Growing up in the 19th century

Exhibition about children, art, and society

Sep 07, 2019 to Jan 05, 2020

A formal portrait of a boy dressed in his Sunday best. Complete with top hat, he looks like a miniature man. A painting of a girl picking flowers in a field, captured in the briefest of snapshots. Two very different artworks, both dating from the 19th century. With the rise of new ideas about education and upbringing, children’s rights, playgrounds, and the availability of the first vaccines, this was a century that saw a transformation in the way in which children were seen. For the first time in the Netherlands, these changes are to be displayed in an exhibition: Growing up in the 19th century. From 7 September 2019 to 5 January 2020, Teylers Museum in Haarlem will be showing dozens of portraits and genre paintings in which children play a leading role.

From mini-adult to child

At the beginning of the 19th century, children were still seen as small adults. That was indeed how famous painters such as Jan Adam Kruseman, Adriaan de Lelie, and Charles Howard Hodges depicted them: standing upright, dignified, gazing directly at the viewer. Later, partly under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book Emile: or On Education (1762), ideas about upbringing and education rapidly evolved. For instance, it was no longer considered self-evident that children should start work as soon as possible. Instead, they needed to be given time and space to grow and mature. At the end of the century, Anton Mauve, Jacob Maris, Georg Hendrik Breitner, and Jan Toorop depicted their own – and other – children in a completely different way. In their quest for mood and atmosphere, they often portrayed children as absorbed in their own world, whether at play or lost in thought, in intimate and touching images. Children were finally recognised as children.

Taking social themes such as education and upbringing, and the differences between rich and poor, as the framework, Teylers Museum presents a survey of Dutch paintings that cast children in the leading role. The exhibition displays glorious works by famous and less well-known painters, placed in their historical context. The artworks, ranging from Romantic to Impressionist and Early Modern, are drawn from several Dutch collections.

Familiar or alien?

Do today’s children identify with those of the 19th century? And what is the response of their parents and grandparents? In the captions, guided tours, and educational projects that will accompany the exhibition, there will be a constant emphasis on the great changes as well as the surprising similarities between the circumstances of children growing up in the 19th century and those in our own times. Children and their parents and grandparents will be encouraged to discuss their childhood and to swap notes.
 
One excellent example is the project Yesterday’s youth, an educational partnership between Teylers Museum, the Mgr. Huibers School in Haarlem Schalkwijk, the old-age complex Lieflijk Indië, and the care institution Zorgbalans. Pupils interview elderly people from a range of backgrounds about the themes of the exhibition, such as education, upbringing, parties and festivities, sickness and death, affluence and poverty. Videos of the interviews between children and elderly people will be shown at schools and in the museum.

Illustration: Charles Howard Hodges (1764–1837), A.J.B. Wattendorff at the age of five, 1832. Collection of The Hague Historical Museum