Like many mid-19th-century images of children, this work by New York painter James Henry Cafferty reflects a new appreciation of childhood as a distinct phase of development. Placed in the center, the eldest boy commands the scene with his erect posture and direct gaze, baiting a fishing line while assertively holding his rod like a staff. The next oldest child sits to one side with a dull expression, passively holding the basket of bait for his brother. The youngest boy, who wears simpler, less manly clothes, does not engage in the fishing preparations but sits on the ground, alongside a lamb—a Christian symbol of Jesus Christ and his suffering. The boy could thus be viewed as exhibiting beatific innocence consistent with his age and a greater proximity to nature and God. Alternatively, might the closeness to Christ suggested by the lamb indicate that the boy is deceased? Posthumous portraits were common in the 19th century—a period marked by high childhood mortality rates—and a wide range of subtle symbols, many of them religious, could indicate that a portrait depicts a deceased person.
From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art
ENGL 29, American Fiction to 1900, Colleen Boggs, Spring 2014
American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Jaffe Hall Galleries, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, June 9-December 9, 2007.
American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26, 2019-September 12, 2021.
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, April 1944-January 1948 [on loan from owner Joseph Katz]
Celebrating Twenty Years: Gifts in Honor of the Hood Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, June 11-December 12, 2005.
Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, August 21, 2006-May 8, 2007.
Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 2, 2009-present.
Katherine W. Hart et al., Celebrating Twenty Years: Gifts in Honor of the Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire: Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2005, pp. 26, ill. p. 27, cat. no. 4.
Barbara J. MacAdam, American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Muesum of Art, Hanover: Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2007, p. 41, no. 22.
David Stewart Hull, James Henry Cafferty, N.A.(1819-1869), New-York Historical Society, New York, 1986, illus. p.16.
Herman Warner Williams, Mirror to the American Past, Greenwich, Connecticut.: New York Graphic Society, 1973, p. 176. [referred to as Boys Fishing]
American Art Union, New York, New York., 1846; Charles P. Marks, New York, New York.; Joseph Katz, Baltimore, Maryland; M. Knoedler & Co., New York, New York; Grant Jacks, New York, New York; RCA Corporate Collection, New York, New York; Christies Sale, New York, May 26, 1988, Lot 3; sold to David Stewart Hull, New York, New York, 1988; bequeathed to Frank P. Stetz, New York, New York, 1998; given to present collection, 2004.
Hull no. 26 (page 47 in catalogue raisonné section of David Stuart Hull, James Henry Cafferty, N.A. (1818-1869), New-York Historical Society, New York, 1986).
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