Saturday, July 14, 2012

Deacon Peckham's Hobby Horse

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through October 8, 2012

Hobby Horse is one of the most often reproduced works in the National Gallery collection.  It is displayed here, along with several other works by Robert Peckham, all of them portraits of children.  Peckham lived and worked in Massachusetts, and the models for his works all lived within a few miles of one another.

Unlike his portraits of adults, which tend to be serious and set against plain backgrounds, Peckham's paintings of children depict their colorful surroundings, providing a glimpse into the merchant and manufacturing class in New England in the mid-1800s.   The notes accompanying the display describe his style as sympathetic but not sentimental, and certainly his portraits are anything but simpering or sugary-sweet.  Of course, the children are all shown quietly facing the viewer, without a hint of sibling rivalry or high spirits or noise, so they're not completely accurate, but they give the 21st century visitor a look at a time much different than our own.  I don't think hobby horses (what I would call rocking horses) are much in vogue now - as soon as they're old enough, children are clamoring for a Wii!

Also on display is an actual hobby horse from the time period, very similar to the one in the painting.  How it managed to survive in such good shape, I don't know.  Hobby Horse is another tough survivor - it was discovered in an antique shop near Boston.  That's what I call a successful day at the store.  It's enough to send one out on a scavenger hunt of one's own.

Verdict:  Have a look at this exhibit - it's small, so easy to do on a lunch hour.  Since it's on the Ground Floor, you don't even have to climb many stairs to reach it.

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