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Painting - Our Boys

Our Boys

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1880 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oils on canvas

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Until about 1920, in western countries the youngest boys wore dresses like the ones in this painting before they were 'breeched' (given their first pair of trousers) after which they did not wear dresses again. Boys' dresses were made and worn as such, and were not a case of 'dressing them as girls': the cut, fabrics, accessories and colours are usually clues to the differentiation of gender.

The origin of the younger boys wearing dresses may be simply that before about 1550, both sexes and all ages wore skirted garments such as tunics and gowns, and children's styles were often slow to change. Other theories to account for the custom include the idea that all children of this age were considered more or less as babies and so wore the same type of garments; that it was appropriate for young boys to wear skirts because young children were cared for by women rather than men; that it protected their legs if they fell while learning to walk; that it would be easier to change nappies. In fact the age for breeching suggests that making it easier for young boys to urinate or defecate is perhaps the main explanation. This would be especially true when breeches or trousers had complicated fastenings which took a long time to undo.

Physical description

Oil painting on canvas, of portrait proportions, showing two young boys apparently asleep in a large armchair after playing. Each has brown hair cut in a fringe, and wears a simple white pinafore over a short dress, the child on the left of the painting in one of pale buff colour and the child on the right in a pink one. They also wear white socks and side fastening ankle boots in two-tone brown. The child in pink is sucking his thumb; his hoop is propped against his knees. The other child's hoop lies on the floor beside a boater hat of natural straw with blue ribbons.

The canvas is contained within an inner frame of plain gilded wood, with arched corner pieces at the top, and an outer frame with applied composition gilded and moulded in a pattern of leafy stems between uprights.

Place of Origin

United Kingdom (painted)


ca. 1880 (painted)



Materials and Techniques

Oils on canvas


Height: 63.5 cm canvas, Width: 46.5 cm canvas

Object history note

Bought at Bonhams' Sale of Art and Antiques, 17/02/2010 in Oxford (RF 2010/ 559) together with painting B.155-2010.

Historical context note

The title of the painting, 'Our Boys', is likely to be from the hit stage play of the same name by Henry James Byron. 'Our Boys' was first performed in London in 1875 and ran there for several years as well as touring. Its plot is about the relationship of two fathers and their adult sons in connection with the sons' marriages, so the painting does not refer to the play, but no doubt the title was well known and something of a catch phrase.

Descriptive line

Painting, oil on canvas showing two young boys asleep, 'Our Boys', attributed to a follower of William Harold Cubley, UK, ca. 1880.

Production Note

Attributed to a follower of William Harold Cubley


Oil colour; Canvas


Painting; Moulding; Gilding

Subjects depicted



Paintings; Children & Childhood


Museum of Childhood

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