Abraham Solomon's sister Rebecca was also a notable genre artist. Women were not admitted to art schools at the time. So Abraham taught his younger sister. As the family was Jewish, the social conventions of the day may not have limited her efforts to pursue a career as they did other young British women. Rebecca's talent meant that she was a rare woman artist allowed to exhibit her paintings at the Royal Academy which she often did between 1851-75. She created some remarkable images, but her work is not well covered by art historians. Children are commonly pictured in these genre scenes, especially those by Rebecca who added a woman's perspective. Rebecca was not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. She moved in important artistic circles. She was an assistant in the studio of John Everett Millais. And for a time worked for Edward Burne-Jones as a model. Rebecca made transitioned to to classical and historical themes (late-1850s), a more respected subject matter during the Vicyorian era. She like her older brother was also snatched from the art world at a relatively young age. She was run over by a coach (1886).
'The Governess' (1851-54) is one of her Rebecca Solomon's early paintings. It is a kind of split image. One side showing a husband and wife deeply in love. The other side showing a rather detached governess and her young charge.
The precise date of the painting is unknown, but seems to have been in the early-1850s (1851-54).
The well-off mistress and master of the house gaze with affection at each other, paying little attention to the governess. If this had been an actual commissioned portrait, the governess would not have been included. Their wedding rings are displayed. The young woman had married well and now leads a comfortable life. As was often the case with the Victorians, a young woman has married an older, well-established mind. This is not a portarit. It was a creation in Solomon's mind of a prosperous family and governess.
The other half of the image is another genteel young lady. She is attractive, but with out family money and has not succeded in attracting a suitor. There were at the time very limited career opportunities for genteel young women. Nanys or nursemaids had working-class origins. Governesses on the other hand were expected to be well
educated and come from genteel families. Nursing was not even yet open to women. And despite pioneers like Rebecca, either was the art world yet open to them. One of the few acceptable possibilities was to be a governess and live in the house of a propsperous family to care for their children. The governess here can only imagine the family that might have been had she found a husband. And as a governess, the chances of doing so steadily declined as she grew older. Governesses were stock features in Victorian novels. They are less commonly depicted in paintings. English coverness commonly found employment on the Continent, especially in Germany and France. English families seemed to have preferred French governesses when not employiong an English woman.
The child the governess is caring for here is often described as a girl, but is clearly a boy. Given the fact that he is reading. We would suspect that he was meant to be about 5-6 years old. wearing a maroon velvet tunic. The tunic was a popular garment throughout the 19th century. Only boys wore them. Notice the black belt with no real function, except to add a military touch. He also has short ringlets, lacy pantalettes, white socks and strap shoes. In Europe. An older boy might wear a tunic with proper pants. we notice younger children wearing socks. American children almost always covered up their legs by wearing long stockings. Some fashions histories mention long striped stockings for children. We have niot yet found examples in the photographic record or in this case paintings. A reader writes, "As is often the case when eminine garments are shown, I think, the Wikipaedia's decription of the painting identifies the child as a girl. I would definitely agree with you that the child is a boy."
These runglet curls seem more popular in England than in other European countries. The French called them 'English curls'.
An English reader writes, "The child in this picture has to be a boy otherwise its impact is reduced. Two women and the males in their lives. Woman and loving husband enjoying her playing on the piano. Governess and her young male charge sharing a reading exercise. Interesting costuming of wealthy children in mid-Victorian times and the adults who they would be in contact at this young age. It would be mainly female dominated leisure and education and training. It also shows the changing ideas of childhood. The boy is dressed in a decidely children's outfit and not in similar clothes to his father. The surplus gentle woman who had not yet found a male suiter. Males were in short supply and the 1840s had been difficult on the middle class. Many had gone bankrupt. Some married the younger brothers of their employer. Falling in love with male family members was often the senario in popular Victorian fiction. If the selection of the governess was done by the lady of the house she would be plain and not so attractive."