Dr. Holly Pyne Connor, Curator of Nineteenth-Century American Art, has girls on her mind. She has curated Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art, a major traveling loan exhibition, which is the first to examine nineteenth-century depictions of girls in paintings, sculpture, prints and photographs. The exhibit is at the Newark Museum until January 20. This is an extended run due to popular demand.
Connor explains that the exhibit includes works by John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase. The range of artists mirrors the range of perceptions of girlhood -- from "angelic, passive and domestic" to tomboys, working girls, and awkward adolescents.
Girls portrayed in the exhibit's 80 works are angelic indoors and bolder outdoors, but both extremes point to a notion of childhood rooted in a past century, says Connor. The early part of the nineteenth century saw young children dressed identically, often wearing long hair and dresses. As they grew older, children of the time were divided by custom and law into the two separate worlds of adolescent boys and girls.
However, notes Connor, those divisions are murkier in lower income subjects of the paintings. Adolescent girls found themselves -- and are portrayed in the exhibit -- laboring at childcare, housework, and on farms.
To Connor, it's not difficult to draw lines between popular works of literature and artwork of the nineteenth century. Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is "angels and tomboys in a nutshell," says Connor. Beth, the sister who dies of rheumatic fever, is the angel. Jo, the writer who sells her hair to buy gifts for the family, is the tomboy.
While the exhibit doesn't make the point explicity, Connor notes that, of the two characters, "Everyone wants to be Jo."
Angels and Tomboys is at the Newark Museum.
Wednesday through Sunday, 12 noon–5 pm
Closed Mondays Tuesdays, New Year's Day and December 25.
Barrier-free entrance, café service and restrooms available.
Suggested Museum Admission
Veterans & their families with valid ID – $6
Children, Seniors & Students with valid I.D.: $6