This portrait of Hugh Cayley is one of many late 19th century children's portraits by Sir John Everett Millais, providing a wonderful record of boys' clothing styles among upper-class Europeans, especially British children. We know very little about Hugh, excet tht he was about 5-6 years old when this portrit was made. Hugh was a member of the important Yorkshire Cayley family.
The boy was Hugh Cayley of Wydale. Wydale is in North Yorkshire, about 9 miles from Scarborough, and the area has been, and still is, the home to Cayleys for many years. We do not know a great deal about Hugh. He was born on September 6, 1861. His parents were George John Cayley and Mary Anne Frances Wilmot.
George John Cayley was the grandson of Sir George Cayley (6th Bt). He helped his grandfather with the test flights of his glider after the successful boy carrier. Hugh married Rosa Seelig, daughter of Johann Seelig (July 9, 1903). He died November 5, 1924. Hugh would have been 5-6 years old when his portrait was painted. He clearly comes from a wealthy family which were the type of commissuions Millais took. In this case he came from an aristocratic family. The Cayleys were peers of the realm.
The painting is oil on canvas, 28.5" x 18.5". Millais first exhibited it at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1867 the critics likened the portrait to masterworks
by Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds.
The painting was executed during 1866-67. This is significant because it was two decafes before Frances Hodgsen Burnett published Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885. Thus the Fauntleroy style did not yet exist or more correctly, styles like this were not yet called Fauntleroy outfits.
The boy holds a peacock feather, a favourite symbol of beauty for the aesthetic movement and Millais clearly intended the picture as an essay in aestheticism.
Hugh appears to be wearing a black velvet dress, although it could be a child's suit of some kind. The dress is trimmed with delicate lace at both the collar and shortened sleeve cuffs.
Hugh has long, uncurled hair extending on to his shoulders. The front has been cut in bangs.
This image suggests that wealthy Britons in the 1860s were dressing their younger boys in dresses, including vevet dresses with fancy lace trim. In addition some of the chikdren had long hair which was not cut until they were sent iff to boarding school at about 8 years of age. Whikle the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit is largely seen as an American style, the inspiration is clearly Europen. Burnett was born and largely raised in England and also as an adukt lived in France befgore writing her famous book.
A notable Cayley is English mathematcian, Arthur Cayley, of Cambridge University. Another family member of note is Sir George Cayley. He pioneered the first manned flight 50 years before the Wright brothers, and has been called The Father of Aeronautics. I'm not sure yet, about all the family connections.
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