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With All Due Respect

Remembering a life cut short
<b>Attributed to James B. Read</b>,<br>American, active 1859-70<br><b>Portrait of a Boy</b>, 1856<br>Oil on canvas
zoom Attributed to James B. Read,
American, active 1859-70
Portrait of a Boy, 1856
Oil on canvas


Dressed up in clean white pants, a red coat, and black shoes, with hat in hand, this boy appears to be setting off on a journey. But look at his face. He seems very sad. And why would he be leaving when storm clouds are looming on the horizon?

Many clues suggest that this is no ordinary portrait. The boy stands on the porch, as if leaving home. A keepsake book, on the bench behind him, appears to open backwards. And a flowering vine clings to the porch pillar. Although this particular boy’s story is not known, the picture was most likely painted after he died.

In 19th-century America, making portraits of children after they passed away was fairly common. The picture helped the family honor and remember their deceased child. Like the celebration of a birthday, a yearly observance would mark the child’s death. Gathered in front of his portrait, this boy’s family could mourn him and recall all the good things about his short life. What are other ways of honoring loved ones and calling them to mind?

Educators' Evening
October 2003