Sunday, 16 June 2013

Happy Father's Day!

Gosh chaps, it's Father's Day!  Here in Britain it only became an actual thing in the early 1970s (to coincide with my birth, no doubt) but of late there has been firm evidence that retailers obviously feel people need to express their love through meaningless purchases for both parents equally.  I bet you Dads feel special now.  My Dad got some home-made jam donuts (I know my audience), I even deep fried and shoved jam up them while he watched.  While I was searing off my fingerprints with boiling fat and melting sugar, I got to thinking about Victorian fathers...

Good Morning Dear Father Frederich Meyerheim
You would think that the figure of 'Father' would appear in many Victorian paintings, but actually Mum gets a bigger look in.  Father figures are slightly more mysterious, as if society had a collective head-scratch over exactly what they made of them.  We all know they should be upstanding, authoritarian and bearded,  but as a subject of their own?  That's when things get a bit tricky...

Father is at the Helm (1889) William McTaggart
Well, that's quite obvious.  Doesn't the boy look thrilled by the fact his father is steering their little boat.  Father looks quite old to have such a tiny son and where is everyone else? Is it just me or is Dad staring at me? Okay, I'm moving on...

Watching Father Work Albert Neuhuys
You have to remember that telly and Haribo hadn't been invented yet, so these children are able to sit and watch their Dad do something with a stick and a basket.  It's just like Mario Kart, but you get some fresh air.

Home From Work (1861) Arthur Hughes
I suppose what keeps most fathers out of the domestic scenes in art is that they have to be at work.  Arthur Hughes did a couple of pictures of joyful children hurling their arms around their daddies as they return from a day of honest labour - Did only working-class children do this?  Was it relief that neither he nor they had died of something poverty-related during the day?  Either way, that child has bare feet and no coat on.  She'll be a goner by the end of the evening.  One less present for you next Father's Day.  Really, when will the working-classes ever learn?

The Struggle for the Apple William Knight

I'm not sure children today would struggle for an apple.  I may be condemning a generation unfairly, I'm sure my daughter would put up a fight, but then she knows where we keep them and where the chocolate fingers live so she doesn't often feel the need to wrestle one of her parents for a piece of fruit.  Honestly, if the two children in the picture haven't worked out how to successfully tag team that apple out of his hand, then they don't deserve it.  They aren't trying.  I blame their parents.

The Hit Frederic Leighton
Without doubt, it is Dad's role to teach his little children the important lessons in life: honesty, hard work, how to shoot something with a bow and arrow.  I'm not sure Social Services are comfortable with the last one anymore.  Especially if you do it dressed like that.  You'll be going on a list, I promise you.

I think it's interesting that one of the most famous paintings about Dads doesn't even feature a father at all...

And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1878) William Frederick Yeames
Of all wars, the Civil War is a proper Dad War (bear with me) as the Cavaliers ultimately naffed up the chances and inheritance of their floppy-collared children only to end up with the head being knocked off the Dad of the Charles II (who was far more normal that you'd expect after all that.  I mean, when you see Charles II you do think 'what was your damn excuse Henry VIII?! Get a grip!')  Anyway, here we have a little poppet in shiny blue being questioned about his floppy haired, handsome, lace-bedecked father, who I bet has lovely big boots, and a marvellous tunic with slashes of colour ... what was I saying?  Oh yes, I guess the father's presence in the picture is via his son, the little distillation of him about to show how good a job he did at raising him.  Did he teach his son honesty, which will make the son reveal his father's whereabouts?  Did he teach his son to lie, therefore revealing himself as not a very good father, although a living one?  I think he taught his son the intelligence to be honest to people who deserve it and not to give any time to weirdos who ban Christmas.

Cordelia Comforting her Father, King Lear, in Prison (1886) George William Joy
There were some famous Dads in Victorian art.  Possibly not the best example of these is King Lear who  managed to stuff it up to Jeremy Kyle levels of idiocy.  Mind you, you have to remember that he managed to father a perfectly nice and sensible child as well as the bad ones, so he got some things right, and he did work it out in the end.  Then everyone died.  Come on, this is Shakespeare.

Grace Darling and her Father William (1860) William Bell Scott
I have learnt something new, I always thought it was just Good Old Grace and her dog who rescued everyone from the shipwreck of the Forfarshire in 1838, but her Dad was there too.  Come to think of it, that makes far more sense than some random lass and her boarder collie, but every image I saw of her growing up had her bravely paddling a tiny rowing boat into a Biblically stormy sea.  It's a nice example of father and daughter teamwork which makes you stop and think - I thought the Victorian era was all about men doing manly things.  Apparently it was not only Father and Son but also Father and Daughter.

Stock Investments: Stocks for Father (1864) Joseph Banner
Really, this is not good.  What does this teach children about adults, let alone their own father? Far better that the children are put in stocks, for their own good.  That's the way they raise them in Wiltshire.  Honest.  I can tell you don't believe me...

Yep, that's me on the right.  Moving on...

Grandfather's Tale (1860) Edward Thompson Davis
Not forgetting that grandfathers have of course been fathers at some point and now get the chance to get their own back (as my father says).  Here we have a charming scene of a grandfather telling a story as his daughter and her children listen.  My Dad tells a great story about how the Thuggee would sneak into the bathroom as you shampooed your hair and would get you if you closed your eyes.  For those who don't know, the Thuggee were ancient Indian stranglers.  I still can't close my eyes in the shower.  

Grandfather's Advice George Bernard O'Neill

I think as you grow older, Dad or Granddad is there for advice.  Mine can tell me all I need to know about beekeeping and fuchsias and many other things, including being a thoroughly decent human beings and maybe that is why father's and daughters are so often pictured together.  Dad is the one with all the experience in the world and he is responsible for making sure she doesn't end up in trouble.  This especially comes to light when your daughter wishes to marry...

Hope William Powell Frith
Trust Me John Everett Millais
The first of this pair is a young man asking for the hand of a young lady from her less than impressed father.  Although this seems a hopelessly out-dated way of doing things (although Mr Walker had to ask for my hand in marriage, bless him), part of me thinks there maybe a few parents think this should be brought back, to save trouble later.  I think Mr Walker would like to be able to refuse any useless wastrels who wish to marry Lily-Rose, he may have even drafted a rejection letter in preparation.  The second picture shows a young woman attempting to hide a love letter from her father.  It's uncertain who is saying 'Trust Me' - is it the father asking to be trusted to put the letter in the post bag (yes, that's going straight in the nearest hedge) or is it the daughter?  'No, really Dad, I've written to that nice young man who is training to be an architect, not that bohemian artist who lives in Chelsea and dresses up as a Cavalier in his spare time...'

Arthur 'Daddy' Hughes and his daughter
Well, I best draw this to a close and phone my Daddy.  Happy Father's Day to all Dads, I'm sure you do a splendid job and are cherished by your loving children who will deep fry something and roll it in sugar for you later (just me then?).  If you are feeling left out, you only have to wait to November 19th for International Men's Day (8th March is International Women's Day and Universal Children's Day is 20th November), so that's something to look forward to.  Mind you, I would think the lack of greasy finger prints on your iPad is gift enough...

Happy Father's Day!


  1. Lovely post!

    One of my favourite Father and son picture in Manchester Art Gallery is Fred Barnard - A Dress Rehearsal, 1868.
    "It shows an acrobat and his son in their attic home. The thoughtful father is putting the son through his paces. All the tools of their trade are scattered around them – including a big drum to drum up an audience, which has a dog in a ruff seated upon it."

  2. Absolutely lovely! Thanks for your comments :)

  3. Thanks Kirsty for another stonking good read [ plus pictures]! Not to mention the picture of one of my very favourite Pre-Raphs - the wonderful Arthur Hughes!


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