It is especially timely to see “Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art” at the Newark Museum after the recent election, in which women figured prominently. The exhibition covers a period when the female ancestors of today’s American women became popular subjects of artistic representation. Eighty paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures, along with excerpts from literary texts, also show how concepts of childhood — and particularly girlhood — underwent significant changes during the 19th century.
The exhibition is not explicitly political; most of the works look rather tame by today’s standards. And yet, many issues roil just under the surface, or would have been more apparent to contemporary viewers: the depiction of social and economic class, race and various forms of subjugation and exploitation. The impact of the Civil War registers in the later part of the show, reflecting changing education and labor conditions for women.