«Title of Dissertation: NURTURING CHANGE: LILLY MARTIN SPENCER’S IMAGES OF CHILDREN Laura Groves Napolitano, Doctor of Philosophy, 2008 Dissertation ...»
Title of Dissertation: NURTURING CHANGE: LILLY MARTIN SPENCER’S
IMAGES OF CHILDREN
Laura Groves Napolitano, Doctor of Philosophy, 2008
Dissertation directed by: Professor Sally M. Promey
Department of Art History and Archaeology
This dissertation is the first full-length study to concentrate on American genre
painter Lilly Martin Spencer’s images of children, which constituted nearly one half of her saleable production during the height of her artistic career from 1848 to 1869. At this time, many young parents received advice regarding child rearing through books and other publications, having moved away from their families of origin in search of employment. These literatures, which gained in popularity from the 1830s onward, focused on spiritual, emotional, and disciplinary matters. My study considers four major themes from the period’s writing on child nurture that changed over time, including depravity and innocence, parent/child bonding, standards of behavior and moral rectitude, and children’s influence on adults. It demonstrates how Spencer’s paintings, prints, and drawings featuring children supported and challenged these evolving ideologies, helping to shed light not only on the artist’s reception of child-rearing advice, but also on its possible impact on her middle-class audience, to whom she closely catered. In four chapters, I investigate Spencer’s images of sleeping children as visual equivalents of contemporary consolation literature during a time of high infant and child mortality rates;
her paintings of parent/child interaction as promoting separation from mothers and emotional bonding with fathers; her prints of mischievous children as both considering changing ideals about children’s behavior and comforting Anglo-American citizens afraid of what they saw as threatening minority groups; and her pictures with Civil War and Reconstruction subject matter as contending with the popular concept of the moral utility of children. By framing my interpretations of Spencer’s output around key issues in the period’s dynamic child-nurture literature, I advance new comprehensive readings of many of her most well-known paintings, including Domestic Happiness, Fi, Fo, Fum!, and The Pic Nic or the Fourth of July. I also consider work often overlooked by other art historians, but which received acclaim in Spencer’s own time, including the lithographs of children made after her designs, and the allegorical painting Truth Unveiling Falsehood. Significantly, I provide the first in-depth analysis of a newly rediscovered Reconstruction-era painting, The Home of the Red, White, and Blue.
LILLY MARTIN SPENCER’S IMAGES OF CHILDREN
Professor Sally M. Promey, Chair Professor Renée Ater Professor Elizabeth Johns Professor Franklin Kelly Professor Jo B. Paoletti © Copyright by Laura Groves Napolitano The dissertation document that follows has had referenced material removed in respect for the owner’s copyright. A complete version of this document, which includes said referenced material, resides in the University of Maryland, College Park’s library collection.
I would like to begin by thanking Sally M. Promey, who graciously remained my advisor upon accepting a professorship at Yale University in 2007. She has been a generous mentor who always had a ready response to my questions and draft submissions, and gave me many thoughtful suggestions and words of advice during my study with her. I also would like to acknowledge my dissertation committee, Renée Ater, Elizabeth Johns, Franklin Kelly, and Jo B. Paoletti, for their careful efforts in commenting on my scholarship, and for posing evocative questions that will help me frame my future work on Lilly Martin Spencer.
I could not have completed this dissertation without the financial support of several individuals, foundations, and educational institutions. I am grateful to Gene and Young Rhee, who, through the Jenny Rhee Fellowship, provided me with research and travel funds during my six years at the University of Maryland, College Park. I also would like to acknowledge the Cosmos Club Foundation, which awarded me a travel stipend through the Grants-in-Aid to Young Scholars Program, and the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park, which gave me a Luce Americanist Dissertation Research Award. I extend my sincere gratitude to the Smithsonian Institution, which, through the auspices of the Sara Roby Foundation, granted me a six-month residential fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Lastly, I thank the Graduate School at the University of Maryland, College Park, which made it possible for me to finish my study with the award of an Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship.
for this project. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I would like to thank my fellowship advisor, curator William H. Truettner; curators Eleanor Jones Harvey and Virginia M. Mecklenburg; Cynthia Mills and Amelia A. Goerlitz in the Fellows Office;
and my 2006–2007 Fellows cohort, whose interest in my dissertation provided me with renewed confidence. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery Library, I found ready aid from Cecilia Chin and Alice Clarke, and informational gems in the files of Colonel Merl M. Moore, Jr. At the Archives of American Art and the Smithsonian Institution Archives Marisa Bourgoin and her reference staff, and Ellen V.
Alers answered my requests. When traveling to view Spencer’s paintings and prints, I was ably assisted by Georgia B. Barnhill and Lauren B. Hewes at the American Antiquarian Society; Kimberly Feinknopf-Dorrian at the Ohio Historical Center; MaryKate O’Hare at the Newark Museum; Maria Powers at Orchard House—Home of the Alcotts; and Andy Verhoff at the Campus Martius Museum. Several gallery owners and private collectors generously shared their Spencer holdings with me, including Richard Green; George Haller and Michael Haller of Gallery 44 LLC; George Turak of the Turak Gallery of American Art; and William Vareika of William Vareika Fine Arts.
I also would like to offer heartfelt thanks to lifelong mentor and friend, Linda J.
Docherty, for her belief in me; to the good friends I made at Williams College and the University of Maryland for their camaraderie and empathy; and to my family for their enthusiastic encouragement. Finally, I dedicate this dissertation to my husband, Jeffrey Napolitano, in appreciation for his unwavering love, support, and above all, his goodhumored patience.
6. Lilly Martin Spencer, Mother Sketching a Sleeping Child (probably from Alas, Poor Yorick sketchbook), 1848–1852 220
7. Lilly Martin Spencer, Mother with a Sleeping Child (probably from Alas, Poor Yorick sketchbook), 1848–1852 221
8. Lilly Martin Spencer, Mother with a Sleeping Child (probably from Alas, Poor Yorick sketchbook), 1848–1852 222
9. Lilly Martin Spencer, The Baby’s Dream Or the Angels Whisper (probably from Alas, Poor Yorick sketchbook), 1848–1852 223
10. Lilly Martin Spencer, Mother Watching Over Two Sleeping Children (probably from Alas, Poor Yorick sketchbook), 1848–1852 224
20. Unknown lithographer, To the Memory of, mid-nineteenth century 234
21. Francesco Bonsignori, Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Child, 1483 235
28. Alfred Jones after Lilly Martin Spencer, One of Life’s Happy Hours, 1849 242
29. H. S. Sadd after Sir Edwin Landseer, Household Treasures, 1849 243
79. Jean-Baptiste Adolphe Lafosse after Lilly Martin Spencer, Hush, 1856 293
80. Jean-Baptiste Adolphe Lafosse after Lilly Martin Spencer, Oh!, 1856 294
85. Achille Sirouy after Lilly Martin Spencer, The Young Students, 1858 299
86. Jean-Baptiste Adolphe Lafosse after Lilly Martin Spencer, The First Pants,
107. Lilly Martin Spencer, The Home of the Red, White, and Blue, c. 1867–1868 321
108. Eastman Johnson, Christmas-Time (The Blodgett Family), 1864 322
The height of Lilly Martin Spencer’s career, 1848–1869,1 coincided with the midnineteenth-century surge in hortatory literature on child rearing that began in the 1830s and included advice manuals, children’s books, and women’s periodicals. In these works, Northeastern Protestant moral authorities adopted and reshaped Enlightenment ideas about child rearing to fit the needs of the nation. Concerned with the challenge of nurturing a fragile new democracy, they embraced the Lockean belief that malleable children could be taught the self-discipline and moral fortitude that would keep a country of equals together and functioning well. This was especially important as concerns grew about impending social instability caused by democratic self-rule, capitalist self-interest, industrialization, immigration, and war. During the middle decades, child-nurture ideologies, including beliefs in infant depravity and innocence, the roles of mothers and fathers, expectations for obedience and moral rectitude, and ideas about children’s influence on adults, continued to evolve. The paintings, prints, and drawings of Lilly Martin Spencer (1822–1902), whose artistic output centered on children, often acknowledged these changing ideals. Her images, while at times containing resistant elements, often supported, and in some cases, may have even anticipated, certain of these transitions.
*** With the move of many young adults to cities in the second quarter of the century, the demand for written forms of advice increased dramatically. New parents found This study concentrates on the twenty-year span between Spencer’s move to New York in 1848 and the completion of her self-proclaimed allegorical masterpiece, Truth Unveiling Falsehood, in 1869.
themselves far removed from more experienced family members and could not rely on them for needed guidance.2 Advice manuals and other writings acted as surrogates.
Authors tended to be clergymen (such as John S. C. Abbott, Horace Bushnell, and Heman Humphrey), educators (such as Lyman Cobb and John Hall), writers (like Jacob Abbott, Theodore Dwight, Jr., and Samuel G. Goodrich) and women professionals (mothers, such as Lydia Sigourney, married women, like Lydia Maria Child, and unmarried women, like Catherine Beecher).3 Their Protestant religious orientations were denominationally diverse, ranging from Congregationalist to Episcopalian to Unitarian. Their subjects also varied; they described practical issues, like proper food, clothing, and bedding, but concentrated most on spiritual, emotional, and disciplinary matters. While the elite could afford to purchase advice books, the middle class often received this child-nurture information through maternal associations’ libraries and journals.4 In terms of the state of children’s souls, moral authorities had mixed opinions in the 1830s. Many denominations still upheld the tenet of infant depravity, or the idea that all people were born sinful and in need of a new spiritual heart. More liberal thinkers, like Mary Lynn Stevens Heininger, “Children, Childhood, and Change in America, 1820–1920,” in A Century of Childhood, 1820–1920, ed. Mary Lynn Stevens Heininger (Rochester, NY: Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, 1984), 4.
A selection of the most popular books includes Lydia Maria Child, The Mother’s Book, 1831; John S. C.
Abbott, The Mother at Home; or The Principles of Maternal Duty Familiarly Illustrated, 1834; Theodore Dwight, Jr., The Father’s Book; or, Suggestions for the Government and Instruction of Young Children, on Principles Appropriate to a Christian Country, 1835; John Hall, On the Education of Children, 1836;
Lydia Howard Sigourney, Letters to Mothers, 1838; Heman Humphrey, Domestic Education, 1840;
Catharine E. Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School, 1841; Samuel G. Goodrich, Sow Well and Reap Well; or, Fireside Education, 1846; Horace Bushnell, Christian Nurture, 1847; Lyman Cobb, The Evil Tendencies of Corporeal Punishment as a Means of Moral Discipline in Families and Schools, Examined and Discussed, 1847; and Jacob Abbott, Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young, 1871.
Richard A. Meckel, “Educating a Ministry of Mothers: Evangelical Maternal Associations, 1815–1860,” Journal of the Early Republic 2, no. 4 (Winter 1982): 405, 415.
Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott and Unitarian Lydia Maria Child, declared newborns innately innocent.5 In the mid-1840s, Congregationalist Horace Bushnell articulated a compromise when he published his treatise, Christian Nurture (1847). Although he did not abandon totally the idea of sinfulness in children, Bushnell substantially moderated orthodox Calvinist views. He suggested that each child was born with the potential for good and bad and that it was the Christian parents’ duty to cultivate the former and suppress the latter through proper nurture techniques. Bushnell initially printed his views in 1846, but the publication aroused opposition by conservatives and was removed from circulation. In 1847 he reissued his ideas, including an argument for their defense.6 Not until just before the Civil War did many Protestant Americans embrace the idea of children’s total innocence.