(Last Updated On May 24, 2022)
This lead is from Moko. He found some interesting photos of young girls in the British National Portrait Gallery while browsing. There are too many relevant examples to list here so you should take a look for yourself here. Worth noting are several nude photos of young girls by Lady Ottoline Morrell, including the photographer’s daughter Julian Morrell Vinogradoff. There is also a photo by an unknown photographer of the noted surgeon Dr. Ann Davies Synge and her friend, computer scientist Christopher Strachey, when they were both young children. What’s peculiar about this photo is that while Ann is fully nude, Christopher is fully dressed.
This is a very interesting find. In my opinion, the photos by Lady Ottoline Morrell deserve to be discussed in a separate post.
Let me add my two cents on the photo of Ann Davies Synge and Christopher Strachey. According to the information provided in the British National Portrait Gallery website, they were both born in 1916. I have done some extra digging and found that Ann was born on January 23, while Christopher on November 16, so she was actually 10 months older. In the photo she looks much taller. The ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’ claims: “The typical girl is slightly shorter than the typical boy at all ages until adolescence. She becomes taller shortly after age 11 because her adolescent spurt takes place two years earlier than the boy’s. At age 14 she is surpassed again in height by the typical boy.” (https://www.britannica.com/science/human-development/Boys-and-girls-height-curves) But perhaps in the case of Ann and Christopher the height difference is just an individual feature. The NPG website contains also other pictures of Ann, for example this cute portrait of nine year old Ann in a hat(https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw247716/Ann-Davies-Synge-ne-Stephen)
I also went through the other relevant examples at the NPG website. There is a series of photos by Ida Kar, a London-based photographer known for her black-and-white portraits of artists and writers, showing Hanja Kochansky – a writer, singer, actress and aromatherapist of Croatian origin. In 2011 the National Portrait Gallery in London presented a major exhibition of Ida Kar’s work; the exhibition catalogue contains the following passage: “In the summer of 1974 Kar embarked on what was to be her last photographic project. In her bedsit at 47 Inverness Terrace, Bayswater, she erected a makeshift studio and took several intimate portraits. Here a pregnant woman poses with a child. The contact sheets from this session of 22 August show how the cherished portrait of Kar’s father, included in her Whitechapel exhibition, was removed from its hook for the duration of the session. Kar clearly intended several of her nudes for public display, as she had ordered enlargements of the retouched images; they were delivered to her shortly before her death in December.” The woman was 37 years old Kochansky, at that time approaching the ninth month of her pregnancy with her second child, Kasimir Berger, who later became a child actor. The digital NPG archive contains six nudes of Kochansky, reclining on a chaise longue in Kar’s studio. In one of the portraits Kochansky is accompanied by her first child, a daughter Katya Cobham (née Bebb). (https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw197467/Mother-and-Child-Hanja-Kochansky-with-her-daughter-Katya-Cobham-ne-Bebb) Almost eight year old Katya, also stark naked, cuddles up to her pregnant mother embracing with affection her engorged breast, in a striking projection of mother and child intimacy.
Interestingly, Katya (born on 13 December 1966 in London, known also as Katya Berger – the name was taken after Hanja Kochansky’s lover William Berger, who was the father of her second child, Kasimir) was also a successful movie actress. She played a main role in Little Lips (Piccole labbra, 1978, mentioned in the Pigtails in Paint film list https://pigtailsinpaint.org/archives/wish-list/pipeline-films/), considered controversial because of her extensive nudity and alleged relationship of young girl to an older man. Another movie that may be of interest is Tales of Ordinary Madness (Storie di ordinaria follia, 1981). As a young adult Katya also appeared in a handful of films, often in sexually explicit roles and scenes.
This photo is very interesting, but I see it differently than Jerrold. In Manet’s painting and in Lady Morrell’s photographs nudity is used for artistic purposes. This photo is a snapshot to let the family remember when the children were young. The nudity in this photo seems to be very casual, as if the option to wear nothing was just as valid as Christopher’s choice of clothing. This is very different from my prudish childhood, and that is why this photo appeals to me.
It’s interesting that you should mention the child’s choice. When Betsy Schneider did her series ‘Quotidian’ which was a daily photo journal of her daughter’s development, the girl was nude in the beginning. When she got older, Schneider decided to let her daughter wear clothes, not because of any standards of propriety or the girl’s modesty. In fact, she was reaching an age at which she is expressing her personality through her choice of wardrobe and found that as valid a part of personal development as the girl’s body. My late friend Poli (Papapetrou) did a series of her daughter’s clothes before she was old enough to choose. She made the observation that babies and toddlers don’t chose their wardrobe but receive the clothes as hand-me-downs or gifts from family and friends. In the early years, clothes are an expression of the people in the toddler’s life, not the toddler herself. -Ron
On a related issue, it is so unfortunate that the Quotidian series has disappeared from Betsy Schneider’s website. I had originally been hoping that she would eventually publish it in a book, but instead it is no longer even viewable online.
Unlike Jessie Mann who supports her mother’s work, Schneider’s daughter was much more indifferent. When questioned about it, she would simply say, “It’s mom’s thing.” Since there is some stigma involved, I am sure Schneider withdrew the series from prying eyes (a few private collectors have them) out of respect for her daughter who just wants to get on with her life. Not everyone is cut out for politically militancy and Schneider later questioned the ethics of making the project as public as she did. It think it shows real love and maturity to question one’s actions even though there is really nothing morally wrong about it. -Ron
This picture reminds me of a famous French painting whose title in English is “The Luncheon on the Grass”. The women in it are nude and the men are clothed.
Also, as I have mentioned here in the past about other pictures, the girl’s discarded clothes on the ground add an additional element of beauty. They seem to imply an uninhibited child who “couldn’t wait” to undress and happily run around naked on a summer day.