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Angels and Tomboys

Girlhood in Nineteenth Century American Art

written by Holly Pyne Connor

Pomegranate | ISBN 9780764963292

Hardback – 184 pages


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In the aftermath of the Civil War, the American girl seemed transformed—at once more introspective and adventurous than her counterpart of the previous generation. She took center stage in the stories of Louisa May Alcott and Henry James at the same moment that contemporary painters, illustrators, photographers, and sculptors asked her to pose. For the first time, girls claimed the attention of genre artists, and girlhood itself seized the imagination of the nation. Although the culture still prized the demure female child of the past, many saw a bolder type as the new, alternate ideal. Girlhood was no longer simple, and the complementary images of angel and tomboy emerged as competing visions of this new generation.

Published in conjunction with the traveling exhibition organized by the Newark Museum, Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth-Century American Art explores the myriad ways artists portrayed young girls, from the sentimental, innocent stereotype to the freespirited individual. Works by John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins, together with those by leading women artists, such as Cecilia Beaux and Mary Cassatt, reveal a new, provocative psychological element not found in early Victorian portraiture, while the mischievous tomboys in Lilly Martin Spencer’s paintings and the pure angels in the works of Abbot Handerson Thayer underscore the complexity of girlhood—and of representing that evanescent phase.

Essays by Holly Pyne Connor, Barbara Dayer Gallati, Sarah Burns, and Lauren Lessing consider the historical, social, and literary contexts of the artworks, drawing on sources as varied as etiquette books, poems, censuses, and the histories of medicine and economics. With more than 130 illustrations—including paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs—this publication is an illuminating exploration of what it meant to be young, female, and American in the nineteenth century.

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