Figure 5 Horatio Walker, "Alice Walker," ca. 1891,
miniature, watercolour on ivory.
Library and Archives Canada, C-103565
The best known artistic depictions of children are commemorative portraits. Prior to the appearance of photography in the nineteenth century, artistic portraits were the only visual records of individuals. The absence of portraits of poor children demonstrates how this type of art was exclusive to the affluent. Such portraits may reflect social status and wealth with the objects that surround the sitters and the clothes they wear.
In 1868, Richard A. Pauling painted "Boy Standing beside a Twig Chair" (figure 4). The unidentified young boy stands in full-length pose wearing his "Sunday" best suit and leather boots with his left hand resting on a twig chair, and his hair carefully combed. This rather large portrait is a painted photograph, a medium Pauling used. It was popular after the appearance of photography and often, children were subjects. Characteristic in this work is the frozen appearance, the posed stance and the use of props. From 1860 to 1870, photographic enlargers were developed to make the large scale possible. This painting is on a paper support laid down to canvas to give it the appearance of a real painting. Unfortunately, this commonly used support makes the paint surface move and is highly unstable. Painted photographs were popular in Canada in the late nineteenth century and larger studios flourished providing clientele with the painted portrait.
The portrait miniature of "Alice Walker" (figure 5) was painted ca. 1891 by her father, Canadian artist Horatio Walker. It is believed to be a memento mori of his only daughter who died from diphtheria as a child. Children were often remembered by way of the posthumous portrait. Miniatures are usually very small, often painted in watercolour on ivory and also circular or oval in shape. Mounted in metal lockets and protected by glass coverings, they were equated with jewellery and worn as precious, personal mementos. An inscription on the back of the locket case gives Alice's birth date as June 28, 1881 and death date as December 6, 1890. She was born at the start of her father's blossoming career. The portrait must have given him solace after her death and helped him to cherish her short life. Walker apprenticed with the Notman and Fraser studio in Toronto, where it is assumed he learned the techniques of miniature painting and painting photographs. This work is significant as the only known portrait miniature by the artist.