Jonathan Richardson (1665-1745) (attr. to), Garton Orme seated at the Spinet, C18th

Pictures of Innocence: Children in 18th Century Portraiture

12 July - 8 October 2005

This major exhibition, covering almost a century of British portraiture, explores how and why the artists of Georgian Britain began to portray children in new ways. During the 18th century, extraordinary social change led to a transformation in attitudes towards children, and for the first time ‘childhood’ came to be valued as a distinct phase of human life and development.This growing popularity led to patrons commissioning artists and resulted in the establishment of the ‘child portrait’ as a distinct genre in British art.

Twenty works have been carefully selected by Abbot Hall to show how artists sought to capture the natural energy and spirit of children, bringing life and movement to their compositions. Portraits became more naturalistic, and children were depicted in outdoor settings where they could be seen as products of nature, instead of according to the predominant formal conventions of portraiture which dated back to the Renaissance.

The exhibition will be a rare opportunity to see important works by many of the key figures of the 18th century, including Hogarth, Gainsborough, Zoffany, Batoni, Ramsay, Reynolds, Cotes, Copley and Lawrence. Loans have come from both private collections and public collections including The National Gallery and Tate. Each painting on display at Abbot Hall will be looked at in some depth, revealing a wealth of historical detail and what life was like for children at that time, as well as changing ideas about childhood.

The gem of Abbot Hall’s 18th-century collection,‘The Gower Children’ by George Romney (1734-1802), who had his studio in Kendal, can also be seen in the Georgian setting of Abbot Hall, which forms the perfect starting point for the exhibition held in the upstairs galleries.

Pictures of Innocence has been organised in collaboration with the Holburne Museum of Art in Bath, and is accompanied by a catalogue as well as a fully illustrated exhibition guide and a brochure with explanatory notes for children and families. Alongside the usual interpretation panels, we will be providing special and innovative ways to help children and families engage with the paintings. There will be a range of imaginative and fun practical activities, helping younger visitors to put themselves in the shoes of the 18th century artists and the children they immortalised in paint.

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