There “The age of innocence“reached its end this week. You could see it in the eyes of the children watching – the fallout from school killings like the one in Uvalde, Texas this week.’
Remembrance of things past
The underside of those wary faces resurfaced the day after the Uvalde murders at a London auction house selling “Portrait of Anne, Philadelphia and Thomas Wharton, later 5th Lord Warton.” This painting by a 17th century artist Joan Carlile (one of England’s first female portrait painters) created the contrast between modern America and cheerful old England.
The expected selling price for “Portrait of Anne, Philadelphia and Thomas Wharton, later 5th Lord Wartonwould be less than $60,000 – a pittance for a old master. But women’s complaints are not the takeaway from this portrait. The naive expression is.
Consider the 4th grade boy who survived the mass shooting in Uvalde. He told a local station KENS 5 off camera hiding under a table with four classmates as the gunman walked into his classroom saying “It’s time to die”. The boy saw his teacher and some classmates die.
You don’t see his face, but it’s fair to assume that’s the complete opposite of Annawho lived a sheltered life as a member of the aristocratic Wharton family.
If this name sounds familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of Edith Wharton (no connection with Anne’s family), famous for her 1929 Pulitzer Prize novel “Age of Innocence”. How’s that for a coincidence?
‘Age of Innocence’ as sarcasm
Of course, Wharton meant the title of his book in an ironic way, denigrating the superficiality of New York society and the idea that anyone in that class was innocent. She borrowed the title from Mark Twain who also considered it sarcasm in his scathing dismantling of American tourists.
british painter Joshua Reynolds used the title “The Age of Innocence” too, but not ironically.
He used the title to speak of a little girl unblemished by life, the quintessential face of childhood, far removed from the pomp that wealthy clients liked to see in their children’s portraits.
We could say Reynolds went too far to deglorify his portraits of children by idealizing them as if to push purity. But art historian Allan Cunningham notes Reynolds’ sincerity about the depiction of unadorned children: “It was one of his maxims that children’s actions are dictated by nature.
He liked to observe the children who came to his gallery imitating the tunes of adult portraits.
But even if Carlile “Portrait of Anne, Philadelphia and Thomas Wharton, later 5th Lord Warton” imagining the child scalloped in satin and posing stiffly, she also captured the girl’s discomfort. You get the impression little Anne would like to stop posing and play with her friends.
In the end, therefore, the two portraits, by Reynolds and at Carlileserve as a reminder of what we lost when the children were innocent.
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