The Boy: Forming the Male Youth c.1900

28 Feb 2020

A collaborative two-day conference at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village and Christie's Education, London.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference (18 - 19 June) coincides with Watts Gallery – Artists' Village's summer exhibition, Henry Scott Tuke (16 June – 1 November 2020). The purpose of this event is to situate Tuke, and his almost obsessive depiction of adolescent male bathers, within wider currents in British, European and American art, and explore how this theme responded to the shifting aesthetic, socio-political, and sexual debates of the age. This timely event aims to confront the many complex questions that arise when considering the depiction, exhibition and reception of boyhood and the body – both then and now.

The Boy invites scholars to consider the key dynamics at work in the fascination for the boy as a subgenre in this period. Taking Tuke's imagery as its starting point, this conference invites contributions addressing related approaches to the iconography of 'the boy' beyond the geographical and professional limits of Tuke's own career. Where, in terms of topographical, social, medical and architectural structures, did the boy live? How were the parameters of his age and gender defined and what factors determined whether he was characterised as a lad, youth, scamp or urchin? Our focus is upon the visual image of the boy, understood broadly to encompass his representation in painting, sculpture, photography and early film; his construction in medical imagery; and pictorial evocations in literature.

The motif of the bathing boy is of course more than just a British phenomenon in painting around 1900: it appears in the work of (for example) Wyspianski, Liebermann, Bellows, Sorolla, Modersohn-Becker, Munch, Seurat and Eakins. We encourage papers addressing this imagery, and also what is ostensibly its opposite – the boy at work, a theme often associated with the work of Bastien-Lepage and his many international admirers, Tuke among them.

We further invite papers addressing broader issues around masculinity and sexuality. How do pictorial representations relate to literary interests in 'boy-love', evidenced primarily in the work of Uranian poets? The nascent science of sexuality had to make its way between legal and medical discourses of adolescent formation. We invite papers that address the boy's form in these negotiations, whether in art, illustration or literature.

Finally, The Boy asks contributors to engage with the complexities that surround a 21st-century lens, informed by evolving contemporary attitudes toward the definition of a child. How do current discussions, especially regarding the safeguarding of children (both as subject and viewer), shape our understanding and response to the depiction, exhibition and reception of historic images?

The Boy invites proposals for 20-minute papers relevant to these themes and related subjects such as:

  • The construction and presentation of boyhood in painting, sculpture, photography, print or other media c.1900
  • The boy as model, muse or mate
  • The boy's formation in schools, armies and the workplace
  • The invention of the adolescent
  • Ephebe and athlete: health, sport and classicism
  • Histories of sex and gender
  • The imperial body: boyhood and nation
  • Legal frameworks from Labouchere to contemporary Obscenity and Child Protection laws

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words and biographies of no more than 100 words by 12 April 2020 to both:

Dr Cicely Robinson, Brice Chief Curator, Watts Gallery – Artists' Village

Dr Nicholas Tromans, MA Programme Director, Christie's Education, London

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any questions.

© Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer: Paul Highnam