Girlhood as a Marriage of the Sacred and the Profane: Saturno Buttò

Contemporary surrealist painter Saturno Buttò was born in the Portogruaro district of Venice, Italy in 1957. He first began to exhibit his work in 1993, with his first monograph titled Ritratti da Saturno: 1989-1992 (Portraits from Saturn: 1989-1992), a play on his given name. This would be followed by Opere 1993-1999 (Works 1993-1999), Martyrologium (published in 2007), Blood is my favourite color (published in 2012) and finally Breviarium humanae redemptionis, which is currently available for purchase at his website.

Buttò’s portraits often juxtapose style and iconography taken from traditional Christian art with elements of modernity, surrealism and unapologetic sexuality, and this is no less true when the images are of children. The kids—usually girls—in Buttò’s work are both confrontational and loaded with mystery and metaphor. It would be quite easy for shallow and morally sensitive observers to dismiss these works as exploitative and shocking for the sake of being shocking, but that would be a grave mistake. It is the work of artists like Buttò for which Pigtails in Paint was first conceived, those artists who might be controversial and seemingly pugnacious in their depictions of the child’s body, but who nevertheless have something important and honest to say.

These pieces are rife with contradictions and paradoxes which strike at the true core of modern childhood, and girlhood especially, the young girl’s body politicized from so many different angles. In this early piece, we see a toddler girl, Linda, dressed as both a jester and a hamadryad, two personas which couldn’t be more disparate. A tassel suspends from her “trunk” like an oddly low-hanging phallus. In fact, there’s nothing intrinsically feminine about this little toddler. The only hint we have of her femaleness comes from the title of the painting. At this young age, children are fairly androgynous.

Saturno Buttò – Frau, Simon e Linda (1994)

Are they really angels? These little toddlers are dressed as putti, complete with wings attached by an uncomfortable-looking harness. Here we begin to see Buttò’s critique of the way society restrictively frames childhood, especially girlhood, for its own convenience. I suspect the fact that one of the toddlers is indisputably female is no accident either. If we were to move away from the subject of childhood for a moment, this portrait also shows us a realistic and unflattering view of womanhood, as we see Simon shaving her armpit to appease society. On more than one level this can be viewed as a feminist piece, as can many of Buttò’s works.

Saturno Buttò – Simon e tre bimbi (1994)

Here we have a masculine figure holding two more toddlers. Are they twins? Again, note the combination of jester apparel and plants on the children, subtly suggesting that nature is playful and innocent. One can almost think of these children as elves or sprites, beings associated with both nature and trickery, often depicted as children. There’s also something both godlike and satyric about the man in this image. Could this be Dionysus? The title of this peace, Domiziana-Domiziana, is somewhat mysterious. If we were to substitute an ‘o’ for the ‘a’ at the end of these words, we would have the Italian translation for Domitian, a Roman emperor known for his harsh policies and his ruthlessness which eventually led to his assassination. Domiziana would thus be a feminized version of the name, and given that it’s doubled, we can safely assume it applies to the little twins. Surely Buttò isn’t saying that these two little girls are vicious autocrats, is he? But then, toddlers are known for being cranky and demanding.

Saturno Buttò – Domiziana-Domiziana (1997)

It’s quite interesting to see that Buttò’s work thematically ages as many of his recurring subjects mature. Red is a carnal color, and the leather-upholstered throne, which has the little girl’s name on it, is both eroticized and slightly menacing. The little nude Lola herself, brightly lit and tracking something into the otherwise pristine throne room with her bare feet, confronts the viewer with her gaze, her miniature curled pigtails mimicking the horns on the back of the chair. Lola is a force to be reckoned with, and yet she is also vulnerable and defensive, as we look down on her from above, her body turned slightly away from us. Childhood is full of contradictions.

Saturno Buttò – Lola (2004)

This little girl, Solange is again patently feminine, her subtle curves accentuated by the harsh light, and she is also unquestionably a child. She is both confrontational—her eyes meeting ours—and somewhat coy, her face turning away from us. The purple cloak she holds provides a note of nobility as well as echoing certain representations of Jesus. This little girl is both holy in her innocence and sensual in her femininity. She has weight, gravitas. Unlike Lola in the last piece, we are on Solange’s level. Is this an erotic depiction of a child? It depends on how you define erotic. If you mean by that a blatant attempt to turn on the viewer, then I would say no, this piece is not at all erotic. However, to me eroticism is much more than just titillation.

Of course, most child nudes aren’t about eroticism at all, and anyone who sees lewdness in those is certainly projecting. The conflation of simple nudity with sex is mostly an American conceit and demonstrates a simplistic and uninformed view of art. That’s not surprising. Most Americans couldn’t tell their Picasso from a hole in the ground (yes, I’m aware I’ve used that joke before, but I’m quite fond of puns), and they don’t much care. It is all too often a badge of honor for Americans to show just how ignorant and uncultured they really are. Such nuance is beyond them. So they really struggle when presented with an artist like Saturno Buttò, who does invest an element of eroticism in his work but isn’t doing it to sexually arouse. I seriously doubt that Buttò is a pedophile, nor is his work featuring children meant to appeal to them. The idea here is to challenge those simplistic conceptions of the perfectly innocent child which often do more harm than good.

Saturno Buttò – Solange II (2004)

Solange again, this time in the role of the biblical dancer Salomé, who demanded John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Salomé’s salacious dancing done in exchange for John’s head is one of the most famous stories from the Bible and has long been a subject for artists to explore, one of the earliest presentations of the femme fatale in all of literature. It might seem bizarre to depict her as a child, but the fact is we have no idea what Salomé’s actual age is. Knowing what we know about Hebrew customs of the day and interpreting the language of the Bible quite specifically, there’s good reason to believe Salomé was actually a young girl around the age of 12. This puts a completely different spin on the story, doesn’t it? The belief that Salomé was a sultry and experienced woman who used her feminine wiles with some knowing evil intent is one that has developed over time, but the Bible does not actually support that view.

Thus, the seeming contradictions of Buttò’s Lolita-esque Salomé may not be as far removed from the truth as many may think, and that’s the point here. That and the fact that, while we adults may comfort ourselves with the notion that children aren’t thinking dirty thoughts, in reality they are not always as innocent as we might think. It’s interesting to read about the fantasies of young girls with respect to their blossoming sexuality, such as the ones presented in this article. To be sure, acknowledging that children may have a sexuality and that it is often complex is not synonymous with advocating its expression, certainly not with adults. But somehow our culture has arrived at this simple perspective that any intersection of childhood and sex is automatically abuse. It becomes very difficult, then, for artists like Buttò to present a full and honest depiction of childhood, or even of adult sexuality, which is usually rooted in childhood. That picture is left incomplete.

Saturno Buttò – Solange – Salomé (2005)

Danaë is a figure from Greek mythology. Prophecy said that she would bear a son who would kill his grandfather, Danaë’s father, King Acrisius. In order to prevent this from happening, Acrisius locked his daughter in a towering structure without doors or windows, the only entrance being through an open skylight. But naturally, Zeus, being taken with the girl’s beauty, comes to her as a golden rain (no golden shower jokes here, please) and impregnates her, and eventually the prophecy is fulfilled. A frequent subject of classical artists, images of Danaë often include Eros, the love god, who of course is usually represented as a small boy. In Buttò’s piece, it is a little girl  who stands in for Cupid, catching the raindrops in a chalice.

Saturno Buttò – Danaë (2005)

Solange was a frequent model for Buttò throughout 2006. In one we see her as a young saint. In the next, she wears a demonic mask. In the third, she is something between an angel and a demon, a creature which has taken on aspects of both. We can see, faintly, the outline of a uterus. This image can almost be viewed as a throwback (or perhaps a tribute) to the works of the Symbolist painters, for whom woman was both virgin and whore. Only, here the girl is too young to be a whore. The idea is that, beneath her seemingly innocent and childish facade, there lurks a creature on the precipice of sexual flowering. We can see her hips beginning to widen, to take their womanly shape. This is one of the most honest depictions of a preadolescent girl in contemporary art.

Saturno Buttò – Solange (2006)

Saturno Buttò – Solange Mask (2006)

Saturno Buttò – L’età dell’oro (2006)

Solange at the easel. We can almost picture her doing a self-portrait as she examines her own nude body in a mirror positioned somewhere to the left of the picture frame.

Saturno Buttò – Solange al Cavalletto (2007)

And here the girl is about to dig into a blood-red birthday cake. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but I count only nine candles on the cake while the girl is clearly well past nine years—I estimate her age to be between twelve and fourteen here. Intentional or not, I think it hints at every parents’ fear that their child will blossom sexually well before their time. The black-streaked gray Elizabethan wig along with the freakishly organic chair and Buttò’s usual bright red palette gives this image a sort of Bride of Frankenstein feel.

Saturno Buttò – Birthday Party (2007)

Salomé again, even darker and more surreal than the last one. The child rubbing the bristles of the brush against her torso unconsciously echoes a similar scene in the stop-motion animated video for Prison Sex by the rock band Tool. Both the song and the video are about incestuous sexual abuse.

Saturno Buttò – Salomé (2007)

Buttò’s take on a Tarot card: The Star. It’s unfortunate he didn’t do the rest of them. I really would love to own this Tarot deck!

Saturno Buttò – La stella II (2010)

Saturno Buttò – Lola (2011)

Saturno Buttò – Lisa + Alice (drawing) (2014)

Saturno Buttò – Lisa + Alice (2015)

A Little Fairy Postcard

I was sorting some of my art files today and spotted this little fairy postcard. I do not know the artist. One thing I noticed about the little girl is that the artist really feminized her, giving her small breasts and dainty hands and feet. Very Victorian. The background also appears to have been influenced by Asian art.

Artist Unknown – Fairy Postcard

Maiden Voyages: October 2017

I wish to thank Pip, Arizona and Christian for keeping the home fires burning while I take a break from production.  In fact, as I mentioned last month, I am not taking a break from the site really.  I am simply educating myself and developing materials that will enhance its overall service and professionalism.  It is a sharp learning curve with a lot of trial and error and it takes time.

An Unusual Focus: I was surprised to learn that IMDb has a specialty page dealing with nudity of underage actresses.  A few of these titles are known, but many are not and Pigtails has copied the list for future research and review.  Given the controversy this may trigger, it is not known how long the list will remain on the site.  Since there are so many titles that were unknown, this would seem a bonanza for us.  However, because most of these films deal with young, post-pubescent girls, they are not covered in the scope of our site.

A Brave and Edgy Remake: In the course of investigating the career of Oona Laurence who played Tommie in the film Lamb, Pip discovered that she has been cast in a film called The Beguiled.  There is a 1971 Clint Eastwood film by that name and this is indeed a remake.  The intriguing thing about the plot is that it is about a wounded Union soldier who takes refuge in a Southern all-girls’ school during the Civil War.  The sexually-repressed girls then fight about whom he likes best.  It is interesting to note that it is directed by Sofia Coppola who seems to specialize in films about the psychology of teen girls so the drama should resonate in a believable performance.  Incidentally, Laurence also appeared in a short film after Lamb called Imaginapped.

Mistress of the Flies?  One of our readers has informed us about a film remake in production based on the novel and film Lord of the Flies.  The twist is that this time, the survivors are all girls.  This has certainly stirred things up in the media, but the directors insist they are staying true to the original intent of the novel and hope to dispel the usual stereotypes about the nature of aggression in boys versus girls.

More Desirée Drama: As mentioned in a recent ‘Maiden Voyages’, Google+ censored the image of Desirée from the series ‘American Girls’ by Ilona Szwarc.  Now Facebook has also censored it, ironically in a post denouncing the Google+ censorship.

Just Another Hoax: The graffiti artist Banksy was recently reported as captured and unmasked by police in a Palestine exhibition.  However, this story was manufactured by a hoaxer going by many aliases and publishing in the Nevada County Scooper and repeated by a number of news satire websites.

Alt-Right Unwittingly Boosts Ratings: A show called Big Mouth has been the latest target by the far right who have been boycotting and protesting the content of films produced by Netflix in the past year.  Of particular focus is a scene where a middle-school girl has a conversation with her talking, animated vagina.  Although meant to convey angst and ambivalence of a burgeoning sexuality, these critics insist it promotes pedophilia.

Girls’ Portraiture SNAFU: Fans of this website may have noticed a strange notice requesting a password for entry.  The blogger informs me that this glitch is a mundane computer problem and he does not currently have access to the site.  It is not clear if this situation is going to be remedied or if he will have to start again elsewhere.  He wanted to express his apologies to fans of the site who have not been able to reach him with their comments and questions.  I have been informed that only certain entries are password protected and one can scroll down to the other entries.  Those who have been in contact with this blogger can email him directly for the password to the protected posts.

The Child Portraits of Janet Cumbrae Stewart

Janet Agnes Cumbrae Stewart was born on 23 December 1883 at Brighton, Victoria, she was the youngest of ten children born to Francis Edward Stewart and Agnes Stewart. The artist was home schooled through her childhood and from the age of fifteen received private art instruction, with several different tutors, before enrolling with the National Gallery School in 1901. While enrolled there she received many awards, which in turn gave her recognition and thus began receiving painting commissions. Sometime between 1901 and 1906 the illustrator started to use the surname of Cumbrae Stewart. She graduated art school in 1907 and during the same year she exhibited at the Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, which was her first group exhibition. During the early part of her career she created paintings to sell in art exhibitions and took commissions for private portraiture work. One exception was when she, along with three other artists, decorated the children’s wards of the Homeopathic Hospital, in Melbourne; one such image is displayed below.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Homeopathic Hospital Panel (1910)

At that time Cumbrae Stewart was mostly working with watercolour or oil paints and her subjects were varied. In 1909 the artist started contributing paintings to exhibitions at the Victorian Artists’ Society, which continued until 1919. Her first solo exhibition was held, in 1911, at Coles Book Arcade and was hugely successful providing her with more popularity and work. Due to her success she was able to become a council member of the Victorian Arts Society from 1914 to 1916 and then became a full member of the Australian Artists’ Association from 1916 to 1922; an honour usually reserved for elite male artists.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Girl in a Ballet Dress (1923)

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Mary Quinlan, aged 5 (1919)

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Portrait of a Young Girl (Date Unknown)

In 1922 Cumbrae Stewart moved to London with her sister Beatrice. The artist had a solo exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, in 1923, which lead to her inclusion in an exhibition of Australian artists held at the Royal Academy of Art. She was also accepted in general exhibitions at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Paris Salon. During the period between 1922 and 1939 the illustrator’s work was exhibited at many of the prominent galleries in England and France. So well received were these artworks that she got an Honourable Mention for a drawing entered in the Salon des Artistes Français. Concurrently to these exhibitions she was also sending works back to Australia. Most of these drawings were exhibited at the Anthenaeum Gallery, with other minor exhibitions occurring at Hordern’s Gallery and the South Australian Society of Arts.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Child by the Fire (Date Unknown)

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Her First Dress (Date Unknown)

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Young Girl Washing (Date Unknown)

At some point after her arrival in London and 1930 her sister left and Cumbrae Stewart met Argemore Farington Bellairs, also known as Bill Bellairs, who went on to become the artist’s publicist, business manager and companion. They travelled around Europe, living in various areas, before travelling back to Melbourne in 1939. What was to be a short visit became permanent due to the outbreak of World War II. Not much is written about the artist’s life after 1940, though it is known that she was still completing private portraiture work in addition to exhibiting other works. However as she was now 57 years old, her output would have been greatly reduced. Janet Cumbrae Stewart died on the 8th of September 1960.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Pink Bonnet (Date Unknown)

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – Portrait of a Young Girl in a Hat (Date Unknown)

Janet Cumbrae Stewart – The Blue Bathroom (Date Unknown)

The artist was regarded as a leading artist both in the field of pastel drawings and in figure paintings, though her subjects were much more varied and this can be seen in the website galleries of the Australian Art Sales Digest. Studies of landscapes, still-lifes and portraits are all noticeable. However the most significant part of her collection was dedicated to studies of the female nude, both adults and children, in pastel. The anatomical aspect of these drawings are faultless with the skin tones soft and exact, which would likely be the main reason for her fame. When creating these images she never used photography and always worked from life. This article from The Sun newspaper describes in detail how she worked with her child models. The largest, freely available, article about Cumbrae Stewart that I have found can be found within the Trove Archive.

 

Two Hilarious Recreated Photos

Occasionally on the web you run into articles, often in listicle form, of captured moments from childhood being recreated years later for humorous effect. Sometimes these are awkward and creepy, but usually they’re pretty funny. Here are a couple I’ve pulled off the web recently.  The first one actually reverses the original scene, where the teen boy graduating from high school (I assume) is posing with his little sister. In the recreation, it is the sister graduating, and she’s holding her now much older brother.

Photographer Unknown – 10 Years Apart

The second image is pretty much just a straight recreation, but the original photo—obviously posed by a parent—is much funnier because of the contradictions. The sweet-natured smile on her face does not at all match with her gesture, or with the general context of the image. In the second one she doesn’t look nearly as innocent, of course, which I suppose was the point.

Photographer Unknown – 15 Years Later

Little Red T-Shirt Design

Here’s a reminder that interesting on-topic art can appear even in the most unexpected places. My own t-shirt collection is starting to get old and ratty, so lately I have started perusing some online purveyors of t-shirts. And because I like to support independent artists, my favorite t-shirt shops are Design By Humans and Tee Public. These sites are searchable by subject, and on a whim I started searching for Little Red Riding Hood-related items, of which there were quite a few. But the most interesting one I found was this one by an artist who goes by mankeeboi on that site. I immediately noticed something quite eye-opening about this image: aside from the actual riding hood, the young girl appears to be nude, with her picnic basket strategically blocking her genitalia. Most of mankeeboi’s art is fairly cartoonish; this one was something of an exception to that.

Here is the actual image:

mankeeboi – Little Red (t-shirt design)

I’m half tempted to order this shirt for myself. It’s actually a pretty good design, I think.

Edit: this shirt (and everything else at the site) is currently dropped in price from $20 to $14, so if you want to buy this or any other shirt from Tee Public, now is the time! This sale certainly won’t last forever. – Pip

 

One from Ludwig von Zumbusch

I’ve posted about German artist Ludwig von Zumbusch before. He was a contributor to Jugend, which is how I became aware of him. Ordinarily I crop out the frame if I download an artwork which includes one but in this case I decided to leave it in, mainly because you can see its shadow on the right side and I couldn’t really eliminate that.

Ludwig von Zumbusch – Gemälde – Mädchenakt

Maiden Voyages: August-September 2017

The Trouble with Renaissance Men: Many readers have observed that I have been rather inactive of late.  Pigtails in Paint is not only a project run by volunteers, but is an expression of creativity in its own right and requires a certain amount of creative impulse.  Summer should have been a productive time for publishing an incredible backlog of fascinating material, but some other things have captured my interest lately and I felt compelled to pursue them.  Please rest assured that I have not lost interest in Pigtails and recognize its importance in the shaping of public attitudes and political progress.  I would like to thank Pip, Arizona and other associates for keeping the home fires burning.  To demonstrate the seriousness of my commitment, you should know that one of my projects this summer was the commissioning of a set of custom shelves to house the various girl-related materials that have accumulated over the years.  This has drastically reduced the clutter and will help with the assembly of future material for eventual publication.

These shelves now house the on-topic books, magazines, original artwork and prints, figurines, hardcopy leads, unsorted postcards and digitized materials to be used for Pigtails in Paint.

How Much Punishment Is Enough?  As described in an earlier post, Chris Madaio served a prison term for possessing child pornography.  He then had to serve more time for a so-called parole violation that, in an equitable court of law, should have been regarded as double jeopardy.  He has been released but has been put in a frustrating position because of the fact that he was arrested and charged in Alabama instead of his home state of New York.  There are two problems outstanding at this point.  Because of the sex offense, the New York probation office is resisting his efforts to officially relocate there and live with his sister.  Also, the Federal Courts saw fit to return his legitimate photographs, but the State of Alabama seems to have no regard for Constitutional procedure and has not done the same.  Since he is essentially living off of his Social Security checks, he does not have the means to hire skilled lawyers to handle this.  If anyone is willing to help in either or both of these matters, please contact me.  Madaio is a paralegal but does not have the specialty knowledge to compel the courts to assist him.

Blowback: Graham Ovenden really sets the standard when it comes to fighting against persecution from the police, the courts and unsubstantiated libel from the media.  Not only is he preparing to countersue the appropriate government institutions and media companies, but has, in the process, produced hundreds of pages of carefully-documented details demonstrating the extent of the misconduct and a blow by blow account of each image that has been under scrutiny.  I am informed that when available, a digitized form will be made available to Pigtails.  I am sure this will lead to many interesting posts about police overreaching and the arbitrary decisions of judicial system.

New Video Feature: Very often, because particular films contain child nudity, YouTube finds it necessary to remove certain films from public view.  Because of this, one of the most requested films has been The Spy Who Caught a Cold.  I am pleased to announce that readers can now watch this (and others in the future) that are habitually removed from mainstream video sites which tend to overreact to child nudity.  As other films are added, a ‘Video Page’ will be created so readers will know which titles can be viewed.  So if you finally want to see this short film in its entirety, scroll to the bottom of this page. [This video was deleted for some reason.  I am pleased to announce that it is working again.  Please remember to only download items that are clearly identified as there are advertisers on the MediaFire site as well.  Enjoy,  -Ron]

Source Material Identified: A little while ago, Christian informed me of the identity of the original art used by Pip in one of our past banners.  The painting is called The Kiss by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  You can review all former Pigtails banners on our revised Third Anniversary post.

Double Standard: An interesting issue occurred at the recent San Diego Comic-Con. Of particular interest was a cosplay by Kai, the youngest son of actor Liev Schreiber, who dressed up as Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend, as she appeared in the film Suicide Squad. Most people seemed to be delighted by Schreiber’s decision to let his son dress as a girl character, but this raises the question that if this had been an actual girl, wouldn’t there have been a huge backlash from critics complaining about the inappropriateness of the costume?  And although a hypocritical media would revel in such a controversy, they seem content to show how tolerant they are about the trans aspect. That aside, Pip found it an admirable choice on Schreiber’s part and, frankly, Kai does seem to have suitably girlish features accentuated by the makeup and long hair.  There is a lot of coverage of this story but here are a few links that Pip sent me: here, here, here, here and here.

Liev Schreiber with son Kai dressed as Harley Quinn at Comic-Con 2017

Modeling Article Installment: As promised, I am sharing a backlog of links to articles about the conditions and lives of child models.  This one is about nine-year-old Kristina Pimenova, a Russian child model considered to be one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Written by Jennifer Gardiner, it discusses the issue of how much and what kind of exposure is acceptable.  Who is legally responsible for the well-being of the model in cases like this?

Other Leads: I often get tidbits mentioning the existence of on-topic sites.  This one is a Spanish site featuring somewhat pastoral images of children.

Mabel Lucie Attwell

Mabel Lucie Attwell was born on the 4th of June, 1879, at Mile End, London, to Augustus and Emily Ann Attwell. The artist was always interested in drawing and had created a large collection of images by the time she graduated from school. Therefore, she thought that she may be able to sell some of her drawings to supplement her income. She approached an agency for artists who, though sceptical about the sale-ability of the drawings, took some of them. Within a month they had all sold and the agency was asking for more. Soon she was completing enough work, for various publishers, to live on and pay for her study fees.

Attwell spent five years studying art, first at Heatherley’s School of Art, then at St. Martin’s School of Art. The artist failed to complete either course as she had little interest in classical drawing and their other teaching styles, instead preferring to draw from her own imagination. The lack of qualifications did not prevent her from receiving illustrating contracts and was soon commissioned by W & R Chambers to illustrate a series of books. The first was entitled That Little Limb, written by May Baldwin and published in 1905. The image below is a drawing from this book, which when compared with her later illustrations is noticeably different both in style and skill.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – What For Did You Forsake Your Prince (1905)

Whilst studying at St. Martin’s she met Harold Earnshaw, whom she married in 1908. Through her husband’s contacts she came under the management of Francis and Mills, in 1910, and because of their extensive industry contacts and professional handling of her work she was always in demand. Her new managers expanded her work into new areas, which included poster, advertisement and magazine illustrations, with commissions for book work ongoing. The artist’s most recognised book illustrations appeared over the next twelve years; among these titles were Alice in Wonderland, The Water Babies, and Mother Goose. So desirable were her drawings that J.M. Barrie insisted that his publishers approach her and ask her to illustrate a gift book edition of his story Peter Pan and Wendy. The book went on to become a best-seller; the illustrations were some of the most detailed and artistically proficient drawings of her career. Barrie was not the only author to request that Attwell specifically illustrate a book; Marie, Queen of Romania, also requested her services. She provided drawings for two of Marie’s books entitled Peeping Pansy and The Lost Princess.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Oh Dear! Oh Dear! I Shall Be Too Late (1910)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Tom’s Escape (1915)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – May I Come In (1919)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – I Daresay it Will Hurt a Little (1921)

Many book researchers find it difficult to date books from this period since the date was not usually printed in them. However, Attwell has unwittingly provided another method for dating her works. In many of her books the artist would write a dedication to her children as well as draw an image of them, which corresponded to their current ages. For example, below is the frontispiece to The Water Babies. Taking into account that Marjorie was born in 1909, Peter in 1911 and Brian in 1914, it can be assumed this book was published in 1915.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – The Water Babies (Frontispiece) (1915)

In 1911 the illustrator began producing images for Valentine and Sons, a relationship that continued for the rest of her working life. During the 1920s she was producing twenty-four postcards a year for the company. In addition, other drawings were created for their greeting cards, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, plaques and booklets. The Valentine and Sons’ postcards became some of her most sought after as well as best-selling products. Her publishers reported that one design could sell half a million copies each month and they were sold globally.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Just Look at Me — Fido (date unknown)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Broken Doll (date unknown)

The commercial success of Attwell’s images was multifaceted. First there were her subjects: most of her images featured toddlers and young children and the appeal of childhood innocence made the images hugely desirable. Secondly the subjects were often portrayed in a sentimentalised way, which was a style that was hugely popular during the 1920s and ’30s. Additionally, the artist was highly professional when creating her works, often discarding several captions as inferior until she found one that she considered perfect and then created the image. Finally, when producing a design for a postcard she would design it specifically for an adult audience. The images would commonly feature the children in, or talking about, adult situations. I have frequently seen the artist describing this: “I see the child in the adult, then I draw the adult as a child …” which simultaneously sweetens, or makes more tolerable, what would normally be a controversial caption, while also making it somewhat humorous.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Mary Maud Marigold Madeline Marty (date unknown)

In 1922 Cyril Gamon, a publisher, approached Attwell with an idea for producing a children’s book. She accepted and the resulting book The Lucie Attwell Annual became another of her hugely popular products, so much so that it was produced, through reuse of previous material, for a further ten years after her death. During this time it went through several name changes and publishers, which is a matter of confusion for new collectors. The original name was only used over four years, from 1922–26, then it changed titles to become Lucie Attwell’s Children’s Book, until 1932 when Dean and Son’s took over publication and changed the name to Lucie Attwell’s Annual. The drawings that appeared in this book were more simply drawn than her others, largely because the audience had no interest in image quality and it made production many times quicker. The artist drew all of the annual herself and wrote many of the stories and verses.

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Lucie Attwell Annual (Cover) (Date unknown)

Throughout the ’30s and ’40s her popularity and diversity of her products increased. Now there were soft toys and nursery tea sets, based largely on her Boo-Boo characters, in addition to plates, biscuit tins and teapots. Additionally,there were china figurines, made by Shelley Pottery and assorted dolls. The artist’s output started to slow down in the 1940s.  By then she was sixty years old and had large royalties coming in. Yet she maintained her perfectionism and the quality of her images never really diminished. One of her new commissions was a comic strip for the London Opinion entitled Wot a Life.

Mabel Lucie Attwell died on the 5th of November 1964. During her lifetime she created a massive catalogue of work, providing images for over eighty books, in addition to forty of the Lucie Attwell annuals, over five hundred postcard designs and countless advertisement and poster illustrations. Most of her work was done in watercolour in conjunction with pen and ink. Since she had children, she got many of her illustration ideas from normal family occurrences; she also had access to a large number of children to use as models, with many of her friends’ children and her own nieces and nephews on hand. A lot of the images seem to use her daughter Marjorie, more commonly named Peggy, as the model. Compare the following two images as an example: one is of Marjorie, the other is a postcard entitled ‘Time for Bed.’

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Portrait of Marjorie “Peggy” Attwell (date unknown)

Mabel Lucie Attwell – Time for Bed (date unknown)

There are few resources available for researching this artist and many refer back to the one book, which is also the same book I am basing most of my facts on. The book is entitled Mabel Lucie Attwell, written by Chris Beetles and published by Pavilion Books in 1988. It takes most of its information directly from her descendants and the illustrator’s own personal papers, whilst also displaying approximately sixty of her images. The online resources I used, though brief and occasionally inaccurate are listed below.

Additional online resources:

A Little Russian Princess as the Goddess of Love

Hey, I still have at least one post in my soap series, but I’ve been quite busy and unable to put it together. I know Pigtails is a bit slow right now, as everyone has been fairly busy with their own things. So, I’ll try to do a few minor posts here and there until I get the next big post out.

Here we have the tsesarevna (crown princess) of Russia, Elizaveta Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great, depicted as Venus, the goddess of love. An interesting choice for a child, which just goes to show how very differently past cultures viewed children. Given the style (early Romanticism), even if I had not known who the subject was I would have placed this sometime in the 1700s. She of course appears in the nude, as would be appropriate for classical gods and goddesses in art. Note how the artist depicted the child with exaggerated feminine features, particularly wider hips than would be common for a child of her age.

Artist Unknown – Child Tsesarevna Elizaveta Petrovna, as Venus (1710s)