Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Styles

Note: I am unsure as to how to classify stylistically many of the artists discussed here. Please let me know if you have any insights and suggestions.

Paintings with information on boy's fashions have been painted in many different styles. Some were highly realistic paintings, almost like photographs. Many of these, especially in the mid-19th Century offer more detailed information from the still developing photography and before the 1840s there were no photographic images. Even after the commercial development of photography in the 1840s, it is paintings that provide details on color as well as settings in context that provide valuable insights into fashions and how they were worn. Photography until the turn of the 20th Century was generally limited to a photographer's studio. Out door scenes and activity images were still all paintings. Other paintings were impressionistic or abstract art which provide much less detail, but still fascinating images of boys' fashions.

Some of the different styles include:

Figure 1.--Renoir painted his son Jean in 1901 with the boy in a ' Fauntleroy suit. French boys often wore long hair, but it was not commonly done into ringlet curls.


The impressionists provide us some wonderful images of late 19th Century fashions. Although photography was being perfected, there were no color photographs and very few realistic images showing activities and relationships. Most photographs were artificially posed, static images.

Renoir, Pierre-Auguste (France, 1841-1919)

Renoir's predilection towards gay, light-hearted themes was also influenced by the great Rococco masters. Renoir endured much hardship early in his career, but he began to achieve success as a portraitist in the late 1870s and was freed from financial worries after the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel began buying his work regularly in 1881. These portraits include several family portraits illustrating children's clothes. By this time Renoir had 'traveled as far as Impressionism could take me', and a visit to Italy in 1881-82 inspired him to seek a greater sense of solidarity in his work. The change in attitude is seen in The Umbrellas (NG, London), which was evidently begun before the visit to Italy and finished afterwards; the two little girls on the right are painted with the feathery brush-strokes characteristic of his Impressionist manner, but the figures on the left are done in a crisper and drier style, with duller coloring. After a period of experimentation with what he called his `manireaigre' (harsh or sour manner) in the mid 1880s, he developed a softer and more supple kind of handling. Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects---pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women---have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. `Why shouldn't art be pretty?', he said, `There are enough unpleasant things in the world.' He delighted in painting his sons. Most of those paintings were executed when the boys were younger and wearing dresses and smocks or fancy Fauntleroy suits. They provide a good idea of French boys clothes in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. One of his sons, who was a particularly favorite subject was the celebrated film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979), who wrote a lively and touching biography (Renoir, My Father) in 1962.

Figure 2.--This 1890 painting by John Singer Sargent was one of the artist's many masterful portraits. The boy is Livingston Davis who wears a white summer sailor suit and wide-brimmed hat.

Sargent, John Singer (United States, 1856-1925)

Sargent is known for his dazzling and often daring portraits of British and American high society at the turn of the century. Most of his best known works are glamorous portraits of eminent or socially prominent people of the period and helped to shape our view of the era. At first he was considered to modern and to French in both England and America, but he was eventually sought after by the rich and famous. He is now widely regarded as the leading portrait painter of his generation. He showed remarkable technical precocity as a painter. Sargent was often criticized for what some believed to be a superficial brilliance and his portraits were largely dismissed after his death. In more recent years, however, Sargent's works have been acclaimed for their naturalism and masterly technical skill. Sargent's work, unfortunately, includes few portraits of boys. Thus while there are many portraits illustrating the dress of women, girls, and men, there are only a few of boys to illustrate fashions in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The two most interesting are Livingston Davis in a white sailor suit (1890) and ??? Meyer in a grey velvet jacket and ruffled collar (18??). For those of us who beauty in art, Sargent's legacy are paintings of dazzling technical skill, often showing radiantly beautiful images of the Gilded Age.

Post Impressionists

Gauguin, (Eugene Henri) Paul (France, 1848-1903)

Gauguin was one of the foremost painters of the Post-impressionist movement. He was born in Paris. His father was a journalist from Orleans. His mother was partly Peruvian. He had a cosmopolitan childhood, growing up in Lima, Orleand, and Paris. He was a seaman, served in the French Navy during the Franco- Prussian War, and worked as a stock broker and successful back agent. He did not begin to paint until 1873 after his marriage. He exhibited his first work in 1876 and begun to revolutionize modern art. I only know one boy he painted, the son of a friend, but it is a wonderful piece.


Millais, Sir John Everett (England, 1829-96)

English portrait and historical painter born in Southhampton. He exhibited at the Royal Academy when he was only 17 years old. His Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru is considered on of the best historical works shown. He became associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Holman Hunt. His first Pre-Raphaelite painting was a scene from the Isabela of Keats, recalled the manner of the early Flemish and Italian masters. He married Euphenmia Gray in 1855. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1856. Other major works include Chill October (1871), The Northwest Passage (1873), and Effie Deams (1877). His work includes several portraits of children, providing fascinating glimpses of the clothes worn by wealthy children during the second half of the 19th Century. Millais was created a baronet by Queen Victoria in 1885 and elected president of the Royal Academy in 1896. There's a new exhibition of Millais portraits in London during 1999. One critic in reviewing the exhibit bemoaned how the painter abandoned the pre-Raphaelites to paint society portraits including "sickly sweet portraits of children."

Figure 3.--This unidentified American primitive shows the pantalettes worn by young children with tunics and dresses. Some like these were plain, others were much more fancy.

Primitives: Americans

American primitive artists provide wonderful color images of fashions in Colonial America and the early 19th Century before the development and commercial success of photography. The British refer to this art as "naive". These artists generally had no academic training aat all. Some traveled the bavkrodes of rural America and sometimes painted a portrait for room and board. Others had studios in the still small cities in America duting the late 18th and early 19th century. Often the artist is not known, especially many of the works done by itenerate artists. Many other American primitive artists are known. These paintings are one of the principal sources of information on what American boys were wearing in the early 19th century. They are particularly important in an age that clothes were still hand maid and thus there could be substantial variations. While these paintings look primitive because of the child-like perspective, their portraits include very detailed and accurate depictions of clothing.

Water colorists: English

Allingham, Helen (England, 1848-1926)

Helen Allingham (nee Paterson) was born near Burton on Trent, the family settling in Birmingham after the death of her father in 1862. She studied at the Birmingham School of Design. She is recognized as an important English watercolor painter in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Most of her work is exteriors, but a few are of her children, often in formal clothes. This provides a rare insight into play clothes in the late 19th Century as most of the available portraits and photographs show the children in their dress party clothes.

Unidentified Styles

I am just beginning to identify the styles involved. Please let me know how you would classify the various artists:

Billy, Louis Leopold (France, 1761-1845): French genre and portrait painter, born at La Russe. He was much influenced by the Dutch genre painters. Notable among the incredible 5,000 paintings and drawing credited to him is The Arrival of the Diligence (Louvre, 1803). Some of his paintings and real life scenes provide interesting glimpses of French boys' fashions of his time.

Boldini, Giovanni (Italy, 1845-1931): Italian genre and portrait painter. He was born in Ferrara and educated at the Academy of Florence. He achieved success at a young age painting portraits in London, but he moved to Paris in 1872. He was a good friend of the American painter Whistler.

Gainsborough, Thomas (England, 1727-88): Thomas Gainsborough is one of the most renowned portrait painter. He developed the subject-matter of small portrait groups, set in a realistic landscape. Two his most famous portraits are The Blue Boy (1770) and Pink Boy (17??). The boys, one a relative of Gainsbourough, were painted in elaborate satin and lace costumes of the previous century. His early works show the influence of French engraving and of Dutch landscape painting; at Bath his change of portrait style owed much to a close study of van Dyck (his admiration is most clear in The Blue Boy. By the 1780s Gainsborough and his rivals, Joshua Reynolds and Allan Ramsay, were considered to be the best portrait painters in England. All three painted George III but it was claimed that the royal family preferred Gainsborough's portraits.

Goya y Lucientes, Francisco Jose de (Spain, 1746-1828): Goya is along with El Greco and Velasquez, is one of the three great pillars of Spanish art. Goya addressed many different genres and styles. He was the court painter to Charles IV. He is widely known for his portraits of Spanish nobility, including boys, but he also painted many accomplished scenes of modern life.

Greuze, Jean-Baptiste (France, 1725-1805): Jean Baptiste Greuze was a French genre and portrait painter. Greuze was an eminent portraitist. Among his most famous portraits are those of the Dauphin, the ilfated son of King Louis XVI, Robespierre, Napoleon, as well as numerous political and artistic figures. Few portraitists painted such a diverse list of subjects. Some of his most striking portraits are the heads of anonymous children and young women.

Figure 4.--.
Lawrence, Sir Thomas (England, 1769-1830): Famed portrait painter born in Bristol. He entered the Royal Academy as a student in 1787 and exhibited a number of paintings in his first year. He won recognition for his portrait of Miss Farren, an actress. He became the fashionable portrait painter of his day, and on the death of Sir. Joshua Reynolds in 1792, he was made principal painter to King George III, who knighted him in 1815. Lawrence is especially noted for his children's portraits for which he was unsurpassed in his day. These portraits are a rich source of information on fashionable children's wear of the day. His portrait of The Calmady Children is generally regarded as his masterpiece of this genre. Lawrence, Gainsborough, and Reynolds represent the apex of distinctive English portrait painters.

Ramsay, Allan (Scotland, 1713-84): Most renowned Scottish portrait painter. Ramsay was born in Edinburgh, the son of a poet whom he is named after, He was trained in Edinburgh, London, and Rome. He was made the court painter to King George III in 1767, and became one of the most successful portrait artists in England. He executed many portraits of the King and Queen, court intimates, and other celebrities of the day. His masterpiece is a portrait of his wife which hangs in the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Americans know Ramsay's work as many of the images of George III during the Revolutionary War were painted by Ramsay. One famous portrait of the king hangs in Independence Hall, Philadelphia.

Reynolds, Joshua (England, 1723-92): Joshua Reynolds, the son of a clergyman, was born near Plymouth in 1723. He was sent to London to study art in 1740. He was apprenticed to Thomas Hudson but William Hogarth and Allan Ramsay had the most influence of his style. After a period in Rome (1749-52), Reynolds returned to England where he established himself as one of country's leading portrait painters. Those painted by Reynolds included Josiah Wedgwood, Warren Hastings, Sir Joseph Banks and David Garrick. When the Royal Academy was established in 1768, Reynolds was elected its first president. The following year he was knighted. In 1784 Reynolds was appointed as painter to George III. However, 5 years later his sight began to deteriorate and he was forced to give up painting.

Figure 4.--This portrait Rubens portrait of his sons Albert and Nicholus was painted about 1625.
Rubens, Peter Paul (Flanders, 1577-1640): Rubens is one of the great masters of the Flemish school. He was born in Siegen, Westphalia. In 1599 he was admitted a master of the Brotherhood of St. Luke in Antwerp. He traveled to Italy in 1600 to view the work of the great masters. He entered the service of Vicenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, as Gentleman of the Chamber and court painter. He was dispatched on a mission to Philip of Spain in 1605, beginning a diplomatic career for which his keen intellect, polished urbanity, and linguistic achievement qualified him. While in Madrid he painted many Spanish nobels as well as historical subjects. He settled in Antwerp and was appointed court painter to the Archduke Albert and his wife Isabella. His masterpiece, Discent from the Cross was completed in 1614. Marie de Medicis, the French Queen Mother, invited Rubens to France in 1620 to assist in the decoration of the Luxembourg Palace. He undertook 24 large works commemorating her marriage to Henry IV. In the ensuing years he undertook a series of diplomatic mission s that brought him to the English, French, and Spanish courts. In return for these services he was knighted by both Charles I (England) and Philip IV (Spain). His portraits are mostly of adults, but family portraits do provide some insights into the clothes worn by 17th Century children.
Schloesser, Carl (Germany, 1832-1914): One of his most famous paintings is Forbidden Fruit," which pictures schoolboys smoking.

Tissot, James Jacques Joseph: (France/England, 1836-1902): This French painter fled France after the French Commune in 1871 and lived and worked in England where he was widely popular. Modern critics consider his work insipid and sugary. Sugary it is, but it is also technically skilled and provides us marvelously detailed windows into the life of the Victorian family--however idealized. His images provide fascinating glimpse on the children appearing in all the static studio shots of the late 19th Century.

Van Dyck, Antoon (Belgium, 1599-1641): Antoon Van Dyck was born during 1599 in Antwerp, which was at the time then the main port of the Spanish Netherlands, basically modern Belgium. He was to become one of the most successful portrait painters of the day and awarded a knighthood by England's Charles I. His brilliant portraits of the Cavalier nobility, resplendent in satin and lace stand to day as our major window into the world of Stuart England. These paintings were also to inspire the elaborate Little Lord Fauntleroy suits of the late 19th Century. Interestingly, Van Dyck's grandfather had made the family fortune by selling luxurious fabrics, velvet, satin, and lace.

Figure 5.--This portrait of Don Baltazar Carlos was painted by Spanish master Velazquez about 1635.
Velazquez, Diego Rodriguez de Silva (Spain, 1599-1660): Velasquez is generally recognized as the chief painters of the Spanish school and one of the great masters of all time. He was born in Seville and a self-taught painter. He first visited Madrid, the royal capital, in 1622. He made his name there with one of his street scenes, the Water seller. King Philip IV commissioned him to paint his portrait. Velaszquez was appointed pintor en camara, with a lucrative stipend. He further improved his acclaim at court with a work appealing to Spanish nationalism, Expulsion of the Moriscos and was appointed usher of the chamber. He traveled in Italy to learn about the art of the great masters. He returned to Italy in 1648-50 with a commission from the king to buy art. Many of his paintings are portraits of the royal family and Spanish nobels. Many were painted as children giving an excellent view of how aristocratic Spanish children were dressed in the 17th Century-- essentially in scaled-down versions of how their parents were dressed.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 23, 1999
Spell checked: July 30, 1999
Last updated: June 30, 1999