Before the 18th century children only appeared in paintings in family portraits, where they were usually depicted no differently from the adults. They were shown wearing the same clothing and engaged in the same activities. As the 18th century progressed and perceptions of childhood changed, children began to be treated more as individuals and were often shown at play or engaged in other childhood pursuits. This has led to the belief that the concept of childhood, as a separate time of life that should be devoted to play and learning, developed in the 18th century.
Landscape and domestic genre subjects that included children were enormously popular during the 19th century and especially during the reign of Queen Victoria. However, the ways in which children were depicted did not necessarily reflect the true conditions of life for many thousands of children throughout the period. The pictures in this selection were painted between 1816 and 1877 and show how portrayals of childhood changed during this time.