Seen & Heard, an exhibition at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery is open until April 28th and features 50 Victorian paintings exploring the changing role of children in Victorian Britain.

The Music Lesson, Lord Frederic Leighton, 1877. One of the paintings in the exhibition.

With paintings from the Guildhall Art Gallery’s own collection and important pieces loaned by Tate Britain and the Royal Academy on display, the exhibition will include works by artists such as Pre-Raphaelite pioneer, John Everett Millais, and Thomas Webster RA, which cast the era in a new light.

The exhibition offers a visual narrative to a crucial point in history where, for the first time, children were actually listened to, and society saw value in Britain’s youth. Until then, children were  only painted as an extension of the family’s name and patriarch, but they were now being shown playing amongst themselves, and with their families. The marked difference exposes the huge cultural shift in how society viewed, and treated, children.

In the first 14 years of Queen Victoria’s 61-year reign, she gave birth to nine children. With so many of her young children in the public eye, the monarch set family values at the heart of her reign. Her lifestyle of motherhood inspired the upper classes to seek domestic happiness and caused many to look at the plight of young children forced to work in the dangerous and lonely conditions of the factories and mines.

Important dates in 19th century Britain:

1837 – Victoria becomes Queen

1840 – Queen Victoria gives birth to first child, Victoria

1842 – Mines Act: banned employment underground of boys under the age of ten and all women and girls

1848 – Public Health Act established a central board of health in response to the cholera epidemic

1851 – Henry Mayhew publishes London Labour and the London Poor, after interviewing children working in the streets

1854 – Queen Victoria gives birth to ninth child, Beatrice

1870 – Dr Thomas Barnardo opens East End London home to take vulnerable boys off the street, essentially, founding the charity now known as Barnardo’s

1880 – Elementary Education Act made schooling compulsory until the age of 10

1891 – NSPCC founded by Liverpool businessman, Thomas Agnew

Graham Packham, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, said:

Exhibitions at Guildhall Art Gallery never fail to impress in their ability to surprise and engage visitors, or the way in which they shed new light on a subject. ‘Seen and Heard’ will certainly be no exception and will offer a commentary on societal change that may enable people to revise their views on how children were depicted in art.”

Katty Pearce, Curator, Guildhall Art Gallery, said:

“This new exhibition will take visitors on an often emotive and enlightening journey to show how they reflect, and were influenced by, the social and political reforms of the time. As well as posing some interesting questions about how children were portrayed in art, ‘Seen and Heard’ will also be an opportunity to showcase pieces from Guildhall Art Gallery’s extensive collection, some of which will be on display in this context for the first time.”

The City of London Corporation, which owns and manages Guildhall Art Gallery is the fourth largest funder of heritage and cultural activities in the UK and invests over £100m every year.

Seen & Heard: Victorian Children in the Frame

Until 28 April 2019

Guildhall Art Galley

Guildhall Yard, London EC2V 5AE

Admission: £8 / £6

Under 12s go free