to see as entirely innocent, at least in comparison with the kind of childhood innocence that would be invented in the mid-eighteenth century. One can envision, in looking at the uninhibited variety of bodily positions, the "polymorphous perversity" that Sigmund Freud would later ascribe to infant sexuality.
In sixteenth-century portraiture, children (who did not commission portraits) were more usually depicted with their parents than as separate individuals. Hans Holbein the Younger's Edward VI as a Child (1538) depicts its sitter as a tiny adult in the formal regalia and stiff pose of rule; it includes an elaborate inscription certifying his hereditary duties as heir to the throne. Rather than commemorating an individual child, the painting serves a social function that is more abstract, hieratic, and dynastic. Less formal portraits of children involved in everyday activities can be found in the work of Sofonisba Anguissola, who once painted her own self-portrait in the act of painting a tender kiss between the Madonna and Christ child (Self-Portrait at the Easel, Paintinga Devotional Panel, late 1550s). Born into a provincial noble family that gave her a humanistic education, Anguissola painted her young sisters laughingly playing chess with their governess, whose presence attests to the artist's own higher social class, in The Sisters of the Artist and Their Governess (1555). According to Vasari, Anguissola's expressive and naturalistic black chalk drawing Child Bitten by a Crayfish (c.1558) evidently impressed Michelangelo so much that he presented it as a gift to a friend, who later gave it, along with a drawing by the more famous Michelangelo himself, to the wealthy Florentine patron Cosimo I de' Medici. Anguissola thus achieved artistic recognition in giving a central focus in her work to children depicted in their own right. But she did so as a function of her marginal cultural position (despite her elevated social background and subsequent patronage by the Spanish court of Philip II) as a woman artist who did not produce the large-scale historical and religious works expected of male artists. As in the case of later artists like Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, children could be seen as an appropriately feminized, domestic genre for a woman artist to portray.
The most elaborate sixteenth-century visual compendium of children, Pieter Brueghel the Elder's Children's Games (1560), exhaustively depicts over ninety different games, including blindman's buff, knucklebones, mumblety-peg, leapfrog, tug-of-war, piggyback, hide-and-seek, and mock marriage and baptismal processions. Despite the large size of the picture, the frenetic figures are so numerous as to become rather miniaturized in scale and detail. Some interpretations have linked the iconography of the scene allegorically to the seasonal or calendrical marginalia of illuminated manuscripts. Recent art historical accounts have debated playful and more moralizing meanings. On the one hand, realistic sixteenth-century details are depicted, including the caterwauling games, as well as the feminine costume worn by preadolescent boys, an allusion to early childhood's domestic construction. (Before the age of four boys wore dresses with aprons and bibs, as does, for example the boy with the hobbyhorse in the left central foreground of the picture; between the ages of five and eleven, they wore open frocks, as does the urchin on the barrel on the right; after that they adopted adult costume, like the short jacket with trousers worn by the boy with the hoop in the center). On the other hand, many interpreters, including Sandra Hindman, have read the picture as emblematic of folly, especially since various medieval and Renaissance humanist texts presented children as lacking in rational judgment. The topographical positioning of the uninhibited games, which are viewed from an omniscient perspective in proximity to civic architecture, may allude to the public virtues which correctly reared children should eventually be taught.
Acknowledging the elusive and ambiguous meanings of Brueghel's games, as well as of related iconographies of children in seventeenth-century Dutch art, Edward Snow and Simon Schama have suggested that moralizing and more naturalistic interpretations need not be definitive or mutually exclusive. According to Schama, children were no longer necessarily regarded either as miniature adults or as vessels brimming with sin. As Mary Frances Durantini has shown, representations of children in seventeenth-century Dutch art were richly diverse, ranging from domestic genre scenes and family portraits to images of a more didactic nature. The growth of such pictures was facilitated by the early development in Holland of mercantile middle classes who favored art intended for their homes. From today's perspective, these images of children, produced in a democratic, largely Protestant, and capitalist republic, begin to look familiar. In seventeenth-century France and Spain, the lower-class beggar children found in the work of the brothers Le Nain, Bartolomé Estaban Murillo, and Jusepe de Ribera were conceptualized from the point of view of elevated social positions espousing virtuous poverty and picturesque sentiment. Ribera's plucky Boy with a Clubfoot (c. 1642–1652), who jauntily slings a crutch over his shoulder, is monumentalized in scale despite his physical disability. The paper he holds suggests the moralizing theme of charity as it asks the viewer for alms. In Holland, Jan Steen's pictures of spoiled or misbehaving middle-class children, such as The Feast of Saint Nicholas (c. 1665–1668) or the Unruly School (c. 1670) employ mischief and mirth to evoke a humanist and Calvinist lesson that childhood levity and free will are meant to lead to adult gravity and obedience.
Even in their most earthy and scatological manifestations, when they seem explicitly to break previous iconographic molds, Dutch images of children can retain potentially symbolic frames of reference. Card-playing and bubble-blowing children can be naturalistically playful at the same time that they function as iconographic reminders of vice or of the transience of life. Children with pets, a topic that would multiply in the visual culture of later centuries, connected
children and animals with the natural realm. Judith Leyster's Two Children with a Kitten and an Eel (c. 1630s) combines teasing playfulness with potential symbolism, the kitten itself being an emblem of play and the eel alluding to the proverbial slipperiness of life. That life's transience could be an especially sensitive issue in the case of mortal children and could often serve as a catalyst for their representation is evident in Gabriel Metsu's poignant painting The Sick Child (c.1660).
Pointon has charted further connections between child mortality and image-making in eighteenth-century England. As with later photographs of children, the captured image of the ephemeral child could serve on a psychic level as a visual fetish to acknowledge loss and to protect against it. It was during the eighteenth century that the idea of childhood innocence as a sheltered realm, fragile and susceptible to corruption, was elaborately invented and largely began to replace the notion of children as naturally immodest and uninhibited. Edward Snow, drawing upon Ariès, points out that even earlier, the idea of "weak" childhood innocence was not merely progressive or altruistic; it also had authoritarian implications about the strict supervision of the children it idealized. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's enormously influential
book Émile (1762) presented the (male) child as free to express his "natural" inclinations, yet placed him under the controlling hand of a tutor. Without the guidance of education, a child's "natural" goodness could be corrupted by society. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, in the context of political revolution in France and Industrial Revolution in Britain, the idealized innocence of children was visually constructed by artists whose clients were aristocrats discovering Rousseauian sentiment and, increasingly, members of the industrial bourgeoisie pursuing a nostalgic withdrawal from industrial and political revolutions. A picture of presumed childhood innocence could, however, imply its unrepresented opposite, the power (physical, political, social, psychosexual) which threatens innocence.
In eighteenth-century Britain, which experienced the Industrial Revolution earlier than the rest of Europe, portraits of children could display them as luxury items, informally arranged as "dynastic" symbols of bourgeois parental (and particularly paternal) wealth. The elegantly dressed and remarkably clean children in William Hogarth's portrait The Graham Children (1742) probably served this purpose for their father Daniel, who commissioned the portrait not long after the king had given him a prestigious appointment as Apothecary of Chelsea Hospital. But the picture and its history are more complex than that. The smallest child on the extreme left (Thomas, an infant boy dressed in feminine attire) died between the time the picture was commissioned and completed. The innocent charm of the scene is tempered by the posthumous nature of the portrait: symbolic reminders of mortality are found in the clock directly above the baby, which features a cupid holding time's scythe, and by the cat avidly threatening the caged bird. (Even more menacing cats and a bird can be found somewhat later in the portrait of a more aristocratic child painted by Francisco Goya, a Spanish artist who had already seen five of his own children die young [Manuel Osorio de Zuñiga, c. 1788].)
In the case of Joshua Reynolds's portrait Penelope Boothby (1788), the pensive child sitter with oversized, frilly mobcap would be dead within three years, although her image would inspire later developments in the visual culture of childhood innocence. In portraits such as Thomas Gainsborough's The Artist's Daughters Chasing a Butterfly (c. 1756) and Joseph Wright of Derby's The Wood Children (1789), the elusive butterfly and the suspended cricket ball become signs of childhood's fleeting nature, even as the children are monumentalized in scale and set in idealized, Wordsworthian pastoral settings. Children could be further removed from present worries if they were dressed in antiquated costumes. Gainsborough dressed the preadolescent youth in his famous Blue Boy (c. 1770) in a seventeenth-century satin suit borrowed from a portrait by Anthony Van Dyck. By placing children in protected "natural" settings apparently removed from the menaces of death or industry, and in anachronistic, seemingly classless clothing, these eighteenth-century British artists effectively created what Higonnet has called the "modern Romantic child," a nostalgic sign of a past that for adults is always already lost.
For all the attempted "timelessness" of such images, several British portraits of "pure" childhood innocence harbor a colonial and racial ideology that reveals the Western nature and historical specificity of their construction. In an early example, Sir Peter Lely's Lady Charlotte Fitzroy (c.1674), an Indian servant boy proffers a tray of fruit and kneels in homage to the young Charlotte. His dark skin is a foil to her fair whiteness, which is aligned with a classical relief in the background. According to James Steward, the presence of the Indian boy refers to the girl's higher-class position at a time when the place occupied by Indians in British society was comparable to that of African slaves. (For analogous images of affluent English girls with African child servants, see Bartholomew Dandridge, Young Girl with Page [c. 1720–1730], and Joseph Wright of Derby, Two Girls anda Negro Servant [1769–1770].) Steward suggests that in Reynolds's The Children of Edward Holden Cruttenden with an Indian Ayah (1759–1762), the ayah, who evidently saved the children's lives during an Indian uprising, serves the compositional purpose of pushing the lighter-skinned children forward, thus establishing her relationship of servitude to children who otherwise could be seen as lacking in power themselves.
In France, a less colonial but nonetheless political ideology could be present in pictures of happy or unhappy families which, as Carol Duncan and Lynn Hunt have argued, could mask or allude to oedipal conflicts surrounding the French Revolution's regicide. In the "family romance" of the Revolution, the recognition of the independent sphere of children was inspired not only by Rousseau, but also by the diminution of the father's traditional patriarchal role. In the most famous Revolutionary image of a child, Jacques-Louis David's painting Death of Joseph Bara (1794), an androgynous innocence is maintained even as the ephebic nude boy, whose genitals are conveniently hidden, is presented as a violated revolutionary martyr. Bara became a pubescent symbol of the state of childlike purity to which the Revolution aspired (but could not attain) during the Terror. In this invention of an unlikely Jacobin hero, David's modification of the adult Academic male body displaced child sexuality to an implicit level of the political unconscious.
A more conspicuously depraved view of child sexuality and adult abuse of it was produced slightly later during the Revolutionary period in Spain by Goya in the etching "Blow" from the series Los Caprichos (1799). Here lecherous warlocks employ a child's buttocks as a pair of bellows to
stoke the fire of carnality, even as fellatio is performed on another child. This purposefully irrational image of sadistic pedophilia exposed the dark underside of Enlightenment ideals of innocence. In France, Jean-Baptiste Greuze had previously drawn less lurid symbolic connections between child innocence and its erotically charged Other. Unlike earlier, more uninhibitedly carnal rococo infants in the work of Boucher, Greuze's Girl Mourning over Her Dead Bird (1765) appealed to the philosophe Denis Diderot because of its moral didacticism. That sexual misconduct has taken place is symbolized by the open cage (lost virginity) and limp bird (spent passion). As Jennifer Milam has pointed out, the girl's evident remorse legitimized, but did not eliminate, the eroticism of the image. Childhood innocence, gendered as feminine, is here represented by its loss.
In Britain, innocence could likewise be gendered as feminine or could be more generic, even genderless. As Higonnet has argued, the pure white clothing of the girl in Reynolds's The Age of Innocence (c. 1788) is arranged so as to expose only those parts of the body least associated with adult sexuality. A sense of genderlessness was compounded by the feminine costume typically worn by young boys (compare Reynolds's girlish Master Hare of the same year, which displays more bare shoulder). The exception to protected yet vulnerable
innocence in Reynolds's numerous depictions of upper-class children was the working-class boy.
In Mercury as a Cut Purse (1771) and especially in Cupid as a Link Boy (1774), the fancy picture's trappings of classical myth allowed the artist to allude in a not so subtle way to adult vice. In London streets, link boys held torches that lit the route between front door and carriage; they were also exploited as aids to, and victims of, sexual liaisons. The erect, phallic shape of the boy's torch in Reynolds's painting, along with his lewd arm gesture and the mating dance of cats on a background roof, make him a less than innocent urban update of the mythological intermediary of love. (The boy's sexuality brings to mind Caravaggio's more titillating, if less victimized, Cupid of 1598–1599.) It was William Blake, in his etching and poem "The Chimney Sweeper" from his Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794), who would less unequivocally criticize social injustice in the treatment of working-class children and thereby predict the reformist concerns of the nineteenth century. The image and accompanying text remove the blackened boy (a Rousseauian "noble savage") from idyllic nature and implicate parents, church, and king in the promotion and condoning of child labor. Without specifically mentioning it, the image suggests in a picturesque way the ineffectiveness of reform legislation such as the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1788.
Paradoxically, the codification, glorification, and diffusion of the Romantic cult of childhood innocence in the nineteenth century coincided exactly with an unprecedented industrial exploitation of children. A nostalgic regression of such mythic proportions can be interpreted as a social and cultural withdrawal from the urban-industrial as well as the political and scientific revolutions of the nineteenth century. Romanticism's exploration of the subjective self through the idealized state of the child sought a repository of sensitivities and sentiments thought to be lost or blunted in adulthood. While legal reforms (however ineffective they may have been initially) helped attract public opinion to the plight of factory children, capitalism discovered in middle-class children and their parents a ready-made consumer class. A burgeoning industry in children's toys, books, magazines, songs, clothes, and advice manuals for parents helped market the child as a symbol of progress and of the future. As state protection and the surveillance provided by its various institutions, including educational, medical, and legal, increasingly diminished the patriarchal power of fathers over their children, the bourgeois ideal of the family and of the protected place of the child within it was magnified. By the end of the century, primary school education was compulsory and free and child protection legislation was enacted. An ideal of sheltered childhood had become accepted by the middle classes and was finally extended, as a right, to poorer classes as well. Shifting attitudes towards working-class children could be seen in the writings of, among others, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, and Charles Dickens. Pediatrics was founded as a distinct field of medicine during the late nineteenth century, by which time there likewise had emerged in France a new so-called science of child rearing called puériculture. Nineteenth-century authors ranging from Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard to Rodolphe Töpffer and Auguste Comte had meanwhile updated Rousseau's equation of childhood with cultural primitivism by comparing children to savages and by seeing them as representatives of the childhood of the human race as a whole, ideas that would later influence Freud. The constructed ideal of childhood innocence was, in many respects, a Victorian defense against advancing awareness of the sexual life of children and adolescents during the period when Freud himself was growing up.
The most famous Romantic portrait of childhood, TheHülsenbeck Children, by the German artist Philipp Otto
Runge (1805–1806), bursts with a tough, preternatural energy. The sheltered innocence of Reynolds's typical children gives way to an intense and looming monumentality that confers a new kind of mysterious, haptic power. As Robert Rosenblum has memorably described them, the Hülsenbeck children are given a primitive and plant-like vitalism. With a strong fist, the chubby-cheeked, barefooted baby boy in the wagon on the left grabs a sunflower stalk that seems to sprout with the same sap as he does; the stylized hair of his sister on the right resembles leaves; and the middle brother drives the others with a miniature horse whip. The three of them inhabit a utopian domain scaled to children, not to adults. Like growing Alices in Wonderland, they dwarf the picket fence that diminishes oddly into contracted space towards the seemingly miniature house on the right. The distant view of Hamburg on the left horizon includes the dye-works factory owned by their textile merchant father, reminding us that the growth of industry promoted the cult of the child by heightening a bourgeois desire to recuperate an imagined unity with nature. The Romantic artist seems to have envied children's supposedly instinctual sensitivity to nature, imagined as unrepressed by civilization.
Although German Romanticism may have found an added impetus to depict children in a pietistic Christian revival, and specifically in Christ's injunction to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, the French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault turned to something more sexually powerful and psychically uncanny (uncanny in the Freudian sense of the familiar becoming unfamiliar and disquieting). As Stefan Germer has pointed out, the spooky portrait Alfred Dedreux as a Child (c. 1814) makes its sitter tower over the horizon line, dominating the viewer with an alien gaze. Isolated within his surroundings and given oddly manneristic proportions, he no longer seems childish in the sheltered Reynolds sense, but more threatening, a potential wild child or savage trapped beneath his fancy suit. Just as strong but much less innocent than Runge's children is Géricault's Louise Vernet (c. before 1816), which is compositionally related to the Alfred Dedreux in terms of the child's looming position in a sublimely obscure landscape with none of Gainsborough's pastoral tranquility. Here the frank gaze at the beholder over a shoulder bared by a sliding dress may harbor a dangerous sexual power, symbolized by the over-sized cat in her lap (very different from Leyster's kitten). Like Édouard Manet's later (adult) Olympia (1863), Louise Vernet is made to seem aware of a desiring gaze directed at her, without allowing herself to become its object. According to Germer, her knowing and rather confrontational gaze reverses the usual relations of power between image and viewer. If knowledge of sex was thought to separate children from adults, this is a child who seems to gain power over the adult viewer by ignoring that boundary.
In nineteenth-century France, male children could acquire a new political power in the imagery of democratic revolution. Gone was the monarchical stiffness of Holbein's Edward VI or the resigned victimhood of David's Bara. And whereas the Spaniard Goya famously depicted revolution as a grisly Saturn symbolically devouring his children (1820–1823), the French Romantic Eugène Delacroix optimistically painted the French Revolution of 1830 as being led by a child. The title of his famous Liberty Leading the People (1830) refers to the allegorical female figure with bared breasts, but close inspection reveals that the first person to step over the barricade is actually the urchin to the right, a gamin de Paris of the type Victor Hugo would later immortalize in his novel Les Misérables (1862) as the character Gavroche. Another gamin (urchin) peers out from behind the barricade at the extreme left, grasping a dagger and a cobblestone (a potent symbol of insurrection) and wearing a pilfered bonnet de police (forage cap) of the infantry of the national guard (a militia which quickly opposed the king during the fighting). The more prominent urchin who brandishes pistols and carries an oversized ammunition bag stolen from the royal guard gives the composition an explosive force by leading the fray. As an emblem of the democratic future, he is a modern, urban, working-class boy wearing patched trousers and a blue-black velvet faluche (student beret). The latter, even if filched, serves as a sign of the bourgeois belief in education's promise of social reform. In the oedipal "family romance" configured in the composition, he plays the son to the maternal figure of Liberty; there is no single father figure, however, but rather several possibilities from both the working and middle class. Both politically and psychically, the boy is a symbolic enfant de la patrie (child of the nation) in the famous words of the French national anthem. His role would be played by the more neoclassical ephebe in François Rude's equally famous sculpture La Marseillaise (1836) on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. From a different political perspective, even Paul Delaroche's medievalizing painting of two threatened boys, Princes in the Tower (1831), a scene inspired by Shakespeare's Richard III which was exhibited in the same Salon as the Delacroix, was suspected (probably incorrectly) of making a veiled comment on the recent unseating of a king. When revolution recurred in Paris in February 1848, the caricaturist Honoré Daumier made a lithograph portraying a perennial street urchin with stolen hat enjoying an oedipal bounce on the king's throne in the Tuileries Palace in Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries (1848).
In addition to political agency, the male child could become an emblem of artistic genius in the nineteenth century. In France, the childhood of famous Old Masters, including Giotto and Callot, regularly inspired Salon paintings, especially during the Romantic period. As Petra ten-Doesschate Chu has shown, nineteenth-century French artists' biographies followed standard "family romance" plots in which childhood was seen to foretell the future emergence of creative genius. Susan Casteras has mounted a related argument about pictures of boy geniuses in Victorian Britain, for example, Edward M. Ward, Benjamin West's First Effort in Drawing, (1849), or William Dyce, Titian Preparing to Make His First Essay in Colouring (1857).
During the realist period in France, at a time when authors like Rodolphe Töpffer were extolling the virtues of children's drawings, Gustave Courbet prominently featured two boys in his huge painting Studio (1855), one of them admiring a landscape painting in the center, the other one drawing on the floor to the right. In what Courbet called his "real allegory," the boys allude to the supposedly "natural," childlike naïveté and primitive, unmediated vision of the realist artist and perhaps to future generations of such artists. As Daniel Guernsey has argued, the central boy in particular serves as a Rousseauian "Émile" to Courbet's tutor as the artist teaches the child (as well as the Emperor Napoleon III, portrayed in travesty on the left-hand side of the painting) about the origins of social injustice and the restorative lessons of nature. The fact that this is a peasant child from the working class enhances Courbet's political agenda and aligns the figure with the more urban urchins in the Romantic work of Delacroix and in the naturalist work of Édouard Manet.
The Old Musician (c. 1861–1862), completed the same year that Hugo published Les Misérables, is the most monumental of several pictures of children from Manet's early career. In an allusive manifesto about social disenfranchisement that looks back to Courbet's Studio, it includes on the left various waifs and child misfits who conflate modern Parisian street urchins of the type celebrated by Hugo (as well as in popular visual culture) with more timeless art-historical references to Le Nain, Watteau, Murillo, and Velázquez. Further distancing the children from the street, Manet, like Courbet, also employs them as self-reflexive allusions to his own artistic practice. In this respect, they stand as visual reminders of the famous declaration by Manet's friend the poet and critic Baudelaire in his essay "The Painter of Modern Life" (1859–1863) that artistic "genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will." Yet there is a darker side to this romantic claim: as Nancy Locke has argued, Baudelaire's prose poem "La Corde" (1864) is colored with incidents from Manet's life, in particular the suicide of a child model, so as to comment on the ideological illusions involved in representation. In other prose poems, most notably "The Poor Child's Toy" (1863), Baudelaire created disquieting and ambiguous confrontations between rich and poor children.
A less unstable image of children's class differences can be found in Victorian Britain in John Faed's Boyhood (1849), a painting exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1850. Here a well-dressed boy is being rescued from the pugilistic belligerence of a poorer barefoot boy. Real class tension is effectively disavowed through the humorous combination of the exaggerated features of the red-faced and frightened rich boy, the handsome physiognomy and upstanding demeanor of the pugnacious poor boy, and the intervention of the old man, who is probably their schoolmaster. The caricatural presence of the old man, as well as the location of the bundle of books at the poor boy's feet, helps assure the viewer of education's progressive potential to create middle-class harmony and unity. A comparable point was made later in France in Marie Bashkirtseff's enormously successful salon picture The Meeting (1884), which was painted during a period of public debate about free, compulsory children's education that followed the passing of the reformist Ferry Law of 1882. Here the proverbially mischievous gamins de Paris carry not the insurrectionary ammunition pouch of Delacroix's urchin, but a reassuring school satchel. Faed's scene is, by comparison, safely moved from city to countryside. And the image of boyish aggression in Victorian art often served, as Sara Holdsworth and Joan Crossley have noted, as a sign of the competitive spirit needed in business and empire.
The slightly darker skin of Faed's poor boy connects him back to Blake's chimney sweep and with other representations of so-called street arabs. This latter term, employed in Britain since the mid-nineteenth century, effectively identified class with ethnicity, so that, as Lindsay Smith has explained it, a working-class child could function as a displaced form of the colonized Other. Like the swarthy gypsy boy in Manet's Old Musician, lower-class European children could now occupy the position previously held by Indian and African servants in eighteenth-century British child portraits. In the United States, the intriguing half-breed Native American boy strategically placed at the center of George Caleb Bingham's Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (c. 1845) could function, in concert with the more ominous bear cub on the left, as a racially hybrid sign of the interface between the mysterious wilderness and the supposedly civilizing influence of the French trapper on the right. In the urban context of Victorian England, race, class, and hygiene could be conflated in the representation of darker hair and skin, as can be seen in the figure of the homeless girl with a baby who figures prominently along with other "guttersnipes" in the central foreground of Ford Maddox Brown's Work (1852–1865). Like the gypsy girl with an infant on the left in Manet's Old Musician, she has prematurely assumed the duties of womanhood, while her tattered and revealing red dress and position literally in the gutter seem to prophesy a future in the oldest profession. At a time when factory children were commonly referred to as "white slaves" in Britain, homeless street arabs were constructed as the Other of clean, white, middle-class children in photographs by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, as well as in comparably staged photographs promoting the "philanthropic abduction" campaigns of the evangelical reformer Thomas Barnardo in the 1860s and 1870s. Similar strategies would operate in the more grittily "documentary" photographs of American street arabs taken in subsequent decades in New York by Jacob Riis. By the latter part of the century, mass visual culture, such as British advertisements for Pears' Soap showing black children having their skin washed white with the product, had further disseminated the conflation of ideologies of race, class, and hygiene.
Meanwhile the hyperreal, Pre-Raphaelite clutter of William Holman Hunt's The Children's Holiday (1864) could speak in an elegant but claustrophobic way to the building momentum of commodification in middle-class children's fashions (the undepicted father of the portrayed children being a Manchester fabric manufacturer). It simultaneously addressed the retrenchment of bourgeois childhood's protected domain to a privatized, idyllic, and nonindustrialized nature dominated by a crisply sumptuous maternal figure from whom the immaculate youngsters seem to emanate. In what is perhaps the ultimate visual celebration of elite nineteenth-century childhood, American John Singer Sargent's The Boit Children (1882–1883), there is projected a more sensual mystery that has something to do with the painterly representation of gender. As David Lubin (1985) and others have argued, the Boit girls serve on one level as well-dressed and leisurely signs of their father's wealth and on another as evocations of female subjectivity (including sexuality) at various developmental stages. Biological destiny, perhaps symbolized by the birth-like positioning of the central figure's doll, seems to hover over the girls like the oversized oriental vessels that lurk in the shadows, miniaturizing the domestic interior (as well as the physical and mental space) these female children inhabit.
As Greg Thomas has shown, French Impressionism's representation of girls and dolls as analogous objects addressed the normative and increasingly commodified socialization of bourgeois feminine behavior. In light of literature (Victor Hugo's Cosette or the Comtesse de Ségur's Sophie) and industry (Pierre François Jumeau's mass-produced porcelain luxury dolls), Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Children's Afternoon at Wargemont (1884) clearly suggests, rather less mysteriously than Sargent's Boit Children, a cyclical maturation and reproduction of ideal feminine domesticity through doll play and other parlor accomplishments. Renoir's perpetuation of the feminized construction of childhood as a whole is indicated by his sumptuous portrait Mme Charpen-tier and Her Children (1878), in which the younger of what appear to be two elegantly dressed girls is actually a boy. The point is driven home further by a later portrait of his own small son (the future film director) engrossed in the decidedly distaff act of sewing, complete with a bow in his hair, in Jean Renoir Sewing (1898–1899).
Whereas Renoir freely chose to depict childhood as a modern life topic, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, his colleagues in the Impressionist movement, were, to a greater extent, relegated to depicting it by social expectations about appropriate subject matter for women artists. Yet, as Thomas argues, they found viable alternatives to the dominant representation of normative girlhood. Morisot, for example, painted the concentrated activity of her daughter as she shared a more boyish toy, perhaps a train, with her sundappled, bourgeois father in Eugène Manet and Daughter at Bougival (1881). Mary Cassatt turned conventional deportment and etiquette on their respective heads in her Young Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), something that may have contributed to the rejection of the picture at the 1878 Universal Exposition in Paris. The girl sprawls in a chair at loose ends both physically and psychologically. With legs apart, skirt thrown up to reveal petticoats, and one arm crooked behind her head almost in a parody of the pose of an odalisque (orientalist harem slave), Cassatt's child offers insight into the claustrophobic world inhabited by Victorian females and does so from a gendered perspective that differs remarkably from that of Cassatt's fellow American Sargent.
An exception to the Impressionist tendency to depict primarily bourgeois children was Edgar Degas's series of pictures concentrating on the hard work of child and adolescent ballerinas. Known as rats (in yet another analogy between children and animals) these working-class girls were transformed by the artifice of the dance. While acknowledging the eroticized reputation of the dancers promoted in popular visual culture, especially as regards their precocious relations with wealthy male "protectors," Degas more typically concentrated in his pastels on their repetitive labor, in which he saw analogies with his own serial work. Alternatively, in his realistic wax and multimedia sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881), he drew upon the popular culture of dolls (in a remarkably different way from Renoir), anthropological mannequins, wax museums, and studies of "criminal" physiognomy in order to create a troubling indictment of the "degeneration" of the lower social orders as embodied in the scrawny girl. Although he rather fetishistically gave the sculpture actual hair and clothing, Degas for the most part de-eroticized the child.
Other artists of the later nineteenth century, following the precedent of Géricault's Louise Vernet, addressed child sexuality in repressed, coded, or more explicit fashion so that the seemingly contradictory states of childhood innocence and eroticism could be seen to coexist. As Lubin (1994) has discussed at length, the painting Making a Train by the English-born American artist Seymour Guy (1867) even raises the troubling possibility that innocence can be seen as erotic. The scene of the little girl (probably Guy's nine-year-old daughter, Anna) playing dress-up was evidently intended to contrast the innocence of the child's play with the vanity of grown women. Yet for adult viewers, the focus on the child's androgynous chest can bring mature female breasts to mind, with the difference serving as a stimulus to voyeurism. In Victorian Britain, a profusion of fairy paintings could, as Susan Casteras (2002) has pointed out, eroticize children and adolescents as a humorous invitation to viewers to experience vicariously, and thus to sublimate, illicit or transgressive behavior including gender masquerading and miscegenation (see, for example, Joseph Noël Paton, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania ). Such pictures subverted, even as they exploited it, the aura of innocence associated with Victorian
children's book illustrations of a type made famous later on by Kate Greenaway.
A frequently discussed example of this phenomenon in Victorian paintings and prints is the pedophilic innuendo of John Everett Millais's Cherry Ripe (1879), reproduced as awidely selling print in the Graphic Christmas annual in 1880. The image was based nostalgically on Reynolds's Penelope Boothby, but it moved the hands and the anachronistic black wrist cuffs to the genital area in an evocative reference to the hymen of its symbolic title. A more maternally erotic sensuality has been read by modern historians, including Carol Mavor, in the dreamily soft focus and invitingly haptic (nearly olfactory) flesh of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs of children (see, for example, The Double Star ). In a different vein, Diane Waggoner, through a close reading of images of Alice Liddell and her two sisters by Lewis Car-roll, has analyzed visual strategies by which Victorian childhood, with its ambiguous mingling of purity and sexuality, was both fetishized and naturalized by photography. As both Mavor and Lindsay Smith have pointed out, interpretation of the fetishizing that informs, for example, Carroll's update of Reynolds in Xie Kitchen as Penelope Boothby (probably taken slightly before Millais' Cherry Ripe ), or the class inflection of his earlier Alice Liddell as the Beggar Maid (c. 1859), or the orientalist frisson of his odalisque-like Irene MacDonald (1863) should take into consideration a historical moment in which, until 1885, the legal age of consent for girls in Victorian Britain was thirteen and abusive child prostitution was rampant. This affected the representation of middle-class as well as lower-class children. Even more emphatically than in the eighteenth century, Victorian innocence implied its opposite.
That the ideological and psychic contradictions of the relationship between innocence and eroticism were not confined to Britain is suggested by the strategically positioned posterior of Jean-Léon Gérôme's boy Snake Charmer (late 1860s). Here orientalism and French colonialism became an excuse for a titillating gaze at child sexuality of a type that was disavowed publicly in the West but privately described by Gustave Flaubert in accounts of travels to North Africa with Maxime Du Camp. Even before Paul Gauguin traveled to the French colony of Tahiti seeking to experience, among other things, an exotic ideal of androgyny, he painted the Naked Breton Boy (1889), whose sunburned face and hands make him all the more naked and attest to his peasant, working-class status. As Patricia Mathews has described the picture, the viewer is positioned to stand over the boy, whose awkward, adolescent body, ambiguous expression, and pre-pubescent genitals (which the artist left in an unfinished state) add an erotic dimension. The loss of innocence as a charged topic for late nineteenth-century artists culminated with the Norwegian Edvard Munch's Puberty (1894–1895). Whether the depicted girl is frightened by or embraces her sexual awakening, symbolized by the phallic shadow behind her, it obviously oppresses and subsumes her with a specter of biological determinism. As Freud's contemporary, Munch was attuned to changing ideas about child sexuality that would burgeon more fully during the early twentieth century.
Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
To get an immediate sense of the post-Freudian paradigm shift in notions of child sexuality, one need only compare the late-nineteenth-century motif of girl with doll as represented by Sargent or Renoir with that found in early-twentieth-century child nudes by the German expressionist Erich Heckel (Girl with Doll [Franzi] ) or the French independent painter Suzanne Valadon ( The Abandoned Doll, ). Innocence has been replaced by experience, but with a notable difference in the gendered perspectives of the artists. Heckel's girl, reclining on a Freudian couch with a reddish and rather vaginal arm rest, knowingly engages the viewer's gaze. The red-cheeked doll perched on the girl's nude thigh barely covers her genitals with its skirt and seems to gesture in the direction of the adult masculine legs cropped in the left background. More frankly than in Guy's Making a Train, the child's body is displayed as an erotic object for adult male delectation. In Valadon's rather Fauvist interior, a more pubescent girl discards her doll and, symbolically, her childhood as she turns away from the viewer to regard her own appearance in a mirror, a traditional emblem of vanity. The bow in her hair echoes that of the doll, perhaps alluding to the socialization of feminine adornment conditioned by doll play. The mother (or perhaps procuress) figure seems to initiate the girl into the realm of appearances. As Mathews has argued, Valadon's picture conveys a perspective on puberty that differs from that of Munch. Although the girl's ripening body may offer a voyeuristic pleasure to the viewer, the picture represents puberty from the girl's perspective as a process of acculturation that is as much socially constructed as biologically encoded.
In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Sigmund Freud himself had proposed the then controversial idea that children are not innocent in the conventional Victorian sense, but are sexual from birth and experience various stages of erotic experience (oral, anal, and genital) followed by a latency period between about age six and the beginning of puberty. Yet, as Alessandra Comini has discussed, artists in Freud's native Vienna mapped a terrain of childhood and adolescent torments that were initially bypassed by psychoanalysts. Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka addressed the taboo topic of masturbation and raised uncomfortable intimations of incest, most notably in Kokoschka's Children Playing (1909) and in Schiele's nude drawings of his twelve-year-old sister.
While reformist photography projected middle-class assumptions onto the representation of child labor, most notably in photographs taken for the National Child Labor Committee between 1907 and 1918 by American Lewis Hine, child sexuality still hovered, subliminally or not, in the Greek-inspired modernist abstractions of Edward Weston's famous pictorialist photographs of his nude son Neil in the mid-1920s. The eroticization of the female child continued to be exploited by male artists of the surrealist generation. The sadistically dismembered and fetishistic dolls made by the Polish-born sculptor Hans Bellmer conflated infantile and adult sexuality with disquieting violence. His more famous countryman, the reclusive Balthasar Klossowski, better known as Balthus, painted enigmatically aroused pubescent girls of a type that Vladimir Nabokov would name Lolita in his 1950s novel. For example, The Golden Days (1944–1946) turns the motif of girl with mirror (found in a remarkably different way in Valadon's painting) into an unsettling image of narcissistic voluptuousness ripe for violation. The depicted girl may be attributed more than a modicum of sexual agency, but it is for the benefit of the adult male viewer's fantasies.
Meanwhile, as the post-Cubist tide of abstraction turned many twentieth-century artists away from the human figure, the popularity of the representation of children was supplanted in many respects by the cult of child art, now seen as a paradigm for primitivist modernism. To a certain degree, this was nothing new, as can be gathered from the boy drawing on the floor of Courbet's Studio or the stick figure drawn on the fence of Bashkirtseff's Meeting. Yet, as Jonathan Fineberg (1997) and others have noted, artists ranging from Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee to Joan Miró and Jean Dubuffet now wanted not to depict children but rather to paint like them in an attempted recuperation of their own lost inner child (a rather literal update of Baudelaire's "childhood recovered at will"). Painters' fascination with child art left the field of representing childhood increasingly open to photography and mass visual culture.
As Higonnet has pointed out, early twentieth-century illustrators like Jessie Willcox Smith and B PeaseGutmann kept alive Greenaway's nineteenth-century tradition of Romantic childhood innocence. Its perennial and pervasive marketability can be charted not only throughout twentieth-century advertising, but also in work since the 1990s by the enormously successful commercial photographer Anne Geddes, who has sold millions of greeting cards, calendars, notepads, children's books, and posters of cuddly kids in bunny or bumblebee costumes. This trajectory of prolonged cuteness has been tempered not only by the darker inflections of illustrators like Maurice Sendak, but also by developments in journalistic photography since the Great Depression. By mid-century, photographers including Americans Dorothea Lange and Helen Levitt had registered their concern with child welfare. African-American photographer Gordon Parks commented on racial discrimination through a poignant image of doll play, revealing it as a simultaneous instrument of socialization and hindrance to identity formation, in Black Children with White Doll (1942).
More recently, controversial photographers of childhood including Robert Mapplethorpe, Nicholas Nixon, and especially Sally Mann have effectively documented, and aided the invention of, a paradigm shift away from Romantic innocence to what Higonnet terms "knowing childhood." Such photographs as Mann's Jessie as Jessie, Jessie as Madonna (1990) rivetingly suggest that the innocence and sexuality of children are not mutually exclusive and that bodily and psychological individuality can coexist with the state of being childlike. Likewise in recent years, photographer Wendy Ewald has facilitated children's taking photographs of their own complex identities, an all-too-rare example of child agency like that initiated in the early years of the twentieth century by Jacques Henri Lartigue ( Self-Portrait with Hydro-glider ).
Meanwhile in a postmodern consumer world in which children's beauty pageants, waif models, and uncanny, ethnically diverse twin dolls have become mere tips of the iceberg in the commodified, sexualized visual culture of children, increasing numbers of sculptors, painters, and video and multi-media installation artists have joined photographers in returning to the representation of childhood in its current state of knowingness, not innocence. They address the way children are used to mold social patterns of consumption and desire so as to become powerful signifiers of the uncertainties of identity in global capitalist culture. Recent American exhibitions with titles like My Little Pretty and Presumed Innocence have featured works by artists including Janet Biggs, Dinos and Jake Chapman, Taro Chiezo, Larry Clark, Keith Cottingham, Kim Dingle, Todd Gray, Todd Haynes, Nicky Hoberman, Inez van Lamsweerde, Paul McCarthy, Tracey Moffat, Tony Oursler, Alix Pearlstein, Judith Raphael, Aura Rosenberg, Julian Trigo, and Lisa Yuskavage, who unabashedly and unsentimentally tackle the topic of children as both consumable objects and sexualized subjects capable of seduction or destruction. Charles Ray, in his mixed media sculpture Family Romance (1993) memorably created a new standard-issue nuclear family consisting of same-sized adults and children, all given the height of young adolescents. The increasingly indistinguishable interface of adult and child identities was likewise addressed by Dutch-born artist Inez van Lamsweerde in a series of computer manipulated digital photographs of girl models who were given the tight grins of adult males in a spooky prefiguration of images published four years later of the murdered child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey (Final Fantasy, Ursula ). Both artists mingled grotesque archaeological fragments of constructed childhoods past and present, including the Wordsworthian claim that the child is father of the man, the Freudian uncanny, and the disturbingly dark side of Disney. The quandary of being both adult and child was indelibly visualized by Judy Fox in her glazed terracotta statue Sphinx (1994). Offering something of a postmodern update of Degas's Little Dancer, the nude, life-sized body of the enigmatic young gymnast is poised in the physical and psychological contortions of a gesture of salute. Her uncanny knowingness likewise finds an ancestor in the eponymous hybrid monster of Greek mythology who destroyed those who could not answer its riddle. Such arresting images challenge us to decipher difficult and crucial questions posed by childhood today.
See also: Boyhood; Children's Literature; Fashion; Girlhood; Madonna, Orthodox; Madonna, Religious; Madonna, Secular; Photographs of Children; Theories of Childhood; Victorian Art.
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Marilyn R. Brown