Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon

Yesterday, we talked about how the art of female pre-pubescence in Victorian Britain might be explained by a desire for the alleviation of responsibility on the part of the artist.  If little girls live in Wonderland, who better to have as your guide into the realm of the imagination?  The infantilising of women can be seen as the natural progression of this same concern and fascination, to keep the ones you love in this ‘desirable’ state.  Today, we will look at some of the other images which are not quite so glorious…

I finished yesterday with the statue The Bud and The Bloom by Andrea Lucchesi which illustrates how the girl-child grows into the girl-adult, as the little girl bends over backwards to see how she should develop.  For some artists there is no development: she becomes a ‘woman’ when he perceives in her the qualities necessary.

A Venetian Bather Paul Peel
It took me a moment to realise that this was not a woman I was looking at, and it was only her height in proportion to the mirror that made me look twice.  Of course, her reflection gives away her age, and there is a level of androgyny (Is her hair up?  Is it short?  Is she a boy?).  As this is Paul Peel, I think we are fairly safe in assuming it’s a girl because of the following…

Before the Bath Paul Peel

Waiting for the Bath (1890s) Paul Peel

After the Bath Paul Peel
Okay, enough bathing, Mr Peel!  Almost bordering on obsession, Paul Peel liked little pink girls having baths: the reluctance, the anticipation, the firelight playing on rosy skin afterwards.  All very commercial I’m sure, but the sheer quantity of images does rather make you stop and think.  Was there not a vase of flowers in your house, Mr Peel?  I’m just saying…

The two little scamps above, hiding from their nurse led me to think about the statue.  There are many ways of reading the notion of ‘the bud and the bloom’, the most obvious is that the little girl will obviously ‘bloom’ into a woman.  However, it can also be read that in each little girl is a woman waiting to happen, and those seeds are not buried very deep.  Think of the ‘vanity’ images I used in a previous blog about mirrors…

Vanity (1936) Frank Cadogan Cowper
A lot of the models looked like teenage girls (and possibly were), taking Cowper’s young lady as a prime example.  Within her child-brain are the seeds of vanity, the affliction of womanhood.  These are ‘Little Women’ and should be treated with suspicion as they will be up to no good, mark my words.  There is an entire swathe of images of little girls ‘up to no good’, like so….
In Disgrace Charles Barber
In Disgrace William Gore
In Detention (1888) Auguste Trupheme
Who’s been a naughty girl then?  In Detention is slightly unusual in many ways because most of the images involve the girls in paroxysms of guilt, about to be found out.  Very few images show the child actually being caught, very few adults are in evidence making them pay for their misdeeds, for example this rather awful image…

'In Rueful Anticipation of Forthcoming Events' (1868) Philipp Hoyoll
In pictures of naughty boys, they are often being caught by the ear, or being reprimanded for the naughtiness.  For little girls, it seems to be different.  Without being too sensational about it, I think that we, the middle-class male consumer of this art, are expected to decide her punishment.  It could be that no-one wants to see these charming little cherubs punished for their little accidents, so we the audience can decide to be lenient with them.  Or not.  When you buy the canvas, she becomes your child to do with as you wish.  Yes, that is what I mean.

Now, there was of course a place in the market for women, who were apparently huge consumers of this sort of art.  Women’s role in the market of girl images is a very interesting and problematic one, especially when we come to a certain Charles Dodgson.  There is no way I could write a piece of images of girls and not include Lewis Carroll, and he is the poster-boy for sexualizing little girls.  I wonder how we would feel about him had he not had burnt a load of his pictures.  I can’t imagine they would have been worse than 'Evelyn Hatch' and we’ve all seen that.  Her mother was in the room when the image was taken. Crikey.  Alright, moving to another one of his images, I’ve seen this used to illustrate Carroll’s obvious girl-lovin’...

But then it reminds me of this…

Naughty Child Edwin Landseer
…and as far as I know, no-one has ever accused Landseer of kiddie molesting.  Is it because Carroll repeated did pictures of little girls?  But then that’s like accusing George Stubbs of bestiality, and no-one’s done that either (unless I’ve missed a book…)

Look at the fetlocks on that….
It’s so easy to look at images like the ones I’ve used today and point fingers.  It makes us uneasy to see Evelyn Hatch sprawling naked in a mock-adult manner. It is unthinkable that such an image could be taken today, and working backwards, images like Landseer’s, Hoyoll’s and ones from yesterday would be treated as suspicious, as why do these men want to focus such attention on little girls, if not for nefarious purpose?

Geddes, we are no different today.  While we are on the subject of how allegedly perfect we are today, I give you exhibit ‘A’…

For those not blessed with daughters, Lelli Kelly are a shoe company that specialise in highly decorated trainers and party shoes, covered in glitter and sparkles and their main gimmick is that you get free make-up.  The ‘Make Up Mobile’ above was particularly squealed at by my daughter when she saw the adverts as it came with a picture of a puppy.  I can buy my six year old daughter crop tops, heels, mini-skirts and most excitingly, thongs.  She can have all manner of merchandise with the Playboy Bunny on it.  My view on the Victorian child-art debate is that we should pay attention to the fact that we are in glass house before we start lobbing stones.  If the Victorians are guilty of applying a womanly aesthetic to little girls, then we have learnt nothing as we still do it.  Many would argue there is no issue in parents allowing their little girls pretend to be women, applying glittery make-up and wearing adult styled clothes.  How many would argue the same for Evelyn Hatch?  All she is doing is aping her elders at the behest of her parents.

My advice, for what it is worth, is that if something gets your ‘wrong-radar’ up then don’t consume it, and express your feelings to someone.  It’s awfully safe to accuse a long-dead artist of paedophilia, doesn’t mean that his obsession was sexual.  Then again, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t.  All we have left are the images, and we seem to have a huge problem in how to address them.

Can we ever have a comfortable Victorian child aesthetic?  Join me tomorrow for some suggestions and a little home experimentation…


  1. I find the Peel paintings very disturbing and there is a high "ick" factor to all of them but "Vanity" which is a child dressing up.

  2. Get out of the bathroom, Peel. I agree that Vanity is a little classier to our eye, but still it is a young girl flashing a bare shoulder. Is it really different? It's so very tricky to pick the wolf from the sheep sometimes...

  3. Julia Cameron and many others photographed nude children. You can still even find naked children on Xmas cards. A very good paper on Dodgson covering this is:


  4. I'm finding it very, very hard not to judge Mr. Peel. Except for the two children hiding from their nurse--that one made me laugh out loud. I've seen that sort of thing with my own kids, after all. But taken in conjunction with the rest of his paintings shown here, it begins very much to appear he had an unhealthy obsesssion. Like you said, "if something gets your 'wrong-radar' up..." And isn't it interesting that Mr. Carroll was such a friend of Rossetti and no doubt Burne Jones, although I don't know the latter for a fact. While Rossetti seemed for the most part to stay out of the pre-pubescent arena, Burne Jones seems to also have a fixation for fresh female youth...perhaps not as 'fresh' as Peel's and Carroll's, but still...I've wondered about him. And let's not even get into Ruskin. But I wonder if it all really comes down to Victorian sexual repression and hence obsession, and if, consequently, it might have been somewhat common in many homes, in the form of voyeurism if not outright incest. Either way, Ew. Or as Fiz said, Ick.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx