ANGELS & TOMBOYS IN THE 1800’s: Unique Newark Museum Exhibition Examines Artists’ Impressions of Girlhood in the 19th Century

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Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art is a major traveling loan exhibition, which is the first to examine nineteenth-century depictions of girls in paintings, sculpture, prints and photographs.

Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) Angel, 1887 Oil on canvas; 36 ¼ x 28 1/8 inches Smithsonian American Art Museum; Gift of John Gellaty 1929.6.112

While girls were typically portrayed as innocent, passive and domestic throughout the 19th century, the exhibition investigates compelling and alternative female images ... - Mary Sue Sweeney Price, Director

The hopes, dreams and fears of girls in the 19th century will be explored in an exhibition opening at the Newark Museum on Sept. 12.

Featuring masterworks by John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase, Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art explores the numerous ways artists not only reflected but helped shape cultural and artistic visions of girlhood in the 1800’s.

“While girls were typically portrayed as innocent, passive and domestic throughout the 19th century, the exhibition investigates compelling and alternative female images including tomboys, working children and adolescents,” said Mary Sue Sweeney Price, Museum Director and CEO. Among the themes that are explored are Victorian attitudes towards the nature and nurture of children; the association of girls with fashion, health and home; and the impact of the Civil War on families.

Organized by Dr. Holly Pyne Connor, Curator of 19th-Century American Art at the Newark Museum, the exhibition is comprised of more than 80 works from the Museum’s renowned American art collection and from other major institutions across the country. The exhibition is on view through January 7, 2013, and then travels to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art from February 16 to May 26, 2013, and to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, from June 28 to September 30, 2013.

Major support for the exhibition and accompanying catalogue has been provided by Johnson & Johnson; National Endowment for the Arts; Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.; Newark Museum Volunteer Organization; and Friends of American Art at the Newark Museum and, in part, by a grant from the New Jersey Department of State, Division of Travel and Tourism. The exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition begins with the subject of childhood androgyny by displaying portraits of little boys and girls dressed in similar clothing, revealing Victorian attitudes about raising children and a desire of parents to view their children as sexless. The concept of the “Child of Nature” is presented with scenes of girls immersed in lush, country settings. During a period of increasing urbanization and industrialization, girlhood was viewed as a natural and spontaneous state while rural youths were viewed as healthier, happier and purer than their urban counterparts, curator Connor explained.

Further works deal with energetic and adventuresome tomboys, a new feminine type that immerged after the Civil War and provided alternate behavioral models that are still relevant today. Working girls appear in the prints of Jacob Riis, the pioneering social photographer, and provide a dramatic contrast to cheerful images of street children, domestic servants and rural laborers by contemporary artists.

Paintings of readers address the new educational opportunities that became available to girls for the first time as they went to high school and then on to college. In the final gallery, psychological portraits depict moody teenagers during a period at the end of the 19th century when doctors began to recognize that adolescence was a unique stage in human development, defined by emotional turbulence, and tremendous physical growth and maturation.

Narrative paintings by Lilly Martin Spencer, the most important female artist of the mid-century, address her deeply felt views on home, family and the nation during and after the Civil War, while the genre works of Eastman Johnson, John Rogers and Edward Lamson Henry examine issues of race and reconstruction.

Among the artistic highlights are images by Edmund Tarbell and Chase of their daughters dressed up for their portraits or captured unaware in the household; full length portraits by Chase, Frank Benson and Frank Duveneck; and enigmatic and disturbing girlhood images of family members by Chase, Eakins and Seymour Joseph Guy, which reveal the complexity of the artists’ personal responses to the young girls who model for them and who inspired some of their greatest pictures.

“While individual works are analyzed in depth, they are also placed in a rich social, artistic and historical context, which provides multiple avenues for a greater understanding and appreciation of 19th-century girlhood,” said Connor.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a major catalogue, co-published by the Newark Museum with Pomegrante Communications, Inc., which includes five illuminating essays by respected scholars in the field of nineteenth-century American art and culture.

For more information, visit the Museum’s web site, [

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The Newark Museum is located at 49 Washington Street in the Downtown/Arts District of Newark, New Jersey, just 3 blocks from NJPAC and 10 miles west of New York City. The Museum is open all year round: Wednesdays through Sundays, from Noon – 5:00 p.m. Suggested Museum admission: Adults, $10.00; Children, Seniors and Students with valid I.D., $6.00. Newark Residents and Members are admitted free. The Museum Café is open for lunches Wednesday through Sunday. Convenient parking is available for a fee. The Newark Museum campus, including its collections, facilities, and other resources, is accessible to accommodate the broadest audience possible, including individuals utilizing wheelchairs, with physical impairments, other disabilities, or special needs. For general information, call 973-596-6550 or visit our web site,

Newark Museum, a not-for-profit museum of art, science and education, receives operating support from the City of Newark, the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Council on the Arts/Department of State — a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Cultural Trust, the Prudential Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Victoria Foundation, the Wallace Foundation and other corporations, foundations and individuals. Funds for acquisitions and activities other than operations are provided by members and other contributors.

The Newark Museum is just a few steps from the new NJTransit Light Rail Washington Park Station. Direct connection with the Light Rail at the Broad Street Station and through Penn Station makes the Museum a convenient ride from all points in the region.

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Lisa Batitto
Newark Museum
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