I recently saw the exhibit at the Newark Museum, “Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th Century American Art”. The show consisted of artists John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, William Merrett Chase as well as female artists Cecilia Beaux, Lilly Martin Spencer and Bessie Potter Vonnoh whose work reflected the attitudes towards girls around the time of the civil war in America. The themes are mostly of family life and the place these girls had in society.
Since I’m a painter myself, I was particularly intrigued with the narrative approach these artists used to create an idyllic sense to the girls they painted. Often the colors were soft and had a purity with spontaneous brushstrokes. While these are American artists, the European influences are there in the techniques used. There are also paintings done by itinerant primitive artists who went from town to town painting wealthy children in stylized poses. They used pure red colors in their stylized work, which seemed to distinguish their works at the time. Some of these paintings are in the exhibit as well. I find it interesting how paintings of 19th century boys were painted in active poses, while girls had a more passive demeanor. This reflected the attitudes of how society saw women at the time.
If you like good painting this is the show to see. While it’s a visual history of family life during the 19th century, it’s also a measure of how far women have come today. It’s great to see how these paintings have endured and continue to attract an audience.
This show will be on view until January 20th.