signed ARTHUR J. ELSLEY and dated 1898 (lower left)
Dimensions: 33 by 25 1/4 in. 83.8 by 64.1 cm
Artist or Maker: ARTHUR JOHN ELSLEY 1861 - 1952
Medium: oil on canvas
Literature: Terry Parker, Golden Hours, the Paintings of Arthur J. Elsley, 1860-1952, Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset, 1998, p. 41, color chromolithograph illustrated p. 64
Provenance: Acquired in London (circa 1930s)
Thence by descent
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Children figure prominently in nineteenth century art and literature. Indeed, the Victorian period was a golden age for children, particularly those of bourgeois and aristocratic families. There were important publications dedicated to young readers, and children themselves served as great protagonists in contemporary novels. Children were accorded a profound amount of attention; furthermore, the demographics of the years from 1800 to 1914 suggest that one third of the British population during those years consisted of children under the age of fourteen. According to art historian Susan Casteras, myriad books on child-rearing were published, and Victorian pictorial representations of childhood centered on "the child's role in the family sphere, as a moral force in society, and his or her functions in the setting of home, school, work, and play" (Victorian Childhood, New York, 1986). It is also important to note that paintings of this period that deal with themes of childhood were often geared to "the enjoyment and emotions of adults, typically for exhibition at the Royal Academy or similar institutions." (Victorian Childhood).
Arthur Elsley best satisfied the Victorians hunger for pictures of their children with images of rosy-cheeked, angelic-looking boys and girls, happily playing with their faithful family pets. Known in his early career for skilled depictions of canine and equestrian subjects, Elsley soon turned to childhood imagery and merry countryside scenes, a shift due largely to the influence of portraitist Frederick Morgan. The two artists shared a studio in 1889 and mutually benefited from each other's artistic specialties. While Elsley painted many of the animals in his collaborations with Morgan, he witnessed the commercial success of Morgan's happy childhood scenes. Elsley promptly followed suit, incorporating bright-eyed boys and girls together with their pets in lively, large-scale compositions.
Evocative of childhood innocence, Weatherbound presents an endearing narrative of two rosy-cheeked sisters and their beloved pet collie. Taking shelter from the gently falling snow inside an old wooden barrel ? a "three musketeers" of sorts ? they create a charming snapshot of the playfulness of youth. It is one example of many from Elsley's oeuvre that handles the theme of siblings. Here the elder sister helps pull a shawl around herself, her younger sister, and even their pet collie, to shield them all from the cold. According to Casteras, "the sister played a vital role in the Victorian family and was constantly encouraged to be a paragon of usefulness and selflessness...one obvious aspect of female role-playing reflected in art involved the inculcation of social values of wife and mother; the image of the maternal little girl taking care of her sibling, pet, or doll was commonplace" (Victorian Childhood, p. 5). As playful in subject as it is whimsical in detail, Weatherbound evinces the very qualities that contributed to Elsley's popularity in late Victorian England.