Images of Girlhood
November 25, 2005 to March 26, 2006
An exhibition exploring historic representations of girlhood from the 1860s to today.
The ongoing debate over images of young girls in the media is just one example of how the portrayal of young girls provokes frequent controversy. Picturing Her demonstrates the historic roots of these discussions and raises still more questions about the modern cultural assumptions that surround the idea of “girl.” Drawing on the McCord Museum’s extensive historic art holdings as well as contemporary artworks, Picturing Her considers the definition of girlhood and traces how the depiction of girls has developed to reflect ever-changing cultural, social and economic conditions.
The exhibition presents a range of images from the 1860s to the present day, including paintings, prints, drawings and photographs from the renowned Notman Photographic Archives. Confederation-era political cartoons show girls personifying the hopes and struggles of the newly created Canada — inherently strong and capable of growth, but also vulnerable and in need of protection. Portrait paintings and photographs from the turn of the century, meanwhile, depict young girls in the private sphere, in settings carefully chosen to illustrate Victorian ideals of good character. Whether at home, in the garden or at leisure, these representations of girlhood emphasized virtue, natural innocence and domesticity.
The identity of girlhood is constantly evolving, as are artistic expressions of this stage of life. And so as Canada matures as a nation, sentimental portraits of girls are superseded by images that reveal an interest in autobiographical exploration and also in adolescence as an emerging category of childhood. An assortment of works by modern and contemporary women artists completes this exhibition, exploring young, modern femininity and illustrating how the ideal of the Canadian girl has expanded to reflect the range of social classes and cultures of a diverse population.