Paintings of Children at Play 2

Henri Jules Jean Geoffroy (1853–1924), It's Hard to Share (date not known), oil on canvas, 60.3 x 49.6 cm, Museu Antônio Parreiras (MAP), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first of these two articles about paintings of children at play, I showed examples of those who broke the rule never to paint children or animals, from Pieter Brueghel the Elder in the middle of the sixteenth century to Mary Cassatt in the middle of the 1880s. Children then seemed to come into vogue.

Edward Poynter (1836–1919), Outward Bound (1886), oil on canvas, 49.5 x 49.5 cm, The Tate Gallery (Bequeathed by Henry Evans 1904), London. © The Tate Gallery and Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),

Edward Poynter’s Outward Bound (1886) shows two young boys playing in a small rock cave at the coast. They have a bamboo fishing rod with them, and have made a small boat, which appears to be floating out through the rock arch at the left towards the open sea. Although the phrase outward bound is now more usually associated with the movement started in around 1941 by Kurt Hahn, and Baden-Powell’s scouting movement wasn’t founded until 1910, there were contemporary advocates who promoted getting the poor out of cities to a healthier life in the country and at the coast.

William Merritt Chase was very much a family artist, who painted his children avidly and with deep affection.

William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), Children Playing Parlor Croquet (c 1888), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Private collection. The Athenaeum.

His Children Playing Parlor Croquet from about 1888 must also show the daughters of others, if it’s correctly dated, as they take over a room to play the indoor version of this game, which was popular at the time.

William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), The Ring Toss (c 1896), oil on canvas, 102.6 x 89.2 cm, The Halff Collection. Wikimedia Commons.

While mother was busy making and mending, and caring for their little daughter Hazel, the older girls might play with father. The Ring Toss (c 1896) shows those older girls, Alice in yellow, with Koto and Dorothy, playing most probably in Chase’s Shinnecock studio. If that’s true, he was not only a proud father, but a very brave artist.

Georgios Jakobides (1853–1932), Παιδική Συναυλία (Children’s Concert) (1894), oil on canvas, 176 × 250 cm, Εθνική Πινακοθήκη-Μουσείο Αλεξάνδρου Σούτζου National Gallery of Greece, Athens, Greece. Wikimedia Commons.

Children love making a noise, and what better excuse for cacophony than putting on a concert. You can almost hear the sounds in Georgios Jakobides’ Παιδική Συναυλία (Children’s Concert) from 1894.

Évariste Carpentier (1845–1922), Child Playing (before 1900), oil on canvas, 45 x 38 cm, M-Museum Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. Wikimedia Commons.

Évariste Carpentier’s Child Playing is thought to have been completed before 1900, and shows a young girl, possibly one of the artist’s own daughters, playing quietly with an improvised sailing boat made from a wooden clog.

Around the turn of the century, and well into the twentieth, Carl Larsson’s family became the most famous in Europe, thanks to best-selling books containing his watercolours.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), A Pleasant Bathing-Place. From ‘A Home’ (1890-99), watercolour, 32 x 43 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. Courtesy of Nationalmuseum, via Wikimedia Commons.

Larsson’s Pleasant Bathing-Place was one of the paintings reproduced in his book A Home, and must date from the late 1890s. He brings together so many elements that typify home and family: children playing in the open air in the summer, the family’s pet dog, and mother sat nursing a baby.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Catching Crayfish. From ‘A Home’ (1897), watercolour, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

His richly detailed Catching Crayfish (1897) accompanied it. As with A Pleasant Bathing-Place above, the whole family is involved in catching, cooking, and feasting on the abundant crayfish. This is the perfect summer idyll, the aspiration for the many who bought his books.

Henri Jules Jean Geoffroy (1853–1924), It’s Hard to Share (date not known), oil on canvas, 60.3 x 49.6 cm, Museu Antônio Parreiras (MAP), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wikimedia Commons.

Jean Geoffroy was one of that rare breed of artist who specialised in children, the painter’s equivalent of a stuntman. Although many are shown in the classroom, where some semblance of order prevailed, his undated painting of It’s Hard to Share shows two young boys in the wild. They have just emerged from a sweet shop, and the child in the centre is reluctant to share the paper cone of sweets which he has just bought. His face says it all, as he looks with great suspicion at his less fortunate friend, and a dog looks up expectantly.

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), The Family in the Garden (c 1901), oil on canvas, 109.5 x 127.5 cm, Kunsthaus Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. The Athenaeum.

Pierre Bonnard’s paintings of the Terrasse family were bold moves on his part. The Family in the Garden from about 1901 shows them at play from the comparative safety of an upstairs window.

Hans Andersen Brendekilde (1857–1942), Soap-bubbles (1906), oil on canvas, 54 x 69 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

The children in Hans Andersen Brendekilde’s 1906 painting of Soap-bubbles are more down to earth, and engaged in an activity which had become something of a cliché since John Everett Millais’ famous and sentimental painting of exactly twenty years earlier.

Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928), Summer and Playing Children (1913), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Bergen Kunstmuseum, KODE, Bergen, Norway. Wikimedia Commons.

Nikolai Astrup used the common seasonal link between Summer and Playing Children in his painting from 1913, showing a file of them on the move, no doubt in search of trouble once they were out of the way of the adults.

Hans Andersen Brendekilde (1857–1942), Two Children in a Village Street (1921), oil on canvas, 51.2 x 66.3 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, Brendekilde’s Two Children in a Village Street shows two young girls, with a toddler playing behind them, in a backstreet of a village somewhere in the Danish countryside. One of the girls is on an errand, carrying a flask to get some milk; they appear to have stopped to talk. If the artist intended any social comment, it may be subtly hidden in the girls’ feet: one wears old shoes, the other none at all. But the sun is out, a rose in flower against the wall, and the girls have escaped the grown-ups at last.

May we long remain children.