Museum Exhibit Explores Angels & Tomboys In The 1800s

NEWARK–The hopes, dreams and fears of girls in the 19th century will be explored in an exhibition opening at the Newark Museum on Sept. 12.

Featuring masterworks by John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase, “Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art” explores the numerous ways artists not only reflected but helped shape cultural and artistic visions of girlhood in the 1800s.

“While girls were typically portrayed as innocent, passive and domestic throughout the 19th century, the exhibition investigates compelling and alternative female images including tomboys, working children and adolescents,” said Mary Sue Sweeney Price, museum director and CEO. Among the themes that are explored are Victorian attitudes towards the nature and nurture of children; the association of girls with fashion, health and home; and the impact of the Civil War on families.

Organized by Dr. Holly Pyne Connor, curator of 19th Century American Art at the Newark Museum, the exhibition is comprised of more than 80 works from the museum’s renowned American art collection and from other major institutions across the country. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 7, 2013, and then travels to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art from Feb. 16 to May 26, 2013, and to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, from June 28 to Sept. 30, 2013.

Major support for the exhibition and accompanying catalogue has been provided by Johnson & Johnson; National Endowment for the Arts; Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.; Newark Museum Volunteer Organization; and Friends of American Art at the Newark Museum and, in part, by a grant from the New Jersey Department of State, Division of Travel and Tourism. The exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition begins with the subject of childhood androgyny by displaying portraits of little boys and girls dressed in similar clothing, revealing Victorian attitudes about raising children and a desire of parents to view their children as sexless. The concept of the “Child of Nature” is presented with scenes of girls immersed in lush, country settings. During a period of increasing urbanization and industrialization, girlhood was viewed as a natural and spontaneous state while rural youths were viewed as healthier, happier and purer than their urban counterparts, curator Connor explained.

Further works deal with energetic and adventuresome tomboys, a new feminine type that immerged after the Civil War and provided alternate behavioral models that are still relevant today. Working girls appear in the prints of Jacob Riis, the pioneering social photographer, and provide a dramatic contrast to cheerful images of street children, domestic servants and rural laborers by contemporary artists.

Paintings of readers address the new educational opportunities that became available to girls for the first time as they went to high school and then on to college. In the final gallery, psychological portraits depict moody teenagers during a period at the end of the 19th century when doctors began to recognize that adolescence was a unique stage in human development, defined by emotional turbulence, and tremendous physical growth and maturation.

Narrative paintings by Lilly Martin Spencer, the most important female artist of the mid-century, address her deeply felt views on home, family and the nation during and after the Civil War, while the genre works of Eastman Johnson, John Rogers and Edward Lamson Henry examine issues of race and reconstruction.

Among the artistic highlights are images by Edmund Tarbell and Chase of their daughters dressed up for their portraits or captured unaware in the household; full length portraits by Chase, Frank Benson and Frank Duveneck; and enigmatic and disturbing girlhood images of family members by Chase, Eakins and Seymour Joseph Guy, which reveal the complexity of the artists’ personal responses to the young girls who model for them and who inspired some of their greatest pictures.

“While individual works are analyzed in depth, they are also placed in a rich social, artistic and historical context, which provides multiple avenues for a greater understanding and appreciation of 19th-century girlhood,” said Connor.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a major catalogue, co-published by the Newark Museum with Pomegrante Communications, Inc., which includes five illuminating essays by respected scholars in the field of nineteenth-century American art and culture.

For more information, visit the Museum’s web site,

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