Skeleton Suits: Unknown Image

Figure 1.--This wonderful portrait shows a girl anf her two younger brithers. HBC believes that it is an English image painted about 1800-1805.

Many portraits of boys in skeleton suits are classic images. The painters are well known and the identity of their subjectes well documented. There are, however, many American primitives (naive) portraits that are unknown. There are also many unidentified European portarits. We will post some of these imagers here. We would be very interested in reader comments as to the date and country of the portraits. We would also be imnterested in the artist, but realize that in manu cases he will be unknown,

The Portrait

I have attached an image of a painting that I am researching. I am unsure of the nationality of the sitters as well as the painter, and was wondering what your opinion might be based on their clothing. Any information you would care to share would be much appreciated. Please use the photo in your archives if you wish. Thank you for your time and trouble. Sincerely, Peggy Stone, Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

HBC Commenmts


The painting is a wonderful image. Upper class fashions at the turn of the 19th century were in many ways pan-European. I don't believe that it is possible to tell from the image what nationality it is. I think it is definitely European. Most American art around 1800 was primitve/naive. I believe that any one this proficient in America would have been well known. The badmittion prop is another decidely European clue. My guess would be either French or English. (Badmitton certain was all the rage in France, but because of thisd it was taken up by the nobility throughout Europe.) Because of the boys' red hair--I would probably say English. An English reader comments, " The 'in your face' colours and general air of unashamed luxury make me think the picture may be Spanish or Italian." HBC believes that the red hair , however, is a strong indicator that the portrait is British--probably English.


I would date the image at about 1800-1805. If you go into the 1880s, knee breeches would have been more common. If you go to the 1810s, collars become increasingly important. Also I believe that as the 19th century progressed shorter hair became more common. And I have not seenm veru many images of ringlets cirtls before the tirn of the century. However, I stress that my understanding of skeleton suits is still very basic.


I am positive that the image shows a girl anf her two younger brothers. It was common for young boys to have long hair and wear dresses in the 18th and 19th century. It was not, however, acceptable for girls to wear boys' clothes and the skeleton suit was a clearly boys' outfit.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 2, 2001
Last updated: April 3, 2001