A French Family: Jean Dauberville, 1900s

French painter Felix Vallotton was a contemporary of Pierre Renoir. A painting he did in 1906 was included in a book on Renoir's Portraits and compared with Renoir paintings of children. The painting shows a little boy, Jean Dauberville, standing beside some kind of rocking toy. The painting demonstrates that well after the turn of the century, French mothers were still outfitting little boys in dresses.

Jean is dressed in light blue or other colored dress with a freshly starched pinafore worn over it. Note the lace ruffles at the shoulder. I cannot tell the color because the photo of the painting is in black and white. Along with the dress Jean appears to be wearing pastel colored strap shoes, shoulder length bobbed hair, bangs, with a hair bow worn to the side. Jean's hair bow is relatively large. Often the hair bows worn by boys were smaller than those worn by their sisters.

Figure 1.--Jean Dauberville in this 1906 portrait is impossible to identify as a boy, with the exception of the whip in his hand. Note the hairbow in the boy's hair, a popular fashion for boys in France.
The outfit as far as I can tell has no boyish touches that are often associated with dresses made specifically for boys. It is quite likely that mothers at the time did not feel particularly constrained to purchase the dress styles specifically for boys. Affluent mothers if they saw a dress they particularly admired, might buy it for their son, especially for younger boys. In addition, mothers of more modest means might used hand me downs from older sisters. In Jean's case, the only thing that could identify him as a boy is the whip he carries in his left hand. The boyish toy whip, however, is offset by the bouquet of flowers he carries in his right hand.

I think this mode of dress, I. e., dressing boys and girls in identical clothes even to the point of curling their son's hair and fixing it with hair boys, must have been common in bourgeois French families. Otherwise, why would there be so many expample?

I think I've seen this painting somewhere. However, it was probably labeled: "Girl with Flowers" or some similar title. I've noticed that people who write art books pay little attention to the identity of the subject. However, at least for portrait painting, the identity of the subject establishes the context for the painting.

Christopher Wagner


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Created: June 20, 1998
Spell checked: August 3, 1999
Last updated: August 3, 1999