In 1925, in one of the most famous essays on Surrealism, Le Surréalisme et la Peinture , Andre Breton the leader of the group, praised Pablo Picasso as 'creator of tragic toys for adults'. Childish Things takes this theme of the adult's awareness of childhood as its starting point to explore different artist's attitudes to the subject.
The exhibition begins with images of innocence. Photographs of children by Andre Kertesz and Edward Weston suggest an age of innocent friendships. Meanwhile Henry Moore's depiction of a mother and child draws from centuries of idealised images of maternity. But such a views are literally upturned in Georg Baselitz's depiction of a mother and child and challenged by other works in the exhibition.
One theme is the adult's presentation of dolls, which assume a very different, more psychologically loaded quality when detached from their use and presented in isolation.
In the photographs of Brassai childhood is far away. Commissioned to collaborate with Picasso on recording his sculptures, Brassai presents the simple carved dolls that Picasso made for his daughter, Maia, in a matter of fact way, as art to be catalogued and recorded, rather than as toys for a child.
In contrast is Michael Andrews's painting of two Portugese dolls that he was given as a present when he went to stay with Paula Rego and Victor Willing in Portugal. Removed from the playroom, the apparently outdoors setting gives the dolls a jaunty independent life.
But the playful gives way to the tragic. In the troubling paintings and drawings of Lewis Chamberlain the rooms are empty save for some abandoned dolls and in the children's fables depicted by Paula Rego - from little Miss Muffett to Peter Pan - the world of the child is shown to be a place of disturbing undercurrents.
© 2020 James Hyman Gallery, PO Box 72888,
LONDON N2 2FH