|Boy in a Blue Plaid Dress|
Though it’s not a huge museum, the American Art & Carousel Gallery at the Heritage Museums and Gardens (more here, here, here) offers plenty to look at and think about. I have my likes and dislikes when it comes to folk art. Some of it can be puzzling if not downright weird. This painting of a little boy in blue was a bit jarring to our modern sensibilities. Though aware that boys and girls wore dresses in early childhood, I still find it tricky to see a boy in images like these. For instance, in this 1846 painting of Queen Victoria’s family, does the child on the far left look like a boy or a girl?
|Portrait of Mary Louisa Bird|
Apparently, one way you can tell the gender is the hair part. Girls’ hair is parted in the middle, boys’ on the side. Other clues are in the props. Dogs and riding crops tend to appear with boys. Girls tend to hold dolls and purses. Books and flowers aren’t necessarily gender signals, since they appear with both boys and girls. I hadn’t been aware of these clues previously, and trying to guess which was which without looking at the labels was fun.
The girl in purple struck me for a number of reasons. The quality of the painting is above the common run, for one thing. But equally important, though she's only nine years old, she’s very fashionably dressed for 1837, with her puffy sleeves and her pink reticule.
Paintings: Boy in a Blue Plaid Dress, unidentified artist, c 1830-1860.
Portrait of Mary Louisa Bird, unidentified artist, 1837