Exeter’s Fine Art: Childhood

This exhibition from 2018 is an exploration of images of childhood through history from the 17th to the 20th century.

In the 1600s, images of children became more common, although there was no concept of the child as an individual. Artists depicted royal and aristocratic children as miniature adults; emblems of dynastic ambition.  In a period when infant mortality was high, one in three children died before they reached the age of one.

With the Enlightenment in the 18th century artists started to focus on the child as an individual.  Leading thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argued that children should be considered as autonomous human beings.  It was fashionable for the growing middle classes to commission group family portraits. These emphasised the emotional bond between parent and child.

By Victorian times, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation combined with a population explosion meant that one in three of the population was under the age of 15. Infant mortality was still high due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, disease and tainted milk and food.  Children who survived were often expected to work in lethal conditions.

In the 19th century the image of the child became ubiquitous, and reflected an emerging interest in children’s rights. Romantic and sentimental works such as Kate Greenaway’s The Stick Fire and the Garden Bench argue that children are innocents that should be protected and allowed to enjoy their childhood.

20th-century artists have responded in a huge variety of ways to the subject of childhood. Matisse and Picasso took inspiration from looking at children’s drawings to challenge traditional art. Some contemporary artists appropriate the visual language of childhood, using it to express longing for a time of innocence, simplicity and purity. Others have used childhood imagery and adult ideas to address serious themes.

Colour photograph of a close up of a drawing: Maternal Affection, Richard Cosway (1742-1821), about 1770-1820, pencil, chalk and wash. It depicts a woman kissing her child while the child sits on her shoulders
Maternal Affection by Richard Cosway (1742-1821) about 1770-1820, pencil, chalk and wash.

Cosway was a leading portrait painter of the Regency period. His success was due to his ability to enhance the elegance and beauty of his sitters. In 1780 he painted his first portrait of the future George IV, whilst he was still Prince of Wales. He was appointed Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1785 and painted over 50 portraits for him and other members of the royal family.
Colour photograph of a painting 'The Misses Pine', English School, about 1817-1820, watercolour. Two sisters wearing white dresses and blue shawls are dancing in front of a window.
The Misses Pine, English School about 1817-1820, watercolour.

In the Regency period an education was crucial to a middle or upper class young lady’s future. Since the aspiration was to marry, education sought to make her noticeable to potential husbands. Accomplishments allowed her to display cultural distinction. The number of accomplishments reflected the financial state of her family and the level of sacrifice they were willing to make to improve her chances of marrying well.
Portrait of a Child thought to be Emily Leakey
James Leakey (1775-1866)
about 1835-1840, pencil
Portrait of a Child thought to be Emily Leakey, James Leakey (1775-1866), about 1835-1840, pencil.

Although James Leakey was born and died in Exeter, his reputation as a miniature painter went far beyond Devon. He was admired for his rustic everyday studies and interior scenes. However, the genre and landscape scenes were only a small part of his work. They were largely completed during periods when he was not working on portrait commissions and miniatures, which were his main source of income.
colour photograph of 'Boat, Figures and Sea' by Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899), about 1863-1893, watercolour. a wooden rowing boat sits on the beach. One man stands in the boat, the other is maintaining the outside. Four children are by the boat watching. The sea is in the distance.
Boat, Figures and Sea Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899) about 1863-1893, watercolour.

Myles Birket Foster was an English painter, illustrator and collector. He first worked as an illustrator and from 1858 he sought to establish himself as a watercolour painter. His watercolours proved to be more popular and were appreciated for their Pre-Raphaelite detail, but without the harshness of colour and unusual composition. His watercolour technique, with its reliance on stippling rather than broad washes, reflects his experience of designing for wood engraving.
Portrait painting of two girls, head and shoulders only
Two Sisters, Anon, about 1901-1912, pastel.

This pastel of two young sisters displays the freshness and brilliance that this medium is capable of achieving. Pastels became one of the defining characteristics of British portraiture in the 17th century. They were portable, relatively cheap and could be executed quickly.
Unlike oils they were easier to use for amateur artists. By the 1790s they were thought to be old-fashioned and had fallen from favour.
Oil painting titled 'Boy in a landscape'. He is sat on a bench with trees behind him
Boy in a Landscape: Portrait of Eric Verrico. John Minton (1917-1957), 1948, oil on canvas.

John Minton was an English painter and illustrator known for his eclectic style which combined elements of French and British Neo-Romanticism. His main theme is the young male figure placed in emotionally charged settings with homoerotic overtones. He was a celebrity of London’s bohemia and a key figure of Neo-Romanticism in the 1940s. He was a complex character and the growth of abstraction in art compounded personal problems for this figurative painter, leading to his suicide.
Oil painting of a young child in a white dr4ess and red shoes with a basket
Nelly. Matthew William Peters (attributed to) (1742-1814 about 1790-1810, oil on canvas.

Matthew Peters was a portrait and genre painter who became a clergyman in later life and chaplain to George IV. This later career is all the more surprising as he made his name first painting semi-dressed young women. Their slightly risqué nature was very popular and they were often engraved. His style differed vastly from his teacher, Thomas Hudson, and the Neo-Classical leanings
of the time.
Matthew Pear, Sword Bearer of Exeter, and his Brother Philip Pear
Matthew Pear, Sword Bearer of Exeter, and his Brother Philip Pear, William Gandy (attributed to) (1650-1729), about 1700, oil on canvas.

William Gandy was the son of the English portrait painter James Gandy (1619-1689). His work was considered to show real genius and was much admired by many great artists. Both Sir Godfrey Kneller and Joshua Reynolds were influenced by his work. Joshua Reynolds studied Gandy’s work in the early years of his career, making a great impression on him. Attached to the reverse is an inscription that reads ‘Philip and Matthew Pear of this City’. The youngest boy Matthew kept a druggist shop and was for some years the Sword Bearer for the City of Exeter.
Painting of Thomas Taunton as a child
Thomas Taunton as a Child. English School, about 1750, oil on paper.

Thomas Taunton was the heir to Samuel Taunton and was born in 1744. Thomas had five sisters – Dorothy, Frances, Mary, Ann and Elizabeth – and a brother Samuel. Originally from Bridport the family were wealthy merchants.
Painting of Samuel Taunton as a child. He wears a white and pale pink bonnet and clothes
Samuel Taunton as a Child. English School, about 1750, oil on paper

One of a pair of portraits depicting Thomas and Samuel Taunton of Axminster. Little is known about their father, except that the family lived at Purzebrook House in Musbury Road, Axminster. The Tauntons were originally from near Bridport and were wealthy merchants.
oil painting of boys bathing in a river
Boys Bathing in a River. Frederick Richard Lee (1850-1926), about 1880-1926, watercolour.

Lee was enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy aged just 19. He was a prolific painter whose work was much in demand. He travelled extensively throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. He often collaborated with Thomas Sydney Cooper and Sir Edwin Landseer who added the animals to his paintings whilst he painted the landscape.
The Garden Seat. Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), about 1892-1898, watercolour.

Kate Greenaway’s work looks back to an idyllically happy childhood. Her work dwells on the nature of a child’s experience whilst looking back to the visual styles and fashions of the past. Her nostalgic depiction of children captured the Victorian imagination. This is reflected in the resurgence in popularity of 18th-century dress such as bonnets, smocks, frocks, aprons, ribbons and bonnets in which she clothed the children depicted in her work.
Painting of children clustered round a small bonfire
The Stick Fire. Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), about 1892-1898, watercolour.

Kate Greenaway’s children are depicted with typical Victorian nostalgia with their hallmark soft curls and round, rosy cheeks. Her children are most often depicted in attitudes of adult life with solemn absorbed faces, yet they retain the innocence and simplicity of childhood.
Bronze sculpture on a green ?marble plinth of two children with arms outstretched counterbalancing each other
The Knot. John Angel (1881-1960), 1913, bronze.

Born in Exeter, the son of a tailor, John Angel was apprenticed at age 14 to a wood carver. He trained at the Exeter School of Art and Lambeth School of Art. In 1925 he immigrated to America at the request of the architect Ralph Adams Cram. He was known as an architectural
and ecclesiastical sculptor, medallist and lecturer. Upon his death in 1960, he was considered one of America’s foremost sculptors.
Portrait painting of Miss Ethel Ayles
Miss Ethel Ayles. Philip Tennyson Cole (1862-1939), about 1885-1886, watercolour.

Tennyson Cole was an English society portrait painter in both oils and watercolours. His father was a successful painter under whom he studied. In 1885 he married the actress Alice Mary Sainsbury who supported him financially. In 1889 he went to Tasmania and spent the next few years traveling and painting, as well as making his name in Australasia and South Africa
Portrait painting of Miss Adeline Ayles
Miss Adeline Ayles. Philip Tennyson Cole (about 1862-1939)
about 1885-1886, watercolour

The Ayles family were descendants of the Spicer family, some of whom were mayors of Exeter between 1273 and 1708. Ayles’s father was a provision merchant in Deptford. Charles and Louise had a large family of seven daughters. The family were well off and employed three servants: a lady’s maid, housemaid and a cook. Adeline was the sixth eldest of the Ayles children and is pictured aged five in the portrait.
Painting of mother and son with a small black dog
Deborah Hopton and her Son. James Gandy (attributed to) (1619-1689) 1649, oil on canvas.

Deborah Hopton and her Son. James Gandy (attributed to) (1619-1689) 1649, oil on canvas.

Dame Deborah was born about 1627. She was the daughter of Robert Hatton, a sergeant-at-law and his wife Alice Dreynes Hatton of Thames Ditton. She had two children, Isaac and Alice, with her first husband Isaac Jones (about 1620-1647). They lived in Kingston, Surrey.

The painting depicts Dame Deborah as a widow. In 1654 she was married for a second time to Sir Edward Hopton of Canon Frome, Herefordshire. He was an M.P. for Hereford and a Royalist and had been a ‘Yeoman of the stirrup to Charles I’. The family had split allegiances with one side fighting for the Cavaliers, the other for the Roundheads. Canon Frome Court, their home, was garrisoned during the Civil Wars on behalf of the king. On 22 July 1645, following a siege of two years, it was taken by the Scots.

Edward and Dame Deborah had two daughters, Alice and Deborah, and four sons. Sir Edward died in 1668 and Dame Deborah at the age of 77 in 1702. The painting remained in the family’s possession until 1942 when it was sold as part of the sale of the estate and its contents.

James Gandy (1619-1689) was one of the earliest English painters. It was thought that Gandy was probably from Exeter and he was most likely a student of Anthony van Dyck. The Duke of Ormonde, his patron, took him to Ireland where he remained until his death. He is the father of the artist William Gandy, the portrait painter.

Painting of children playing with spinning tops in a village street
Children Spinning Tops. John Glendall (about 1790-1865), about 1855, oil on canvas

John Glendall is a British painter known for his landscapes of Devon, and his love of recording the medieval buildings of Exeter. He was a servant before his work was discovered by an employee of the print-seller Rudolf Ackerman; he became the firm’s manager. He was an illustrator and draughtsman of aquatint engravings as well as a developer of the new art of lithography. In 1861 he was involved in the creation of a museum in Exeter, however died before the museum opened.

In the Victorian period, paintings of children were thought to be intellectually undemanding and were often dismissed by critics, due to their sentimentality. But sentimentality was found across many forms of Victorian art and entertainment and the sharing of emotion was an important part of Victorian culture. Relayed in these images is the new Victorian concept of childhood as a time of innocence: a separate state from adulthood to be protected and prolonged.
Oil painting of a girl combing her hair
Girl Combing Her Hair. Harold Gilman (1876-1919), about 1911, oil on canvas.

Considered to be one of the most gifted painters of his generation, Harold Gilman was a painter of interiors, portraits and landscapes. He was a founder member of the Camden Town Group in 1911 and the London Group in 1913. Influenced by the artist Walter Sickert, he adopted brighter colours and gained a taste for working-class subjects.
Painting of a girl holding a bouquet of flowers in a garden
Study of a girl with a bouquet of flowers in a garden. Robert Fowler (1853-1926), about 1880-1926, watercolour.

Robert Fowler was a founding member of the Royal Institute of Painters in watercolour in 1891 and the Royal Society of Painters in watercolours. Fowler’s style was classical and he often drew upon mythological themes with elements of symbolism and Japonism. Both Frederick Leighton and James Whistler influenced his work.
Painting of people flying kites
Study for Kites. William Roberts (1895-1980), 1966, pencil and watercolour.

William Roberts is a British painter of figure compositions and portraits. He was a pioneer of abstract art before the First World War. Roberts worked outside the mainstream. Later in his career he would describe himself as an English Cubist.

In 1914 Roberts joined the short-lived art movement the Vorticists, founded by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis. The Vorticists believed that British art at this time was in a decayed state. Their aesthetic combined the geometrical fragmentation of Cubism with Futurist machine-like imagery. During the First World War, Roberts was a gunner on the Western Front. Later he became a war artist, a position he held in both world wars. He is best remembered for his large complex and colourful compositions.

Roberts has marked this reference picture with a grid to help him to transfer it to canvas. The canvas is marked with a corresponding grid allowing the picture to be enlarged and transferred one square at a time.
Oil painting of the Palmer Family. Mrs Palmer sits at a piano with a young child standing on her lap, a dog at her feet and her husband at her side.
The Palmer Family. James Leakey (1775-1865), about 1822, oil on panel.

The Palmer Family. James Leakey (1775-1865), about 1822, oil on panel.

In the early 1700s, family paintings often included members of the wider family. Instead, in this early 19th century painting, the nuclear family is the centre of attention. These 19th-century works often show families relaxed, apparently caught unaware by the viewer in an emotionally intimate moment.

Throughout the 19th century the middle classes expanded rapidly. There was a new emphasis on upward mobility, etiquette and conspicuous consumption. Commissioning a family portrait by a well-known artist became a way of signalling financial success.

James Leakey was known mostly for his delicate miniatures painted in oil on ivory. He also painted portraits, landscapes and small interior scenes with rustic figures. He spent most of his life in Exeter moving for a time to London, from 1821-25. There, he became closely acquainted with David Wilkie and Sir Francis Baring.

Leakey exhibited several paintings at the Royal Academy: in 1821, The Marvellous Tale, in 1822 The Fortune Teller, in 1838 Portraits and Landscapes, and in 1846 The Distressed Wife.

Oil painting of a young boy wearing a lace collar and red cloak
Master Carew. Richard Cosway (1742-1821) about 1790, oil on canvas.

Master Carew is depicted as if an adult. Until the mid-18th century children were portrayed as miniature adults, there was no concept of childhood as a stage of life. The family’s wealth and status are evident in both the subject’s fashionable dress and the choice of the artist Richard Cosway, one of the leading English portraitists of the Regency period.

It has been difficult to identify which branch of the Carew family that Master Carew is associated with. The painting’s date of between about 1785 and 1791 may give us a clue. The artist Richard Cosway was associated with Tiverton, suggesting a possible link with the Carews of Tiverton Castle.

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