As I’ve been working on my final, I’ve started to notice a strange pattern across many photographs of Victorian children: there are very few little boys and many little girls, or genderless figures. Many theories crossed my mind as to why this might be so, and I began to think a little bit about the Pre-Raphaelite painters we talked about earlier this semester. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded in 1848 in London was established by three young and rather zealous painters: William Holman Hunt, Gabriel Dante Rosetti and John Millais. The purpose of this Brotherhood was to establish a new movement of painting that would extend back to the time of ancient Italian painters, those who came before Raphael. The Brotherhood represented a rejection of classicism and mechanism in the Victorian Era: the paintings produced in this movement sought to discover truth and beauty through nature, in the way the artist saw them; they refused to simply copy what other artists has perceived and created before them. In this way, famous literary women and young girls became the muses of many Pre-Raphaelites for what they represented; beauty, grace and often tragedy. There were very few truly utterly tragic and beautiful male heros in Pre-Raphaelite depictions, save for perhaps that of Christ.
This trend allowed me to see collections of photographs of Victorian children in a new light. Perhaps just as the Pre-Raphaelites preferred to depict women for their mystery, and ultimately tragedy, so did Victorian photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Charles Dodgson.
I’ve included a photograph by Cameron and a painting by Arthur Hughes. Both show women, (Hughes is actually an adaptation of the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) in a rather mysterious or slightly troubling way…both women are turning away slightly from the gaze of the onlooker. Interestingly enough, they were both produced in the same year.