When Childhood is Beautiful

Leon Basile Perrault, A Mother With Her Sleeping Child

Leon Basile Perrault, A Mother With Her Sleeping Child

The artist paints us a beautiful picture.

A child, perhaps a girl, sleeps, sprawled across her mother’s lap.  Sleep must have crept up on her – one hand still clutches a bright red apple, the other hides behind her curly haired head. Her face is turned toward us.   Her mother watches the sleeping child with a gentle smile, leaning back slightly, one arm resting on a convenient rock.  They are outdoors, resting on the hummocky grass, by a shady tree.  The whole is lit by a warm, golden glow, with the child the focus of the painting and for our eyes.

It is an idyllic view of childhood, something Leon Basile Perrault was known for.  In paintings like this he was celebrating something new – the idea that children were more than small adults, that they were different and should be loved and treated differently.  In this painting you can see the love and care with which he acknowledged those differences.

What you cannot see is that Perrault was born into a poor family.  Looking for a way out of poverty for himself and his family, he chose art. He began by taking drawing lessons at fourteen. Then, with help from a system that encouraged artistic development, he combined hard work and discipline with talent to create a place for himself as a famous and popular artist.

It makes you think about his own childhood, and wonder how many moments like the one in this painting he could have known.  Here, there is a sense of leisure, of time taken for enjoyment, of innocence.  The young child lies relaxed, while her mother enjoys the quietness and calm.

A picture of childhood as the artist wishes us to see it, and perhaps as he wished his had been?

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