Art State of Mind

Family in Art: Missing Our Loved Ones

Rachel Witte 25 May 2020 min Read

Today, we have photographs and video cameras to help us capture special moments or gatherings with family and friends. We are able to capture the chaos, the fun, the meals, and much more. Right now, those are the images many of us are holding onto until we can gather together with our loved ones once more. Perhaps it is for this reason that the topic of family and loved ones rose to the surface of my mind this week.

The Themes of Family and the Home

Artists have long included the theme of family in art history, whether in formal portraits or in domestic scenes. Often it was the artist's own family, because who better to be featured in their work than the familiar faces around them. Furthermore, sometimes the viewer is able to pick the artist out among the many faces. Also, those who could afford to, would commission portraits of their own loved ones.

Portrait with pets
Jan Steen, Family of Gerrit Schouten, ca. 1659-60, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, USA.

Much like caricature illustrations, some paintings were over the top and humorous. While the Dutch excelled at domestic and familial portraits, other artists mastered this theme as well.

Happy family together
Eugenio Zampighi, A Happy Family, Date Unknown, Private Collection, Source: Wikimedia.

Paintings containing the themes of family and the home served multiple purposes. For instance, a serious or happy painting might suggest what the ideal home looked like, or how children should act, while a humorous or 'loud' painting, how not to act perhaps.

Loud family
Jan Mienese Molenar, A Family Merrymaking, ca. 1640, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

No One in the Family Left Out: Memories in Painting

Sometimes a painting of a family was more complex. To remind the viewer of how a painting could preserve the memory of loved ones, artists included formal (and framed) paintings in the overall scene as well (Westermann, 12).

Music family
Jan Miense Molenaer, Family Making Music, ca. 1630, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands.

Lest anyone or anything be left out, Frederick George Cotman, includes here the family feeding their horse through an open door way. Artists often included domesticated pets and other animals in portraits of families.

Horse and family
Frederick George Cotman, One of the Family, 1880, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK.

However you classify "family," whether by blood or a higher connection, hold on to the fact that we will be able to gather together soon enough!


Work Referenced
Westerman, Mariët. A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718. Laurence King Publishing Ltd: London, 1996.


If you enjoyed family in art theme, read also:

https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/personal-letters-artists/
https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/mothers-in-art/