Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Helen Allingham (1848-1926)

Figure 1.--This painting portrays Mrs. Allingham's son Henry, who 3 years old at the time. He is walking into a room at Sandhills. This was their home in Surrey which they moved to in 1881. In later life Henry became a car designer.

English watercoloist Helen Allingham was born near Burton on Trent. Her family settling in Birmingham, after the untimely death of her father in 1862. Allingham studied art at the Birmingham School of Design. She is widely recognized as an important English watercolor painter of 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.


Helen Allingham (nee Paterson) was born near Burton on Trent, in ????. The Paterson family settling in Birmingham after the untimely death of her father in 1862, when she was only a young teenager. I have no information on her family life, siblings, or how they were dressed as children.


Paterson studied at the Birmingham School of Design under Rainbach. At the time it was unusual for young women to pursue more than a basic education--especially any form of highr education or a career in painting. Despite the constraints she did persue her education. In 1867 she went to London to study first at the Female School of Art, and then at the Royal Academy Schools. She lived with her aunt, Laura Herford while in London. Her aunt had been instrumental in opening the Royal Academy Schools to women.

Illustration Career

Paterson's initial career was as a black and white illustrator. Her first commercial success was with Once a Week. This was followed by various children's books for Cassells. Miss Paterson by the late 1860s had built a strong reputation. She was one of the founder members of staff on The Graphic when that magazine was launched in 1869. From 1874 she was a regular contributor to the Illustrated London News and the Cornhill Magazine--including Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd.


Miss Paterson married the poet William Allingham in 1874. Allingham was of English extraction, but born at Ballyshannon in Ireland in 1824. I have no information on his childhood or how he was dressed as a boy. His first book of poems was published in 1850, Day and Night Songs in 1854, and in an enlarged form issued in 1855 illustrated by Rossetti and Millais. These were followed by Songs, Ballads, and Stories in 1877 and Irish Songs and Poems in 1887. He worked on Frazer's Magazine as sub-editor and editor from 1870-79. His book The Music Masters was one of those illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelites. The couple was blessed with three children, an older brother, Eva and a younger brother Henry. I'm not sure when the children were born or if there were other children. The blond child that appears in many of her painyings appers to be Henry. We see him with different length hair. Thre is a portrait of the older brother with Eva as a little girl. This was probably painted before Henry was born.

Figure 2.--This painting is titled "Bubbles." It was inspired by a visit to Tennyson's home in September 1884. To entertain his two grandson's, the poet fetched some soap and a pipe and proceeded to blow iridescent bubbles. "Never was anything seen so beautiful," he told Helen. "You artists can't get such colours." Helen rose to the challenge." (Although not stated I believe the boy might be Henry).

Water Colors

As a result of her marriage, Mrs. Allingham was freed from the need to earn a sallery. She then turned more to her true love, watercolour. She became ARWS in 1875 and RWS in 1891. Mrs. Allingham was influenced by the works of Fred Walker. Of her watercolours, Ralph Peacock wrote that Mrs Allingham claims quite a special place for herself in any sketch-survey of the work of English women painters. Few women have shown a more definitely English sympathy in landscape than she has. Mrs. Allingham produced rustic countryside scenes, with cottages and village people, in a sympathetic style avoiding overt sentimentality. However her studies abroad, such as in Venice, seem to me to be less successful. She was also a portraitist, among her sitters being Carlyle. Watercolours by Mrs Allingham are in the Birmingham museum. Many of the periodicals illustrated by her are still to be found in second-hand book shops.


Allingham is best known for painting images of rural England and children. She often commonly used her own children for models.

Child Models

One should keep in mind that these are portraits of country scenes and not portraits of the children. Thus, their dress may not be representative of what they ordinary wore. Also, they may appear older or younger than they really were. I think they are meant to represent little girls. The Victorians vieed young children as innocents. Many Victorian artists were facinated with little girls as an ideal representation of innocence and purity.

Children's Clothings

While best known for her landscapes, Mrs. Allingham produced some charming studies of children. These paintings show great technical skill. The children come across very naturally. Her paintings provide fascinating glimses of every day life for children of the era and the clothes they might wear when not done up in their party clothes. Most of them were of her own children.


Paintings of her son Henry show him still outfitted in a dress at 3 years of age. It is somewhat difficult to destinguish between dresses and smocks. How much longer he wore dresses and the circumstances of his breeching are unknown. Interstingly two paintings show him in a pink dress. This suggests that even by the late 19th Century, the modern conventions on gender and color had not yet been set. Perhaps Mrs. Allingham just liked pink. The dress Henry is picture in appears quite a simple, longish frock. I am not sure if he had fancier dresses for dress up events. I assume he did, but have no information on them. We notice paintings of Eva with another child in very similar dresses. The fact that the dresses are similar suggest that it is Henry. We have, however, no confirmation of that. As younger children their mother seems to hve dressed them in light-colored clothing. As older children we note black dresses.

Figure 3.--This painting shows Henry and his elder sister Eva. This is thought by many to be one of the finest examples of Helen Allingham's art. Eva is giving the youngest member of the family his first reading lesson.


One painting of children playing at the Tennyson home shows three children playing with soap bubles. Two are probably boys as they are dressed alike in smocks and straw hats. The younger child wearing smocks is certainly a boy, perhaps even Mrs. Allingham's son Henry. It is an open question who the older child is. The fact that the hat and smock match suggest it may be a boy. The long hair suggest perhaps a girl, but we know that Tennyson's sons were dressed in tunics and had long hair. Thus it is possible a grandson might also have long hair. Hopefully further details on this on this painting will emerge. It is unclear what the boys are wearing under their smocks other than long black stockings. They are white, back buttoning smocks worn at knee length. Note that the smocks have long sleeves.


Mrs Allingham appears to have commonly used white pinafores for the children while at home, both indoors and outside for play. All of the pinafores appear to be white. We do not see anycolored pinafores. The pinafores seem to be very plain utilitarian one. we do not see any fancy pinafores with ruffles and lace. We notice that they were various lengths. Some seem very short. Others are quite long. Henry seems to have often worn pinafores over his dresses. His sisters also wore pinafores, even as teenagers. The pinafores can be distinguished from the smocks in that they do not have sleeves like the pinafores. Unfortunatly while we have quite a few imges of Allingham portraits, but we are not always posutive who the children are in the painting.


We note many of the paintings of Henry wearing smocks and pinafores show him wearing a variety of hosiery. We see him weating white and colored socks as well as dark long stockings. Paintings of his older sister often shows her wearing long black stockings as an older sister. I am not sure about her hosiery as a younger girl.


One image shows Henry as a small boy wearing brown strap shoes with red stockings. Another image shows Henry or a boy his age wearing long black stockings with smocks. In another image Henry erars short socks with a dress and pinafore.

Hair styles

Little information is available on the hairstyles of her children. We do know from thes paintings that Henry's hair was worn long, but as a younger child kept short of shoulder level. Perhaps it just had not grown long yet. It appears to be naturally curly. She did not curl his hair into ringlets. One painting shows Eva with a child that has quite long blond hair. This may be Henry, but we are not yet possitive.

Older clothes

I do not at this time have information on how Henry was dressed after he was breeched.


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Created: March 4, 1999
Last updated: October 7, 2003