When the Savior commanded His followers, “Behold your little ones” (3 Nephi 17:23), He was inviting them to ponder more deeply the sacred nature of the children in their midst. In this exhibition we also invite you to “behold,” to take a closer look at the children in these paintings: children working, children playing, and children learning about the world around them. Even though children may not be the main subject in all the works in the exhibition, each work can serve as a portrait—a window into the life and soul of a child. Through careful consideration of these “portraits of childhood,” we can behold and contemplate the special time of life we call childhood.
At the time these paintings were created, social reformers, educators, and religious leaders had turned their attention to the youngest members of their communities—their children. Reflecting on the words of the Psalmist, who declared that “children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), they attempted to right abuses suffered by children during the Industrial Revolution, and to highlight children’s importance to home and family. Artists also began to create portraits and objects reflecting new attitudes about the little ones in their midst.
Most of the original paintings shown here were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They tell us much about that period of time—the lifestyles, attitudes, clothes, toys, and settings—but they can also help us better understand and love the children in our lives today. Scriptural and prophetic words about children included throughout the exhibition remind us of the Savior’s admonition, “Suffer little children to come unto me” (Luke 18:16).