Girls And Women Having Fun In Art and Illustration

Girls And Women Having Fun In Art and Illustration

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at – nothing – at nothing, simply.
What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss – absolute bliss! – as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?”

Katherine Mansfield

My bar for these illustrations is pretty high: The woman can’t be having fake fun. There are many, many great illustrations from the Golden Age in which the woman appears to be trying to have fun, but she is posing for the gaze.

The women and girls below are non-performatively having fun without a thought to who else might be looking on.

Poster by Boccasile, 1948. The mother holds up her work for the camera but the girl seems to be enjoying those iron-on decals for the fun of it.

That said, it’s amazing how frequently artists depict a man or a boy looking on at these women.

Richard 'Dick' Sargent (American, 1911-1979) 1960 for The Saturday Evening Post kitchen golf
Richard ‘Dick’ Sargent (American, 1911-1979) 1960 for The Saturday Evening Post
Country Gentleman Magazine August 1940 Water Skiing McClelland Barclay
THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER, PRE WAR MAGAZINE AUG 1936
THE GIRL’S OWN PAPER, PRE WAR MAGAZINE AUG 1936

Now for some illustrations of girls having fun, with no apparent thought to anyone’s gaze.

The Golden Annual for Girls 1926 rowing
The Schoolgirls’ Own Annual 1930 Her Place In The Team
The Schoolgirls’ Own Annual 1930 The Morcove Mischief Maker
First flight 1938
Henri-Edmond Cross, born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix, (French painter and printmaker) 1856-1910 Peasant Woman Stretched Out On Grass 1890
Henri-Edmond Cross, born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix, (French painter and printmaker) 1856-1910 Peasant Woman Stretched Out On Grass 1890
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian-French artist) 1866-1944 Kochel – Gabriel Münter, 1902
Distant Thunder (1961) Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth (American painter) Summer Day, 1957
Gustave Caillebotte Woman Seated Beneath a Tree 1874
Cicely Mary Barker
The Lark by George Henry oil on canvas, 1926
Distant Thunder (1961) Andrew Wyeth
Richard Ansdell - The Highland Lassie 1877
Richard Ansdell – The Highland Lassie 1877
‘The Aunties Series’ by Finnish Illustrator, Inge Löök (Ingebor Lievonen) artist and gardener from Pernaja, Finland. 1951
Inge Look
Marius van Dokkum (1957) Dutch artist and Illustrator
Duane Bryers created a popular calendar girl who subverted expectations of calendar girls, posed for the male gaze. Hilda is not only chubbier than your average pin up girl, but also has way more fun.

Header illustration: The Schoolgirls’ Own Annual 1930 A Dash For Freedom