Little models. Children's portraits in the 19th and 20th centuries


Little models. Children's portraits in the 19th and 20th centuries

Our auction "Little Models. Children's Portraits in the 19th and 20th Centuries" ["Mali Modele. Portret dziecięcy w XIX i XX wieku"] features portrait and genre artworks presenting children. The collected paintings depict children in various settings, both joyful and related to learning and playing, as well as those connected with dilemmas faced by young people.


Initially, children's portraits in Polish painting were reserved exclusively for aristocratic families, who eagerly boasted their splendor in such depictions. From about the middle of the 19th century, the wealthy bourgeoisie began to order portraits of children. For them, such paintings constituted a significant form of social ennoblement. The portrait of three siblings by an unknown artist that is included in the auction offer may be an example of such a depiction. While retaining elements typical of representative painting, the author of this work was able to highlight the natural charm and gracefulness of the children. The younger boy holds attributes associated with childhood-a toy resembling a plush horse and a book, most probably a school textbook.

Idealized images of well-tended, happy, and carefree children were an important motif in Biedermeier art. Such depictions of children were continued in the paintings from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and the interwar period. Another characteristic feature of children's paintings from that period are elaborate poses, exposing the delicacy and grace of youngsters. Our offer includes excellent examples of this theme, as visible in Stanisław Klimowski and Leopold Pilichowski's paintings showing children with teddy bears.

In parallel to the trend of presenting happy and carefree children, the turn of the century and the modernist movement of Young Poland created a myth that refers to children and childhood as a peculiar period in human lives, the intensive emotions and experiences of which determine the person's future adulthood. During the period of Young Poland, the myth included complex elements; some of them were derived from literature, and some stood in opposition to it. The turn of the centuries also understood childhood as a primeval state of natural harmony or domination of intuition. The literature and visual arts during Young Poland were dominated by the fashion for "children", "childhood", and "transitional age" (adolescence), which were often depicted in opposition to the myth of Arcadian childhood, full of happiness and devoid of life's worries. The literature and art of Young Poland started showing that this period could be abounding in adult concerns, existential dilemmas, or characterized by evil and aggression. Childhood could also be "Freudian", full of nascent eroticism.

Modernism stopped treating children as a "decoration", an object of shallow excitement and parents' pride. It began to be perceived as a separate individual. In Young Poland's painting, children were not a trivial motif, they were no longer painted just to show "prettiness" or grace. The artists associated with Young Poland started to concentrate on other aspects. Such a creator was Tadeusz Makowski, who became famous primarily for making children's portraits. He had his own individual style and experimented with Cubism. Our auction offer includes all the most characteristic features of his painting, presenting you with a portrait of a girl based on a certain degree of deformation as well as innovative experiments with form and color. This mature work by Makowski reveals a certain dose of expression which aims at showing the grotesque vision of childhood. Makowski explicitly refers to his earlier artistic achievements because the face of the portrayed girl refers to the mask motif dominant in the artist's previous works. A girl with a lilac ribbon in her hair is the sum of existential observations, theatricality, and abstraction.

The auction offer also includes a work by Wlastimil Hofman, who from the early years of his painting career was fascinated by the motif of children. One can easily notice the complex structure of his atmospheric portraits of young people. These depictions are characterized by a certain degree of realism, an extensive psychological layer, and rich symbolism. The "Portrait of a Boy" presented in the offer is a representative example of the artist's painting. Hofman explained his fascination with the motif of a child as follows:


"I have no offspring and it may have somehow made my feelings flow in this direction. I really like children-and that's why I like to paint them, but that's not all. (…) The child's mouth speaks truth, beauty, and kindness-it is a mirror of death, this death that can be found so often in my paintings. (…) They don't hide their faces behind any masks, and after all, the human face is the basis of most of my compositions."


(Magdalena Czapska-Michalik, Wlastimil Hofman, Warszawa 2007, p. 36).