This online gallery reveals how children were portrayed in paintings during the 1800’s in America. During this time, portraiture was the number one form of painting, and the majority of artists were being commissioned by the wealthy, some from old money and some from newly acquired wealth from the Industrial Revolution. These patrons in addition to wanting to capture the likenesses of their children and families wanted also to show off their good fortune and status by having a portrait to hang in their beautiful homes. As the Industrial Revolution brought advances in manufacturing, more goods were mass-produced and their costs became more affordable. People made their fortunes: formally wealthy families became even wealthier, and more people overall had more money for decorative and functional possessions for their homes. Even technical advances like electric lights were shown off in paintings in which families sat in their lovely living rooms. Fine furniture, decorative ceramics, silver and glass, and even luxurious fabrics and rugs were symbols of wealth that were captured in portraits alongside the people in the paintings.
In paintings, children historically had been depicted as little adults. Their clothing was that of adults. They were either standing or sitting very formally and stiff, often with a serious expression. Paintings did not show them as naturally relaxed and at play, which is how we see children much of the time. During the early part of the 1800’s, painters began to paint children more naturally with objects of their childhood, in more casual clothing and in more relaxed poses. The backgrounds and overall compositions became less stiff and more revealing of the child’s personality and natural background. As time wore on, children’s portraiture, while still often revealing the status of their families, became more expressive of the children they portrayed. The paintings displayed in the online gallery show a variety of examples of children in portraiture from the 19th century that were typical of the time. They include family and individual portraits, folk art portraits and genre portraits. Some are more formal and others more casual. But together, they exemplify the types of portraits of children of the day.
Created ByRobin Katz