an illustration of a little boy flying a kite while perched on a blue roof in Paris overlooking the city, washed in yellow

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962), In the Autumn Wind He Boasted, That He Flew the Highest Kite (detail), 1956, gouache and ink on board, 18 ¾ x 31 ½ in.

The Huntsville Museum of Art is delighted to work with the National Museum of American Illustration on an exclusive exhibition for the holiday season. Sweetness and Light: Children in Illustration features approximately 35 original artworks by celebrated Golden Age Illustrators.

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, such as books and magazines. This new visual form became prominent in American culture. Desiring to appeal to the public, editors and illustrators produced images of childhood with sweetly sentimental and nostalgic emotions, as well as humorous, lighthearted scenarios.

a cover of Good Housekeeping featuring a girl in a blue coat and hat feeding a flock of pigeons

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

By illustrating subject matters related to children’s lives throughout classic stories, magazine covers, and advertisements, the artists in this exhibition produced beautiful and compelling images which both reflected and shaped our understanding of childhood. While their aesthetic appeal has endured for generations, the illustrations are also indicative of historical trends of the times in which they were created. Children were often portrayed as symbols of innocence or as objects to protect, with their depictions varying between encouraging a sense of adventure and outlining how an “ideal child” should appear and act.

Another important change during this time were significant advancements in psychology. Americans reached a new awareness of the concept of childhood and began to see it as a 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. Featured artists include including Jessie Wilcox Smith, Ludwig Bemelmans, John Clymer, F. X. Leyendecker, Hy Hintermeister and Harrison Fisher.

The exhibition, organized by the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, opens at the Huntsville Museum of Art on Sunday, November 14. It will be on display in the in the Chan gallery of the Museum and will be included with the general price of admission. Admission can be purchased at the front desk in the lobby of the Museum or online here.

In the new year, there will be a Zoom lecture with Judy Goffman Cutler, the Co-Founder and Director of the National Museum of American Illustration. At 6 p.m. during $5 After 5 on Thursday, January 13, Judy will lead a discussion about Sweetness and Light: Children in Illustration. Admission to the Zoom lecture is included with admission to the Museum and free for members.