A Specialty for Children: Girls in Vintage Soap Ads, Pt. 2 (Pears Soap)

The second part of our Girls in Vintage Soap Ads series deals with one of the oldest soap companies in the business, Pears. The company was named after its founder Andrew Pears, a London-based barber, who perfected a purifying method for soap in the early 1800s and produced the world’s first translucent soap for the mass market. Pears is still going strong, though it is now based in India and is owned by Hindustan Unilever, a subsidiary of Unilever proper.

With the company’s history established, let’s move on to the advertising art. I can’t make out the artist’s name in our first piece, but I’ve found multiple copies of it online, including both black & white and color versions. The color version required a good deal of clean-up in Photoshop, but I think the results were well worth it.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – The Order of the Bath (1887)

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – A Specialty for Children (1893)

Here we have another unknown artist or date, but the style is quintessentially Victorian, so I’m dating it to around the 1880s-90s.

Artist Unknown – Good Morning! Have You Used Pears Soap

Here’s another Victorian image, and again, this required a lot of clean-up to remove the watermark, as well as fix some wear and tear. I do have a black & white version with the same watermark I could’ve posted, but I had already invested a few hours in cleaning up images and did not want to delay this post further. Maybe some day I will clean it up and stick it in here.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – How do you spell soap dear?

Another late Victorian offering. This is actually a riff on an earlier and better known ad campaign by the same company in which a crying baby is climbing out of his tub and trying to reach the soap. (You can see a version of that ad here.) The implication in this ad, however, would likely be controversial today, for good reason.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – He won’t be happy till he gets it! (1897)

Here are a couple more pieces dating from around the same time period. The first one is cute, but I particularly like the second one. It seems to have been heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painting style.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – Matchless for the Complexion (1)

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – Matchless for the Complexion (2)

Pears was well known for using existing art in their ad campaigns, right from their first major one, which was based on Giovanni Focardi’s sculpture You dirty boy!  Other examples utilized famous paintings, most famously Frederick Morgan‘s His Turn Next!

Frederick Morgan – Pears Soap – The Bath–His Turn Next! (1)

Frederick Morgan – Pears Soap – The Bath–His Turn Next! (2)

Other ads were based on Briton Rivière‘s Naughty Boy, or Compulsory Education (I’ve also seen it listed on the web as The Reading Lesson, and as having been painted by Charles Burton Barber, but I’m sure this is incorrect—Barber made plenty of paintings featuring little girls and dogs, but this was not one of them) and Émile Munier‘s En pénitence, better known as Sugar and Spice in the Anglo world. For the latter I am including a simple reproduction of the actual painting as I have always found it quite charming. The first ad is pretty much just a straight reproduction of the Rivière painting anyway, save for a tiny Pears logo in the bottom right-hand corner.

Briton Rivière – Pears Soap – Naughty Boy

Émile Munier – En pénitence (Sugar and Spice) (1897)

Émile Munier – Pears Soap ad

This next piece, based on Frederick Morgan’s Over the Garden Wall, although not labeled as an ad, appeared in the Pears Annual (calendar), which could be considered a form of advertising. It also would fit comfortably in my Cherry Ripe! post, as the cherries hint at the erotic—or pre-erotic in this case—which is echoed in the boy’s stolen kiss, a fairly common theme in lighter Victorian art (see also the above ad, He won’t be happy till he gets it!)

Frederick Morgan – Pears Soap – Over the Garden Wall

This illustration I feel fairly confidant in dating to either the Edwardian era or slightly after.

Artist Unknown – Pears Transparent Soap – Matchless for the Complexion

This is probably my favorite of the Pears ads, and it was done by an obscure artist named Bruno Ximenes. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find a decent version of this image. I actually downloaded several versions of this ad at varying qualities, but eventually I narrowed it down to two, and I’m sharing them both. Unfortunately, the best version—the first one here—had a very prominent watermark that had to be removed, and the image required a lot of experimenting to get it to look just right. I hope you guys appreciate the efforts I go to to make sure you get high-quality images. 😉

Bruno Ximenes – Pears Soap – I’d forgotten my Pears! (1)

Bruno Ximenes – Pears Soap – I’d forgotten my Pears! (2)

Early twentieth century ads frequently incorporated both illustration and photography, as is the case here.

Artist Unknown – Pears Soap – Pears Stands Every Test (1908)

This is an excellent transition point as we move into the photographic era proper. Throughout the first half and middle of the twentieth century, Pears’ major campaign focused on little girls and used the tagline: Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady. Obviously such a campaign would not fly today, but it was incredibly successful for the company for decades. This was also done in conjunction with another brilliant campaign that lasted even longer: an annual contest to find Miss Pears, the little girl who would represent the company for the coming year and would often appear in Pears advertisements.

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady (1934)

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady (1945)

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady (1950)

Photographer Unknown – £500 for the Little Girl Who Takes My Place – Woman’s Own (February, 1960)

Photographer Unknown – Pears Soap – Will your little girl be Miss Pears 1965

Photographer Unknown – Pear Soap – Miss Pears 1967

British painter Louis Turpin apparently painted one of the Miss Pears girls in 1986. I couldn’t find any info on the image, so it could just be that the child’s surname happens to be Pears, but it would be unusual to name her Miss Pears in such a portrait, given how famous the contest was, if she wasn’t actually a Miss Pears, so I’m sharing it.

Louis Turpin – Miss Pears on a Lutyens Chair, 1986

Nino Firetto – Little Miss Pears 1987

The Miss Pears Contest ended for good in 1996 as media purveyors became more sensitive to the issue of child sexualization.

Finally, we have a couple of television commercials. As I pointed out at the beginning of the article, the company is now based in India, which means India is now its primary market. As such, most of the ads for Pears are now Indian, including these two.

569 views
Pears Germ Shield Soap TV ad

Cherry Ripe!

There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heav’nly paradise is that place
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow.
There cherries grow which none may buy,
Till “Cherry-ripe” themselves do cry.

The above is the first stanza of Thomas Campion’s poem “There is a Garden in Her Face,” a paean to a beautiful virginal girl. How do we know this? We must first put it into historical context. Cherry vendors in England traditionally used the call “Cherry ripe!” to let people know that cherries were ready to buy. If we apply this fact to the poem, we see that the man is describing a girl that, while beautiful, is not yet ready to be “bought”—that is, she hasn’t quite reached sexual maturity. Campion admires this girl for her sexual purity, which he acquaints with spiritual purity. Here we have a basic explanation for the Victorian cult of the girl (which followed Campion by a couple hundred years): girls, because of their perceived innocence and sweetness, were considered above all other natural human groups to be the closest to God, so long as they maintained their virginity, hence British society’s horror of the underground culture of girls being kidnapped and deflowered—brought to light by W. T. Stead’s series The Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon, and likely highly exaggerated therein—which compelled Britain’s Parliament to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.

In terms of cherries being associated with young girls and virginity, many people seem to be under the impression that slang terms like cherry, in reference to the hymen, was invented by their generation, or at least the generation before theirs. In fact, this is not so:

cherry […] Meaning “maidenhead, virginity” is from 1889, U.S. slang, from supposed resemblance to the hymen, but perhaps also from the long-time use of cherries as a symbol of the fleeting quality of life’s pleasures.”

There we have it. The slang term dates at least to 1889, but I suspect the association of this particular fruit with virginity dates further back than even Campion’s poem, which was first published in 1617. And we are also given another, older, symbolism for cherries in the above etymology: they stand for the fleeting quality of physical pleasure. This too can be tied into sex, but also to childhood, which is itself fleeting. This symbolism is the Western tradition, but even in the East the cherry (and more specifically the cherry blossom) are also associated with maidenhood/virginity. We are more concerned with the Western mode here, but I do find it interesting that such disparate cultures can arrive at a similar symbolic representation, don’t you?

Back to the poem. We get the impression from the final stanza not of a full-grown woman—worldly and self-assured—but of a nervous girl being approached by potential mates, as if she is a wary doe being stalked by wolves on the hunt.

Why am I bringing all of this up? It is to lay the foundation of context for one very interesting painting, that painting being Sir John Everett Millais’s “Cherry Ripe”, a deceptively simple portrait of a little girl in a white dress with pink highlights sitting on a log in the forest . . .

John Everett Millais – Cherry Ripe (1879)

Wikipedia: John Everett Millais

Millais was a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and like most of the Pre-Raphaelites, he loaded his art with symbolism. First, the semiotics of color. White was of course the color of purity. Children, particularly little girls, were often dressed in white for formal portraits. Moreover, the child is placed against a dark and shadowy forest from which any wild beast could emerge and snatch her from her perch; unlike most portraits, which are set safely indoors or illuminated spaces, this one is actually a bit edgy. More likely than not this was intentional on Millais’s part. I have mentioned before that semiotically a white figure against black backdrop stresses the figure’s vulnerability or purity—or, in this case, both—in a morally nebulous world. Pale pink, which is traditionally associated with young girls, is also the color of cherry blossoms, and the child’s flesh is also pinkish. Here we have a figure composed almost entirely of white and pink. The lone exceptions are her eyes and hair and the black gloves, but as they were a conscious choice, it is the gloves that draw our attention.

The gloves are black. The color black has many symbolic interpretations, but here it screams sexuality. Look closely at the girl’s hands: they are placed in her lap and closed together prayer-style, only inverted. The gloves are fingerless, V-shaped and adjacent to her hands, inevitably funneling one’s attention right to the girl’s fleshy, exposed fingers, and (as more than one art critic has pointed out) those fingers happen to resemble a vulva.

Now some questions arise. Was this accidental or deliberate on the part of Millais? I suspect the answer is somewhere in between. And what exactly is Millais saying with this painting? Perhaps he is wrestling with the Victorian notion of the asexual girl-child, and suggesting that it may be a tad more complicated than that. Maybe he’s being ironic. After all, despite the title of the piece, the little girl is clearly nowhere near being “ripe”, and indeed some of the cherries lying at her side belie the title as well. Then again, maybe it is entirely coincidental, but I doubt it.

There is one other possibility I can think of. Millais was a friend of culture/art critic John Ruskin, who was married to Effie Gray at the time they met and became friends. But Ruskin had been married to Effie for several years and had yet to consummate the marriage, owing to, it was rumored, his mortal dread of pubic hair. Ruskin, like Lewis Carroll, had written a book for his beloved when she was still a child. The book was The King of the Golden River. Unlike Carroll, however, Ruskin was eventually able to marry the girl he had eyes for, although Ruskin and Effie were only nine years apart in age whereas Carroll and Alice Liddell were twenty years apart and of different social classes from one another. Anyway, Millais and Effie eventually fell in love, the marriage between Ruskin and Effie was annulled, and Effie remarried Millais, with whom she had eight children. (Side note: The oldest Millais daughter—also called Effie—was even one of Lewis Carroll’s photographic subjects.) Now, Ruskin was a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, but given the embarrassing situation between Ruskin, Millais and Effie, it is little wonder that Ruskin began to condemn Millais’s post-marriage work, ostensibly because it was of lower quality according to Ruskin, but in reality it is more likely that Ruskin felt slighted and used his power as a critic to avenge the loss of his mate to Millais the best way he knew how. Is it possible, then, that Millais, with the painting “Cherry Ripe,” was publicly mocking Ruskin and his supposed pubic hair phobia? Probably not, but it is worth considering.

And speaking of Lewis Carroll, perhaps the next most famous artwork featuring little girls and cherries after the Millais piece is Carroll’s photo of the Liddell sisters (Edith, Lorina and Alice) in which the oldest girl, Lorina, is feeding Alice a cherry. Alice stands with her head cocked and mouth slightly agape, like a baby bird waiting to be fed by its mother. And, of course, Alice would be the one to be fed, given Carroll’s ongoing fascination with her.

Lewis Carroll – The Three Liddell Sisters (“Open Your Mouth”) (1860)

Wikipedia: Lewis Carroll

The above was one of several Carroll works that Polixeni Papapetrou created a tribute to.

Polixeni Papapetrou – Cherry Group

Polixeni Papapetrou (Official Site)

One step removed from this, cherries—really any fruit, but apples and cherries in particular—can represent transgression, as in the story of Adam and Eve, in which children stand in for the first humans and the crime that brings on their downfall is theft.

Fritz Zuber-Bühler – The Cherry Thieves

Wikipedia: Fritz Zuber-Bühler

Carl Larsson – Forbidden Fruit

Wikipedia: Carl Larsson

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Pickers

Wikipedia: Frederick Morgan (painter)

Note the coy and mischievous expression on this girl’s face:

Charles Amable Lenoir – The Cherrypicker (1900)

Wikipedia: Charles Amable Lenoir

Cherries can also represent intimacy, both romantic and familial.

Paul Hermann Wagner – Idylle mit Atelier (1889)

Lord Frederick Leighton – Mother and Child (1865)

Lord Frederic Leighton: The Complete Works

Wikipedia: Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton

Franz von Defregger – Kinder beim Kirschenessen (1869)

Wikipedia: Franz Defregger

Cherries can become an amusement for little girls playing at being women.

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Earrings (1)

Frederick Morgan – Cherry Earrings (2)

Frederick Morgan – The Cherry Gatherers

Georg Rössler – Mädchen mit Kirschen (1901)

But mostly cherries were just colorful eye-catchers that helped to emphasize the vibrancy and ruddy healthiness of youth . . .

Emile Vernon – The Cherry Bonnet (1919)

John Russell – Little Girl with Cherries (1780)

Wikipedia: John Russell (painter)

Friedrich von Kaulbach – Kirschen (Cherries)

Wikipedia: Friedrich Kaulbach

Fritz Zuber-Bühler – The First Cherries

Finally, a couple of curious contemporary artworks in which girl meets fruit; to be honest, I’m not sure exactly what to make of these.

Rene Lynch – Wonderland: Cherry Picking (2005)

Rene Lynch (Official Site)

I will say one thing about this final piece: Pay attention to how the little nude girl unwittingly mimics the lithe erotically posed woman in the magazine her mother is holding.

Tatiana Deriy – Little Cherry

(Editor’s update, 2015/11/06: There is a larger image of Little Cherry on Tatiana Deriy’s website.)