Child-life in Art

Child-life in Art

Estelle M. Hurll
Estelle M. Hurll

Author: Hurll, Estelle M. (Estelle May), 1863-1924
Children in art
Child-life in Art

the sistine madonna.—raphael.







Children are God’s apostles, day by day
Sent forth to preach of love and hope and peace.


Copyright, 1894,
By Joseph Knight Company.

John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.


The subject of this little book is its best claim upon public favor. Child-life in every form appeals with singular force to the sympathies of all. In palace and in cottage, in the city and in the country, childhood reigns supreme by the divine right of love. No monarch rules more mightily than the infant sovereign in the Kingdom of Home, and none more beneficently. His advent brings a bit of heaven into our midst, and we become more gentle and tender for the sacred influence. Every phase of the growing young life is beautiful and interesting to us. Every new mood awakens in us a sense of awe before unfolding possibilities for good or evil.
The poetry of childhood is full of attractiveness to the artist, and many and varied are the forms in which he interprets it. The Christ-child has been his highest ideal. All that human imagination could conceive of innocence and purity and divine loveliness has been shown forth in the delineation of the Babe of Bethlehem. The influence of such art has made itself felt upon all child pictures. It matters not whether the subject be a prince or a street-waif; the true artist sees in him something which is lovable and winning, and transfers it to his canvas for our lasting pleasure.
Art has produced so many representations of children that it would be a hopeless task to attempt a complete enumeration of them, and the book makes no pretensions to exhaustiveness. The aim has been merely to suggest a convenient outline of classification, and to describe a few characteristic examples in each group. The nature of the undertaking has, of course, necessitated consulting the works of many standard authorities, to whom I gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness. The names of the most prominent are included in the bibliographical list. While faithfully studying their opinions, I have always reserved the right of forming an independent estimate of any painting considered, especially when, as in many cases, I have myself seen the original. I am under great obligations to my friend Professor Anne Eugenia Morgan of Wellesley for first showing me, through her philosophical art-interpretations, the true meaning and value of the works of the masters. From these interpretations I have drawn many of the suggestions which are embodied in the descriptions of the following pages.
While addressing lovers of children primarily, I have also hoped to interest students in the history of art. I have therefore added a few notes containing further details in regard to some of the subjects.
E. M. H.
New Bedford, Mass., June 1, 1894.


Chapter Page
I. Childhood in Ideal Types 3
II. Children Born to the Purple 29
III. The Children of Field and Village 57
IV. The Child-Life of the Streets 87
V. Child-Angels 115
VI. The Christ-Child 141


Sistine Madonna Raphael Frontispiece
The Strawberry Girl Reynolds 7
Penelope Boothby Reynolds 15
Angel Heads Reynolds 19
From the original painting in the National Gallery, London.
Nature Lawrence 23
Portrait of Prince James, Duke of York Van Dyck 33
From a painting in San Luca, Rome, after the Turin portrait by Van Dyck.
Portrait of Princess Mary Stuart and Prince William II. of Orange Van Dyck 39
From the original painting in Amsterdam.
Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa Velasquez 45
From the original painting in the Prado, Madrid.
Portrait of the Infanta Marguerite Velasquez 49
From the original painting in the Louvre, Paris.
Rustic Children Gainsborough 59
La Cruche Cassée (The Broken Pitcher) Greuze 71
From the original painting in the Louvre, Paris.
Child’s Head Bouguereau 77
The Little Rabbit Seller Meyer von Bremen 81
Beggar Boys Murillo 89
From the original painting in the Pinacothek, Munich.
Street Arabs Dorothy Tennant Stanley 98
The Meeting Marie Bashkirtseff 103
From the original painting in the Luxembourg, Paris.
Castles in Spain J. G. Brown 107
Group of Angels. From the Assumption Titian 119
From the original painting in the Academy, Venice.
Piping Angel. Detail of Frari Madonna Bellini 127
From the original painting in Venice.
Angel. From Madonna and Child Luigi Vivarini 131
From the original painting in the Church of Redentore, Venice.
Angel. From the Vision of Saint Bernard Filippino Lippi 135
From the original painting in the Badia, Florence.
Madonna of the Casa Tempi Raphael 147
Infant Jesus and Saint John Boucher 155
From the original painting in the Uffizi, Florence.
The Christ-Child Deger 159
Head of Boy Christ Hofmann 163
Detail of Christ Disputing with the Doctors.



O child! O new-born denizen
Of life’s great city! on thy head
The glory of the morn is shed,
Like a celestial benison!
Here at the portal thou dost stand,
And with thy little hand
Thou openest the mysterious gate
Into the future’s undiscovered land.




If we could gather into one great gallery all the paintings of child-life which the world has ever produced, there would be scattered here and there some few works of a distinctly unique character, before which we should rest so completely satisfied that we should quite forget to look at any others. These choice gems are the work of those rare men of genius who, looking beyond all trivial circumstances and individual peculiarities, discovered the essential secrets of child-life, and embodied them in ideal types. They are pictures of childhood, rather than of children, representing those phases of thought and emotion which are peculiar to the child as such, and which all children possess in common. In their presence every mother spontaneously exclaims, “How like my own little one!” because the artist has interpreted the real child nature. Such pictures may justly take rank among the highest productions of creative art, having proven their claim to greatness by their unquestioned appeal to universal admiration.
In work of this kind one name alone is prominent, a name which England is proud to claim as hers, but to which all the world pays honor,—the name of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Prince of Child-painters. A simple-hearted man, of sweet, kindly disposition, the great portrait-painter, bachelor though he was, possessed in rare measure the mysterious gift of winning the confidence of children. The great octagonal studio in Leicester Square must have often resounded to the laughter of childish voices, as he entertained his little patrons with the pet dogs and birds he used in their portraits, and coaxed them into good nature with a thousand merry tricks. Although the greater number of these little people belonged to the most wealthy and aristocratic families in England, their pictures do not in any way indicate their rank. Still less do they show any distinguishing marks of the artificial age in which they lived. Dressed in the simplest of costumes, of the sort which is never out of fashion and always in the best taste, and posed in the natural attitudes of unconscious grace, they are representatives of childhood, pure and simple, rather than of any particular social class or historical period.
A list of Sir Joshua’s child pictures may suitably begin with one which, in his own opinion, is among the best and most original of all his works. This is the Strawberry Girl, exhibited in 1773, and repeated many times by the painter,—“not so much for the sake of profit,” as Northcote explains, “as for improvement.” The model was the artist’s pretty niece, Miss Theophila (“Offy”) Palmer, who was named for his mother, and whom he loved as an own daughter.
The little girl stands with head slightly drooping, in the sweet, shy way so natural to a timid child. The big eyes are lifted to ours half confidingly, half timidly, while a smile hovers bewitchingly over the mouth. A long, pointed basket hangs on one arm, and the plump hands are folded together in front like a little woman’s. The child wears a curious round cap on her head, under which, presumably, her hair is gathered up in womanly fashion, for there are no stray locks to be seen except the two soft curves on the forehead. Altogether, the figure presents just that odd commingling of dignity with childish timidity which we so often notice in our own little maids, and which makes them at once so lovable and so womanly.

the strawberry girl.—reynolds.
Some fifteen years after Sir Joshua’s niece posed as the Strawberry Girl, her own little daughter, another “Offy,” served the artist uncle as the model for Simplicity. The great-niece was as lovely a child as her mother had been, and critics agree in placing Simplicity among the best works of the painter. The setting is a landscape, in the foreground of which the child is seated, with her lap full of flowers. The sweet face is turned aside in a somewhat pensive poise, and the exquisite purity of its expression is exactly represented by the title. Of a similar character is the Age of Innocence, which portrays a little girl looking out into the world with wide eyes and parted lips, a complete embodiment of the innocence of childhood on the threshold of life. The face, which is presented in profile, is finely cut, and charmingly framed in short, clustering curls.
In looking for ideal types among the child-pictures of Sir Joshua Reynolds, we need by no means be confined to those which bear fancy titles. His portraits are as truly interpretative as his imaginative subjects, and each typifies a distinct element of child-life. The little Miss Bowles sitting on the ground hugging her dog, and Master Bunbury looking out of the canvas with breathless eagerness, arouse a universal interest, which is entirely independent of their individuality. Miss Frances Harris, the serene, and Miss Penelope Boothby, the demure, will be loved as child ideals long after their names are forgotten.
A protégé of Reynolds from the first, Lawrence became his successor as Painter-in-Ordinary to the King, and in process of time rose to the proud honor of the presidency of the Royal Academy. Holding thus the two positions which Reynolds had graced so many years, it may be said that the master’s mantle fell upon him more truly than upon any other follower.
In technique his painting is criticised by connoisseurs as deficient in that harmonious blending of the flesh tints with the background which so delights us in other artists. Then, too, his insight into character was far less penetrating than that of his predecessor. Nevertheless, his best work has much of the beauty and animation which we so admire in the paintings of Reynolds.
One of his notable pictures is the portrait of Master Lambton, son of Lord Durham, sometimes called, in imitation of the Blue Boy of Gainsborough, the Red Boy. The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1824, where it is said to have completely turned the heads of French critics, so fascinating was the aristocratic melancholy of the beautiful boy it represented.
For a companion piece to this picture, one might choose the portrait of Mr. Peel’s daughter, which is considered an exceptionally fine work.
Lawrence’s groups of mothers with their children are especially worthy of study. The most famous of these are Lady Dover, with her son, Lord Clifden, in her arms, and the Countess Gower, with her little daughter Elizabeth on her lap.
The latter has been carried by the engraver’s art into nearly every country of the world, and often appears under the title, “Maternal Love.” Both mother and child are looking with intense interest in the direction toward which the little girl points an eager finger. The child’s face is full of vivacious beauty, the sparkling eyes and parted lips perfectly representing the alert, imaginative type of child nature.
The finest of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s child pictures is undoubtedly the portrait of the Calmady children, better known by the title of “Nature.” This is indeed a picture disclosing the essential truth of the child nature; the two little ones are frolicking together in a perfect abandon of innocent merriment.
The pretty story of the sittings in which this portrait was obtained, is a key to its success. The children romped with the artist as with a boon companion, and the younger relieved the monotony of the hour by relating to him the nursery tales of Dame Wiggins, and the Field Mice and Raspberry Cream. Thus the painter won the confidence of his little friends, and delineated them in all the fresh charm of their youthful vivacity. Nature deserves a place beside Simplicity as a true picture of the heart of childhood.
But after all has been said concerning the child pictures in any way similar to those of Sir Joshua Reynolds, it must still be admitted that his work is entirely unique in what may be termed the universality of its idealism. Other pictures of child-life there are,—many of them of equal and even of superior merit as works of art,—which are marked by a fine quality of idealism; but this idealism is limited in its range to the delineation of individuals, or of particular classes. These pictures naturally fall into groups based upon the social classes which they represent, and by this method of classification, they will be considered in the subsequent chapters.

penelope boothby.—reynolds.
Miss Penelope’s face is one of the most familiar of Sir Joshua’s art children, and the first favorite with many for the arch loveliness of her expression. Although her mouth is set in a prim little pucker, we cannot repress the suspicion that behind it lurks a good deal of childish fun. The big mob cap and the voluminous mitts add not a little to the quaint charm of the picture, and make it easily recognized by many who are otherwise unfamiliar with Reynolds’s works.
As it was a fashion of eighteenth century art to draw subjects largely from classic mythology, we find among Sir Joshua’s child pictures an Infant Bacchus, an Infant Jupiter, and an Infant Hercules. This last was painted to fill a commission from t

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