Art and decoration for Town and Country Homes
Choosing Pictures for Children
DOROTHY G. BELL
FROM time an the infant’s unregistering eye is caught and held by a bright color spot on the wall a child loves pictures.
Children love pictures because they are tangible, something they
can feel and possess; they love them because they are an “open sesame” to their fanciful dréams; they can become for the moment what the picture portrays; they love them because of the stories they tell, stories often of gallantry that stirs their imaginations.
This is their first reaction, but, if during that first period they are allowed to come into contact with good pictures, unconsciously they will develop a love of the beautiful and an appreciation of real art.
In selecting pictures for their homes, parents seldom stop to consider their children’s likes and dislikes, probably because they fail to realize that they have any. But children seldom miss anything. If there are pictures hanging on the walls within their vision, even the tiny tots will form their opinions and claim their favorites.
This fact was brought home to a teacher in an art school who asked a boy to name some of Raeburn’s works. The lad mentioned several pictures correctly and then called “The Blueboy.” Before the teacher had time to correct him, a little fellow who was attending the art class for the first time stood up and waved his hand vigorously.
“Please sir, Raeburn didn’t do it. It was Gainsborough. I know because we’ve had it always.”
The picture had hung in one of the rooms of this boy’s home and although it had never been brought to his attention, though he never discussed it with his people, the picture of “The Blueboy” had appealed to him; silently and carefully he had studied it. It was fortunate for this lad that the picture which had been hanging there where he had seen it every day happened to be a good one, for his parents had not selected it for his edification, nor had they even thought of his interest. A child’s approval of a picture might almost be considered a test of its worth. If the work of an artist can be understood and approved by children, it is good, or has something good in it. If a child is associated with a variety of good pictures
with which it may become familiar it will soon make its own choice, and thus develop the appreciation of things beautiful.
There is no better, easier way of doing this than to give a child a room of its own and furnish it with appropriate pictures. The first thing to be considered in the selection of pictures for such a room is the
child’s own pleasure. The picture must be something that it likes. A child’s imagination is so easily awakened that a piece of colored paper cut from the comic supplement of a Sunday newspaper will amuse and delight it. Then why worry about obtaining a masterpiece, when a comic will answer the purpose? Because a child’s moment of pleasure is not the only considerationi because the comics of our present day news papers are caricatures of life; through them the child obtains a distorted vision of things. Masterpieces are true reproductions of life—reproductions that will make the child, almost unconsciously, familiar with the lives of different nations, the habits and dress of different classes and the history
of different periods. They will form, as a part of its life, a background for descriptive reading, a foundation for intelligent travël, a general interest in things wider, broader than those closely concerning it and give it a general educational knowledge.
Many of . the “Old Masters” are not always obvious enough to satisfy the child’s mind. They detect the fact that
there is more to the picture than they can grasp, and their little minds seek desperately for the solution of the mystery. Let us take, “The Age of Innocence,” and what happened when a certain little girl watched her father hang it where the light would fall on it every morning.
“Is she lost Daddy?” asked the littleone sympathetically, and to the father’s reply, “No Dear, that is Reynolds ‘The Age o f Innocence,” there came a rather startled “Oh,” and following in swift succession were the questions:
“What is she hiding under her hands?”
“Is there somebody trying to take it away from
“She hasn’t any shoes on, Daddy; why?” “What makes
her dress look all patched, and why is she all alone in the woods?” Finally, the father, his dizzy eyes leaving the face of his child, sought the picture first, then the cord which hung it— and he solved his
problem by removing the picture until a later day.
That is only one instance of a child’s reaction toward a picture which was too old for it, but there are many other instances which might be related. “The Man with a Glove,” hanging in her father’s library so intrigued the curiosity of a little girl that she would stand for Ipng periods before the picture, appreciating, _ so her parents thought, the beauty of it. To their amazement she turned to them, one night, after a rather lengthy study of the print, and stated gravely: “I’ve hunted and hunted and I can’t find the other glove.”
Pictures that Interest
YET there are masterpieces that have withstood the test of ages, there are good works of more modern artists to be found with a child appeal, with the subjects and ideas that children love. In order to interest them most they must have well worked-out ideas, they must be pictures of action, of life, of children, animals, or most of all, pictures with a story. A story always appeals to a child. It will listen to a story when it can barely understand the words and their meanings; it will labor through difficult reading by itself in order to obtain the story buried therein. But a picture story is loved more than any other kind, because it is easier to get. It appeals first to the eye; it can be seen; it doesn’t have to be worked out; words don’t have to be puzzled over.
In addition to the actual picture story there is usually another that may be told to the child, one that will interest and hold it fascinated and at the same time make it familiar with the artist and his work— the story of how the picture came to be painted, who the characters are and perhaps some anecdote or historical tale concerning them. For instance—the famous picture of “The Prince of Baltasar and his Pony” tells them of the story of the child’s passion for horses, of his ability for handling them even at the age of six years, of his father’s gift of the spirited pony and of the artist’s inspiration when he saw the lad riding it. It should create
j a love of a beautiful horse, a respect for a I lad’s courage and spirit, an understanding I of a father’s pride in his son. It should j lead to an intelligent questioning regarding the age, the history, and the country of the masterpiece. When it has been answered the child will have a knowledge that will be worth much during the rest of its life.
Those who are selecting pictures for a child’s room must be guided to a great extent by that child’s characteristics, by its hobbies, by its environment. If a child is of a rough-and-tumble type, it will be most interested in pictures of war, hunting scenes, sport. Let it have such pictures, but not an excess of them, for it will tend to develop its character too much one way, and perhaps a more refining influence ought to be brought to bear. Yet it must never have pictures that it does not like forced upon it for that will kill any inclination along those lines that might develop otherwise. There is the road of happy mediums through which it may be led.
For a boy of such a character the picture “The Indian and the Lily” will appeal to his primitive instinct. The stalwart Indian, his handsome poise and splendid muscles, the wild geese on his back, the bow at his feet—all these will take a strong hold of the boy, yet there is a simple, beautiful sentiment there—that of the Pagan love of beauty, the strong, wild Indian, a mighty hunter and a brave warrior bending to admire and perhaps to pluck a water lily from the pool which reflects the lights and shadows of the little glen.
To Stimulate Boyishness
PERHAPS the boy may have a tendency to be a “sissy” and he may not take to pictures of spirit, action and gallantry. Such a lad ought to have pictures to stimulate his boyishness, to call forth a response to the greater and more gallant things of life. For this purpose W. F. Yeames’ picture “When did you last see your father?” is perhaps one of the best. The scene is a quiet one and there is nothing in it that could possibly be repugnant to the child of a timid nature. A little lad stands before the court of Cromwell, refusing to disclose the whereabouts of his father, whom they are seeking. Though the men are angered that their purpose should be foiled by a mere boy, yet written on their faces, there is distinct admiration of his gallantry. No boy could live in the same house with such a picture and not absorb from it a certain amount of the spirit of the brave, little fellow standing unafraid and staunch to his father before those stem men. Association with such a picture might easily prompt that boy, in later years, to do some gallant deed.
For single pictures have so influenced great men and women. Over Henry Turner Bailey’s study table there hangs the famous picture “Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus.” He declares that that picture has carried him through his disappointments and trials and that it has always been a never-ending source of help in all his difficulties.
Again, a woman who is very excitable and rather hot-tempered declares that the picture of “Mona Lisa” hanging in her room calms her every time she becomes worked up and annoyed.
“Her eyes follow me everywhere; they are always so kind, so calm and she sits above me there with her hands folded as if there was nothing in the world to get excited over. The instant effect when I look at her is to calm me, no matter how ruffled I may have been.”
Another woman attributes her passionate love of a Collie dog to a picture which hung in her play room when she was a child. The picture showed a little girl asleep in the snow, and a collie, with joy in his face, leading a man to her side. The inference was plain. The child had been lost, the dog had stayed with her until she dropped with fatigue, and then, knowing that she would not move without him, had gone for the help which he had guided to her. From the time I learned that story I was hungry for a collie dog, and to this day I trust a collie so much that we have one as watch dog for our children,” she said.
Hopes to Base Career on Pictures
THERE is’no doubting the fact that to children of virile imagination, the pictures upon which they look have a strong influence in the choosing of their profession. One little chap was so stirred
by the picture posters which advertised a melodrama, that for four years he saw himself as the engineer hero of that drama—and his toys, his books, and his outdoor play were devoted, in the main, to the building of bridges and dams. The wall of his room was almost covered with pictures taken from magazines, chromos of trains, bridges, locks—and though, for a time, his engineering profession was imperilled by the high adventures of a bricklayer who worked across the street, the lad of eleven still pours over pictures of construction work, and his determination to become an engineer is steadfast. So firm is his resolve, that the money he is earning daily as paper-boy, and as errand boy on Saturdays and holidays, is swelling the bank account which he hopes will see him through his first year at college.
“I ascribe to a certain collection of pictures which I saw when I was very young, all the credit of a fairly virtuous youth,” was an admission made by a man who was young in the days when ministers of the Gospel were not afraid to threaten their congregations with the all consuming fire and brimstone of an orthodox hell.
“It used to fascinate me to hear the preacher tell of the lake of fire and brimstone which was lapping the shores in search of liars,” he smiled, “but it was not very real to me until one rainy day when, to quell my restlessness, I was given the freedom of my father’s library. Quite by accident. I pulled out a copy of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ profusely illustrated with colored prints. To this day I can feel the chill which crept up my spine at the pictured torments of Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ and then and there I resolved that if examplary behavior would keep me from going there—I would be among the missing. That very morning I had stolen a double handful of gum-drops from a bag in my mother’s bureau drawer, and until I had expiated that sin by eating the moulded crusts which lined the secret ledge beneath the dining-room table, my soul knew no peace.”
This rather bears out the theory advanced by an interior decorator who declares that until the child has reached the adolescent age, the pictures with which it lives should be bright and cheerful, both in color and in suggestion; that where possible they should suggest action and should have a story value; and that, if handled with care, they can serve their purposes, and also afford a medium of education. There are those who believe that all subjects with a sad twist to them should be kept from the children entirely. It is the opinion of a prominent art director that this is a fallacy.
Sad and Humorous Pictures
“ A SAD, not morbid picture, that is well
i\ depicted should develop a certain tenderness in every child that its character will be the better for. Take such a picture for instance as ‘Anxious Moments.’ It shows a young mother sitting on the doorstep of her cottage waiting For the return of her fisher husband who has in all probability been lost in the storm at sea. Her baby is sitting on his high chair, sucking his spoon disconsolately, refusing to eat his porridge which is before him. The grandmother stands with arms folded in resignation, for in all probability she, too, had lost her husband at sea. That picture cannot fail to develop a hearty sympathy with those whose lives are enveloped in the dangers of the seas. ‘The Frugal Meal’ is another that should create sympathy in the. young breast and a longing to share its own bounteous meal with the hungry little children in that picture, who are eating their scant breakfast. I cannot see that such pictures have anything other than desirable influences either on young or old. Of course, if children are allowed to see too much of that side of life depicted it would in time create a too melodramatic side and tend perhaps to make them morose and melancholy."
The following incident proves his point:
A woman admits that the first time death seemed awful to her was when, as a girl of twelve, she was taken to an exhibition of pictures and saw there a painting called “The Dead Bride.”
“Why it should have taken such a hold on me I don’t know,” she confessed, “but to this day, and it is nearly twenty years ago that I saw it, I can shut my eyes and see that white robed figure in the coffin, and I feel again the utter horror that engulfed me then at the grayish pallor of the skin, the blue lips and heavy closed
lids which hid—I felt sure—the uttermost tragedy. My imagination wove myriad stories about that picture—all tainted with horror—all morbid in the extreme— and it was not until several years later, when maturity had overtaken me, that I could bring myself to look upon death. Then it was a wee baby I saw, and while death took on a restful simplicity of mein to me then, the memory of that picture has ever dwarfed my horror of the ultimate end of life as I brooded over it during the years between the picture of death and the restful reality.’’
Children love pictures with a bit of humor and it is a good thing to let them have an occasional bit of wholesome fun depicted on their walls. “It keeps them human,” declares the one who advocates a bit of sadness in the pictures. “But the same thing applies to the humorous pictures that applies to the sad ones. They must not be overdone. Otherwise they may become cynical.”
Pictures may so become personalities to children perhaps quicker than they can to adults, because children are more responsive. Good pictures that they like will help to develop their characters almost as thoroughly as good friends and good books can do. As their characters develop so they should be supplied with new pictures just as they of their own accord turn to new friends and books. But as old friends and old books are best so are old pictures. Children will tire of them for the time and crave something new and perhaps more colorful, but if the old pictures are put away and brought out later they will welcome them and enjoy them again almost as much as they did when they were new.
Change Pictures Often
CHILDREN react so surely to their surroundings that too much thought and care in the directing of their thoughts and the stimulating of their memories cannot be exercised. This fact, and the knowledge born of experience that children delight in change, led one interior decorator to evolve a scheme whereby the pictures in the child’s room could be changed at will with, very little expense. Around the room, at a proper height to receive good light and still be within the child’s scope of vision, he ran two parallel lines of moulding the same tint as the woodwork of the room (white in this case) and at a distance of about four inches apart. At regular intervals, possibly eighteen inches from each other, the mouldings formed a rectangular space and then continued.
This arrangement of framed_ space permits the frequent changing of pictures, for they are not further framed. The prints chosen are merely placed on the wall inside the space which the moulding framed, and as the space allowed is the popular-sized print, there is no mounting necessary.
There are parents who, desirous that their children shall know and recognize the best in Art, start them off with daintily-framed reproductions of_ the old masters. Would it not be quite_ as sensible for the same parents, desiring their children to acquire a cultured taste for the literature of worth, to acquaint them with “Hamlet” or “The Tale of Two Cities?” at the same time that they are becoming familiar with “This Little Pig Went to Market” and “Cinderella”?
With the advancing years of the child comes a mental development which demands more subtlety of beauty and meaning in the objects with which it is surrounded. The rag-doll gives place to the bisque creation, the wax crayon to the water-color paints. Mother Goose is pushed far back on the shelf, and The Wonder Book and Grimm’s Fairy Tales come into their own.
And the same rule holds with pictures. For the very young child nothing is more charming than the pictured characters and escapades which Mother Goose conceived.
For tiny tots, especially, pictures are valuable as an educative possibility. There are series of pictures of animals, vegetables, industries, nationalities, geography and history. The figures and scenes portrayed there interest the little folk and they will listen in rapture to the story of the Canadian lumber industry, the growth of a cabbage, or the Reign of Terror. They will listen and learn and never forget, because the pictures impress it on their baby minds.