Sweetness and Light: Children in Illustration

Chan Gallery

November 14, 2021 – February 27, 2022

Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976), When He Begins to Grow Away from You, 1928, oil on canvas, 34 x 32 in., Cream of Wheat advertisement, 1928

Lecture by Judy Cutler, Co-Founder/Director of the National Museum of American Illustration

Thursday, January 13, 2022 | 6 – 7 p.m. during $5 After 5

Exclusive to the Huntsville Museum of Art, Sweetness and Light: Children in Illustration features approximately 35 original artworks by celebrated Golden Age Illustrators, including Jessie Wilcox Smith, Ludwig Bemelmans, John Clymer, F. X. Leyendecker, Hy Hintermeister and Harrison Fisher, borrowed from the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, RI. By illustrating subject matters related to children’s lives throughout classic stories, magazine covers, and advertisements, these artists produced beautiful and compelling images which both reflected and shaped our understanding of childhood.

Alex Ross (1908-1990), Little Girl in Blue Feeding Pigeons, 1946, watercolor and pencil on board, 17 x 13 in. Cover for Good Housekeeping, April 1946

While their aesthetic appeal has endured for generations, the artworks in this exhibition are also indicative of historical trends of the times in which they were created. During the latter part of the 19th century, new technological advances in the reproduction of images revolutionized the field of illustration. With these developments, an increasing number of illustrations began to accompany printed materials, most importantly books and magazines, and a new visual form was given prominence in American culture.

With a desire to appeal to the public, editors and illustrators produced images of childhood with sweetly sentimental, nostalgic emotions, as well as humorous, lighthearted scenarios. Children were often portrayed as symbols of innocence or as objects to protect, with their depictions varying between encouraging a sense of adventure and as guidelines as to how an “ideal child” should appear and act.

Another important change during this time were significant advancements in psychology as Americans reached a new awareness of the concept of childhood and began to see it as a unique period distinct from adulthood. By the turn of the century, the rise of literacy and expansion of the middle class contributed to a booming market for children’s picture books. The ritual of bedtime reading prevailed, and special reading rooms for children were incorporated into public libraries. The tradition of the child’s picture book has since endured, allowing artists’ portrayals of stories and rhymes to stimulate the imaginations of countless readers.

Through viewing Sweetness and Light: Children in Illustration, visitors will be transported back to memories of their own childhood and reminded of the innocence of this stage of life. While the images are predominately from the first half of the 20th century, the emotions and activities are timeless, still to be seen in modern day life.

Organized by the National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, RI.