Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Chronologies

Figure 1.--This 16th Century portrait of Don Carlos, Phillip II's son by his first wife, Maria of Portugal, shows the tpical dress for Europeans nobels of the day. Boys after breeching wore the same style as their father. Don Carlos was imprisoned by Phillip and died mysteriously. I'm unsure about the painter.

Paintings with information on boy's fashions have been painted in many different styles. We thought a chronological history of art and arrangement of modern painters across national lines might be useful in showing developing fashion trends and possible relationships between artists. This is of course a mammouth undertaking beyond our capabilities at this time. We can, however, sketch our some key trends. Here until modern times, the influence of religion has been a critical factor. We have will eventually organize modern artists by centuries which requires some difficulties in deciding in which century to place many of the artists.


Early religions wre almost universally polytheistic. Historians have generally view mans' transition from polytheism to montheism as a progressive step in social evolution. This issue we will not address, but we do note that this movement had an adverse impact on art. It is notable that the important artistic centers upon which Western civilization is based were socities based on polytheistic religions. Not only wre tghere many different dieties, but Greeks and even more so Romans were tolerant of other religious traditions. As a result there was no single focus to society allowing considerable latitude for individual artistic expression. As one religion and one god did not dominate society this provided an environment in which secular art could develop. This was especially the case of art in the Roman Empire.

Egyptian Art

Greek Art

Roman Art and Imagery

Some imagery is available from ancient Rome. There are of course sculptures. Often they do not, however, illustrate clothing. There are also some surviving painting, mostly murals depicting affluent on the walls of surviving villas. Romans living in Egypt also had portraits painted on their mummies. There are also Byzantine mosaics, but the clothing depictions here are often not detaled. We also notice some grave stones with carvings of interest, although the depections are not very detailed. There are also many modern depictions of Ancient Rome. Here me care has to be taken. While they are often detailed, we are not always sure how accurate they are. We believe that many of the modern images are relatively accurate, in part because there are many surviving written records of Rome which provide us a fairly complete record of Roman clothing.


The triumph of Monotheism had profound consequences for art. There was a notable decline in both the quality and focus of art during the 4th-7th centuries. Here a major factor of the quality of Westrn art was the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. The decline of a powerful political and economic entity mean that the creation of wealth required to suport and refine artistic exoression also decline--a major factor in the declining quality of artistic expression. This was, however, not the only factor as the Eastern Empire did not fall. What occured in Byzantium was the creation of a theocracy in which the state bolstered by the state Church controled all artistic expression and demanded that it be focused on religious expression in approved themes and formats. The rise of the Papacy in the West had a similar impact even among the many diverse political entities in Wesrern Europe. The explosion of Islam from the Arabian desert had another major impact on art, again demanding a religious focus. Art in both Muslem and Christian areas was profoundly affected by the Mosasic code forbidding graven images. Both Jews and Muslemns with some exceptions depicted this as prohibiting the depicting of living creatures--especially man. This was an issue in Christian art as well, especially in Byzabtium where the struggle over icons dominated several cebturies. Even without the Mosaic Code, however, the domination of society by one group of religious leaders who can demand conformity in the content and styles of artistic expression almost by definition limits and dulls such expression.

Medieval Art

The Medieval period is a long, comple era in European history between ancient and modern times. Historians vary, but often define it from the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD to the Renaissanc of the 15th-16th century. There are many phases of this amazingly complex period, including pre-Christian antecedents, early Christian, Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic periods. In some areas, especially Spain there was an important Islamic influence. There was a general decline in civilizatioin and this is reflected in the in loss of ability by the medieval artist to depict scenes in classical precision. Some art historians suggest that this is a lessening concern of Christian art with the world. This may well be, but it also reflects a decline in education and training associated with civilization as well as the wealth needed to support sophticated art. There is also a wide range of media, including wooden and stone free-standing and architectural sculpture to stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, manuscript illuminations (typically tempera and gold leaf on parchment or vellum), oil paintings, tapestries, and others. Medieval art presents a problem for HBC in that it is directly primarily at the glorification of God. Thus domestic scenes and everyday life are not commonly depicted, leaving us relatively few depictions of children. In addition, painting as we now know it virtually disappeared with thefall of Rome. For an incrediblr 7-8 centuries there are almost no notable paintings. Western pictorial expression is almost totally focused on the art of manuscript illumination--mostly the illumination of Bibles and other religious texts.

Renaissance Art

The European Renaissance began in Italy. It involved fundamental changes in the way individuals viewed their world. A central element of the Renaissance was the rediscovery of ancient world of Greece and Rome. The ancient classics of philosophy, literature, and science inspired the development of empirical methods to persue studies in these fields. As Europeans became increasingly aware of classical knowledge some like Galileo began to build on that knowldge actual observation and study of the natural world, even conceiving experiments to test his theories. It is art, however, that is the most vissible indication of the changing outlook of Europeans. The focus on the natural world caused many artists to move away from the Medieval focus on God to an increasing concern with the natural world and more precise depictions of that world. The horrors of the plague had caused many to question their faith in the 14th century, another factor in undermining a God-centered world. As a result, the themes of Renaissance artists are less and lss devote to the glory of God and increasingly to secular themes. Many artists now not only paint Biblical scenes but Greek and Roman history and mythology are depicted. Later in the Renaissance, artists will begin painting genre scenes of contemporary life. The increasingly sophisticated artistic techniques permit artists to create amazingly realistic depictions. The role of the artist also changes in the Renaissance. The Medievl artist was a craftsman whose name, especially in the early Medieval era. was rarely applied to his creations. His task was to Glorify God along guidelines clearly established by the Church. The Renaissance artist was a very diufferent indovidual. He was much more than a craftman. He was a creator. And he was viewed very differently than the mere artisan artists were viewed in the Medieval era. The Renaissance artist was greatly respected in a world still dominated by the airistoracy. Both the airistocracy and the Church and later imn the Mefdieval era wealthy merchants began respecting the artist not only for his technical prowess, but also for his creative powers and imagination--in fact a new development in Western art. The artist was seen as an individual whose personal aesthetic expression was of importance.

The 1500s

Boys in the 16th Century, after breeching, wore the same styles as their fathers. The predominate style in the 16th Century were bloomer like pants worn with long stockings. Interestingly, weomen wore long dresses completely hiding their legs. Men and boys, however, wore this outfit that showed most of the leg, covered by only with stockings. The fashions of the day, at least among the nobility, appear to have been pan-European in nature.

Figure 2.--This portrait Rubens portrait of his sons Albert and Nicholus was painted about 1625.

Rubens, Peter Paul (Flanders, 1577-1640)

Rubens is one of the great masters of the Flemish school. He was born in Siegen, Westphalia. In 1599 he was admitted a master of the Brotherhood of St. Luke in Antwerp. He traveled to Italy in 1600 to view the work of the great masters. He entered the service of Vicenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, as Gentleman of the Chamber and court painter. He was dispatched on a mission to Philip of Spain in 1605, beginning a diplomatic career for which his keen intellect, polished urbanity, and linguistic achievement qualified him. While in Madrid he painted many Spanish nobels as well as historical subjects. He settled in Antwerp and was appointed court painter to the Archduke Albert and his wife Isabella. His masterpiece, Discent from the Cross was completed in 1614. Marie de Medicis, the French Queen Mother, invited Rubens to France in 1620 to assist in the decoration of the Luxembourg Palace. He undertook 24 large works commemorating her mairrage to Henry IV. In the ensuing years he undertook a series of diplomatic mission s that brought him to the English, French, and Spanish courts. In return for these services he was knighted by both Charles I (England) and Philip IV (Spain). His portraits are mostly of adults, but family portraits do provide some insights into the clothes worn by 17th Century children.

The 1600s

Van Dyck, Antoon (Belgium, 1599-1641)

Antoon Van Dyck was born during 1599 in Antwerp, which was at the time then the main port of the Spanish Netherlands, basically modern Belgium. He was to become one of the most succesful portrait painters of the day and awarded a kighthood by England's Charles I. His brilliant portraits of the Cavalier nobility, resplendent in satin and lace stand to day as our major window into the world of Stuart England. These paintings were also to inspire the elaborate Little Lord Fauntleroy suits of the late 19th Century. Interestingly, Van Dyck's grandfather had made the family fortune by selling luxurious fabrics, velvet, satin, and lace.

Figure 3.--This portrait of Don Baltazar Carlos was painted by Spanish master Velazquez about 1635.

Velazquez, Diego Rodriguez de Silva (Spain, 1599-1660)

Velaquez is generally recognized as the chief painters of the Spanish school and one of the great masters of all time. He was born in Seville and a self-taught painter. He first visited Madrid, the royal capital, in 1622. He made his name there with one of his street scenes, the Water seller. King Philip IV commissioned him to paint his portrait. Velazquez was appointed pintor en camara, with a lucrative stipend. He furthur improved his acclaim at court with a work appealing to Spanish nationalism, Expulsion of the Moriscos and was appointed usher of the chamber. Many of his paintings are portraits of the royal family and Spanish nobels. Many were painted as children giving an excellent view of how aristocratic Spanish children were dressed in the 17th Century-- esentially in scaled-down versions of how their parents were dressed.

The 1700s

Ramsay, Allan (Scotland, 1713-84)

Most renowned Scottish portrait painter. Ramsay was brn in Edinburg, the son of a poet whom he is named after, He was trained in Edinburgh, London, and Rome. He was made the court painter to King George III in 1767, and became one of the most successful portrait artists in Ebgland. He executed many portraits of the King and Queen, court intimates, and other celeberties of the day. His masterpiece is a portrait of his wife which hangs in the Scottish National Gallery, Ediburgh. Amercans know Ramsay's work as many of the images of George III during the Revolutionay War were painted by Ramsay. One famous portrait of the king hangs in Independence Hall, Philadelphia.

Reynolds, Joshua (England, 1723-92)

Joshua Reynolds, the son of a clergyman, was born near Plymouth in 1723. He was sent to London to study art in 1740. He was apprenticed to Thomas Hudson but William Hogarth and Allan Ramsay had the most influence of his style. After a period in Rome (1749-52), Reynolds returned to England where he established himself as one of country's leading portrait painters. Those painted by Reynolds inclu ded Josiah Wedgwood, Warren Hastings, Sir Joseph Banks and David Garrick. When the Royal Academy was established in 1768, Reynolds was elected its first president. The following year he was knighted. In 1784 Reynolds was appointed as painter to George III. However, 5 years later his sight began to deteriorate and he was forced to give up painting.

Figure 4.--Greuze painted this boy about 1780. Notice the open, ruffled collar, often worn with a skeleton suit. The early skeleton suits at this time mostly had knee breeches rather than long trousers.

Greuze, Jean-Baptiste (France, 1725-1805)

Jean Baptiste Greuze was a French genre and portrait painter. Greuze was an eminent portraitist. Among his most famous portraits are those of the Dauphin, the ilfated son of King Louis XVI, Robespierre, Napoleon, as well as numerous political and artistic figures. Few portraists painted such a diverse list of subjects. Some of his most striking portraits are the heads of nonamous children and young women.

Goya y Lucientes, Francisco Jose de (Spain, 1746-1828)

Goya is along with El Greco and Velasquez, is one of the three great pillers of Spanish art. Goya addressed many different genres and styles. He was the court painter to Charles IV. He is widely known for his portraits of Spanish nobility, including boys, but he also painted many accomplished scenes of modern life.

Gainsborough, Thomas (England, 1727-88)

Thomas Gainsborough is one of the most renowned portrait painter. He developed the subject-matter of small portrait groups, set in a realistic landscape. Two his most famous portraits are The Blue Boy (1770) and Pink Boy (17??). The boys, one a relative of Gainsbourough, were painted in elaborate satin and lace costumes of the previous century. His early works show the influence of French engraving and of Dutch landscape painting; at Bath his change of portrait style owed much to a close study of van Dyck (his admiration is most clear in The Blue Boy. By the 1780s Gainsborough and his rivals, Joshua Reynolds and Allan Ramsay, were considered to be the best portrait painters in England. All three painted George III but it was claimed that the royal family preferred Gainsborough's portraits.

West, Benjamin West (American colony/England, 1738-1820)

Benjamin West was the first American painter to rise to international prominence. He lead an astonishing life that led him from theAmerican backwoods to the Ebnglish Royal Academy and acceptance into the glitering halls of English aristocracy. This was an amazing accomplishment for a self-taught, largely uneducated colonial boy.

Boilly, Louis Leopold (France, 1761-1845)

French genre and portrait painter, born at La Russee. He was much influenced by the Dutch genre painters. Notable among the incredible 5,000 paintaings and drawing credited to him is The Arrival of the Diligence (Louvre, 1803). Some of his paintings and real life scenes provide interesting glimpses of French boys' fashions of his time.

Lawrence, Sir Thomas (England, 1769-1830): amed portrait painter born in Bristol. He entered the Royal Academy as a student in 1787 and exhibited a number of paintings in his first year. He won recognition for his portrait of Miss Farren, an actress. He beccame the fashionable prtrait painter of his day, and on the death of Sir. Joshua Reynolds in 1792, he was made principal painter to King George III, who knighted him in 1815. Lawrence is especially noted for his children's portraits for which he was unsurpassed in his day. These portraits are a rich source of information on fashionable children's wear of the day. His portrait of The Calmady Children is generally regarded as his masterpiece of this genre. Larence, Gainsborough, and Reynolds represent the apex of distinctive English portrait painters.

The 1800s

Children were depicted in paintings before the 18th century only in family portraits where they were usually depicted no differently from the adults. A rare exception is the rather more sympathetic early representations of children can be found in the portrait of the exiled Sir Edward Hales & his Family by Sir Peter Lely painted about 1656. As the eighteenth century progressed and perceptions of childhood changed, children began to be treated more as individuals and were often shown at play or engaged in other childhood pursuits. Landscape and domestic genre subjects which included children were enormously popular during the nineteenth century and especially during the reign of Queen Victoria, but the ways in which they were depicted did not reflect the true conditions of life for the great majority of children throughout the period.

Blake, E.W. (United States, mid-19th Century)

This American primitive artist painted many New England portraits, providing valuable information on individual fashion in a period in which photigraphy was just beginning to provide images.

Figure 5.--This undated portrait is attributed to J.W. Stock. It was probably painted in Massachusetts in the 1840s. Note the dress and frilled pantalettes the boy wears.

Stock, J.W. (United States, 1815-55)

This American primitive artist painted many New England portraits, providing valuable information on individual fashion in a period in which photigraphy was just beginning to provide images.

Millais, Sir John Everett (England, 1829-96)

English portrait and historical painter born in Southhampton. He exhibited at the Royal Acadeny when he was only 17 years old. His Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru is considered on of the best historical works shown. He became associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Holman Hunt. His first Pre-Raphaelite painting was a scene from the Isabela of Keats, recalled the manner of the early Flemish and Italian masters. He mairred Euphenmia Gray in 1855. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1856. Other major works include Chill October (1871), The Northwest Passage (1873), and Effie Deams (1877). His work includes several portraits of children, providing fascinating glimpses of the clothes worn by wealthy children during the second half of the 19th Century. There's a new exhibition of Millais portraits in London during 1999. One critic in reviewing the exhibit bemoaned how the painter abandoned the pre-Raphaelites to paint society portraits including "sickly sweet portraits of children."

Schloesser, Carl (Germany, 1832-1914)

One of his most famous paintings is Forbidden Fruit," which pictures schoolboys smoking.

Tissot, James Jacques Joseph (France/England, 1836-1902)

This French painter fled France after the French Commune in 1871 and lived and worked in England where he was widly popular. Modern critics consider his work insipid and sugary. Sugary it is, but it is also technically skilled and provides us marvelosly detailed windows into the life of the Victorian family--however idealized. His images provide fascinating glimes on the children appearing in all the static studio shots of the late 19th Century.

Renoir, Pierre-Auguste (France, 1841-1919)

Renoir's predilection towards gay, light-hearted themes was also influenced by the great Rococco masters. These portraits include several family portraits illustrating children's clothes. After a period of experimentation with what he called his `mani_re aigre' (harsh or sour manner) in the mid 1880s, he developed a softer and more supple kind of handling. Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects---pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women---have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. `Why shouldn't art be pretty?', he said, `There are enough unpleasant things in the world.' He delighted in painting his sons. Most of those paintings were executed when the boys were younger and wearing dresses and smocks or fancy Fauntkeroy suits. They provide a good idea of French boys clothes in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. One of his sons, who was a particularly favorite subject was the celebrated film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979), who wrote a lively and touching biography (Renoir, My Father) in 1962.

Figure 6.--These Chileans boys were painted in Paris by Giovanni Boldini. They wear velvet suits, but with Eton rather than lace collars.

Boldini, Giovanni (Italy, 1845-1931)

Italian genre and portrait painter. He was born in Ferrara and educated at the Academy of Florence. He achieved success at a young age painting portraits in London, but he moved to Paris in 1872. He was a good friend of the American painter Whistler.

Gauguin, (Eugene Henri) Paul (France, 1848-1903)

Gauguin was one of the foremost painters of the Post-impressionist movement. He was born in Paris. His father was a journalist from Orleans. His mother was partly Peruvian. He had a cosmopolitan childhood, growing up in Lima, Orleand, and Paris. He was a seaman, served in the French Navy during the Franco- Prussian War, and worked as a stock broaker and successful back agent. He did not begin to aint until 1873 after his nairrage. He exibited his first work in 1876 and begun to revolutionize modern art. I only know one boy he painted, the son of a friend, but it is a wonderful piece.

Allingham, Helen (England, 1848-1926)

Helen Allingham (nee Paterson) was born near Burton on Trent, the family settling in Birmingham after the death of her father in 1862. She studied at the Birmingham School of Design. She is recognized as an important English watercolor painter in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Most of her work is exteriors, but a few are of her children, often in formal clothes. This provides a rare insight into play clothes in the late 19th Century as most of the available portraits and photographs show the children in their dress party clothes.

Figure 7.--This 1890 painting by John Singer Sargent was one of the artist's many masterful portraits. The boy is Livingston Davis who wears a white summer sailor suit and wide-brimmed hat.

The 1900s

Artistcs in the 20th century had to increasingly contend with photography. This was one factor influencing the development of abstract art. After World War I, art was increasingly affected by politics. The Communisus and later the NAZIs in Europe insisted that art should reflect their values and project approved images. Arists who did not conform were not allowed to paint and in many cases even arrested. The NAZIs even held exibitions of "degenerate" art. These structures were not applied to art in democracies such as England, France, and Gernany (before 1933). Artists were also unrestrictedc in America, although the forces of morality were ever vigilent.

Sargent, John Singer (United States, 1856-1925)

Sargent is known for his dazling and often daring portraits portraits of British and American high society at the turn of the century. Most of his best known works are glamorous portraits of eminent or socially prominent people of the period and helped to shape our view of the era. He is now widely regarded as the leading portrait painter of his generation. He showed remarkable technical precocity as a painter. Sargent was often criticized for what some believed to be a superficial brilliance and his portraits were largely dismissed after his death. In more recent years, however, Sergent's works have been acclaimed for their naturalism and masterly technical skill. Sargent's work, unfortunately, includes few portraits of boys. Thus while there are many portraits illustrating the dress of women, girls, and men, there are only a few of boys to illustrate fashions in the late 19th and early 20 th Century. The two most interesting are Livingston Davis in a white sailor suit (1890) and ??? Meyer in a grey velvet jacket and ruffled collar (18??). For those of us who beauty in art, Sargents legacy are paintings of daziling technical skill, often showing radiently beautiful images of the Gilded Age.


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Created: June 23, 1999
Last updated: March 26, 2004