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International Youth Day with CORRINNE CHONG


In 1999, the General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) that 12 August be declared International Youth Day. International Youth Day gives an opportunity to celebrate young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives. For the International Youth Day 2020, I have met with Dr Corrinne Chong, an art historian and a curator who has initiated the #KidsInArt media campaign, an informative and interactive series of publications about youth as a source of inspiration for artists. Below are five of the paintings from different museums around the world Corrinne Chong has selected and wrote about exclusively for Zephyr and Maize.


George Agnew Reid Drawing Lots, 1888-1902

Oil on canvas

The Art Gallery of Ontario

Photography by Corrinne Chong



A nostalgic scene of childhood games and camaraderie that makes us all wish for simpler times, especially in this age of the pandemic. The composition’s up-close-and personal cropping, the huddling figures, and the boys’ apt absorption entice us to look closer at the focal point. Who will draw the marked piece of paper? And what will be the task? But that is as far as the drama goes because the sprawling pose of the figure and the casually dangling legs of his peers convey all the insouciance of a fun-filled afternoon in the sun. Judging by the scuffed boots and the hole in the knee of the pants, some rough-and -tumble play was likely part of the day’s many adventures! The triptych format is unusual for this type of genre scene but perfectly befits the expanse of the rustic brick wall. The impressionist brushstrokes of the trees contrast with the solidity and delineation of the figures, bringing the centre of action into clear focus. The result is a celebration of childhood and a reminder of the joys that one can find even in the most mundane of activities when in the company of friends.

George Agnew Reid (1860–1947) was born near Wingham, Ontario in 1860. From an early age, he aspired to become an artist, filling his sketchbooks with drawings of animals from his family farm. At his father’s insistence, he studied architecture and bookkeeping but in 1879, he left his rural community to study art under Robert Harris (1849–1919) in Toronto. He continued his education at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art where he met his most influential teacher, the American Realist artist Thomas Eakins (1844–1916). In 1888, he studied under the orientalist painter Jean-Joseph-Benjamin Constant (1845–1902) at the Académie Julien in Paris. Upon his return to Toronto in 1889, he established a successful career as an artist and teacher at the Central Ontario School of Art and Industrial Design.



Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1774)

The House of Cards,

c.1737

Oil on canvas

The National Gallery of Art


Shhh…be still! The slightest breeze and an unexpected sneeze will send this house of cards crashing down. This painting, with its hushed atmosphere tinted in nostalgic sepia tones, is one of four variations on the chäteaux de cartes theme by Chardin. The artist was celebrated for his domestic genre scenes, still-lifes, and portraits – nearly all of which are characterized by an entrancing tranquility and introspective note as seen in this example. In contrast to seventeenth-century Dutch depictions of disorderly households turned upside down by rowdy ragamuffins, Jean Siméon Chardin’s elegantly coiffed and attired protagonist is every parent’s dream! Oblivious of our presence, his concentrates on building the foundation for his ‘château.’ His complete absorption – a key term expounded in Michael’s Fried’s seminal text Absorption and Theatricality: Art and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980)—is countered by the contrivance of the attention-seeking open drawer. A blank card and a jack of hearts protrude from the drawer and together with the scattered coins on the velvet-lined table, form a grouping of vanitas emblems that allude to the fickleness of fortune. Just as the precarious structure of the house of cards can collapse at any time, so can one’s fortune and power. Love may also be in the cards for our busy builder butt whether or not Chardin intended to embed a moralistic meaning in this work, his everyday scenes of childhood as a whole held enormous appeal for his bourgeois audience who admired their simplicity, charm, and Rousseauian innocence.


Léon Riesener (1808-78)

Portrait de Mademoiselle Ehrler

1861 

Pastel on paper, mounted on canvas

Petit Palais, Paris


The frothy pink frills and rosettes are indeed delectable but the most delightful detail in this charming pastel is the girl’s sturdy little foot firmly holding the hoop in place. A precursor to the modern-day hula hoop, hoop rolling or trundling has been a favourite pastime for children around the globe since antiquity. In the 1800s it reached the height of its popularity in England and France. To play, the hoop, typically made out of metal or wood, was propelled by stroking a dowel or stick along its top. The objective was to keep it rolling the longest or the quickest if in a race. Dexterity, nimbleness, and balance were the key skills required for this simple game which was usually played by boys. Thispetite mademoiselle might be dressed like a dainty cupcake, but her confident stance, strong grip, and teasing gaze indicate that she is one tough cookie: robust and ready to win!

Léon Riesener was a painter of notable caliber, having regularly exhibited at the Salon from 1833 to 1878. In spite of his modest artistic accomplishments, there were no feelings of resentment towards his famous cousin: Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). The two were close and when Delacroix died in 1863, Riesener was bequeathed a generous sum of 20,000 francs, his cousin’s beloved cottage in Champrosay and all its contents including paintings, drawings, and objets d’art.


Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885)

Mary Leypold Griffith (1838-1841)

1841

Oil on canvas

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

An afternoon of arts and crafts is an afternoon well spent! As an arts educator, I love the sight of children engaged in tactile hands-on creative play – on canvas and in the classroom. This particular portrait is instantly endearing for its true-to-life details, e.g., the little girl’s casually crossed legs, the collection of cut ribbon bits in the folds of her dress, and the carelessly bent-over page in the accordion alphabet book. Hopefully, the beautifully illustrated book laying open to her left, The History of Dame-Crump and Her Little White Pig, won’t meet the fate of her eager scissors! But the charming surface of this painting belies the grim reality of its subject. Mary died of Scarlet Fever at the age of just two and a half years old in 1841. Two days after her passing, Sarah Miriam Peale – a Philadelphia native who belonged to one of the country’s most successful artistic dynasties – was commissioned to paint the portrait and to cast a death mask of the child for visual reference. Peale took notes of Mary’s cherished belongings. The discrepancy between the date of Mary’s death and her noticeably more mature physique in the painting is unmissable: she appears to be four or five years old. This inconsistency only adds further poignancy to the painting, as the sudden maturation reflects a grieving mother’s unrealized aspirations for her child’s future.


Sofie Ribbing (1835-94)

Boys Drawing

1864

Oil on canvas

Gothenburg Museum of Art

As much as the drawing in progress piques our curiosity, it is the young boy’s admiration for his older and more experienced peer that wins our hearts. This is a painting about the importance of mentors and role models in the pursuit of one’s passions. Here, the apprentice observes the master artist in action with an intent absorption that invites the viewer to follow suit. To encourage the budding young artist, he has been given the task of sharpening the white chalk; he might even get the chance to add a stroke or two to what appears to be a very accomplished landscape sur papier bleu. However, not all is charm and sweetness. The older boy dons the clothes of the working class while his younger counterpart is well-coiffed and attired. Furthermore, the makeshift studio is set against a dilapidated stone wall. This contrast may be a commentary on the nature of artistic talent as an innate ability that is unaffected by one’s social circumstance. Interestingly, it is the boy from the upper echelons of society who is being nurtured. This intimate portrait is the most celebrated work of the little-known Swedish artist Sofie Ribbing whose style exemplified the Realist aesthetic of the Düsseldorf school.


August 2020 © Corrinne Chong for Zephyr and Maize



An alumna of the University of Toronto and the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Corrinne Chong is the Marvin Gelber Curatorial Fellow in Prints and Drawings at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. She was one of the co-curators for the international exhibition Early Rubens and is currently developing an exhibition that explores the notion of the “ugly” in Delacroix’s series of Faust lithographs. Outside of the gallery, her interdisciplinary research focuses on the dialogue between music and painting in the long nineteenth-century, and most recently, the intersections between art history and opera scenography. As a foodie and dix-neuvièmiste, she hopes to one day curate an exhibition on Impressionist picnics. Corrinne is also deeply committed to education and has been a teacher with the Peel District School Board since 2004.