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Art Through Time: A Global View

Domestic Life Compare: What Can We Learn From Images of Domestic Life?

Dutch Family in an Interior

Dutch Family in an Interior
Artist / Origin: Jan Olis (Dutch, ca.1610–76)
Region: Europe
Date: 1634
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Oil on panel
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 15 in. (38.4 cm.), W: 19 ½ in. (49.9 cm.)
Location: Ferens Art Gallery, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, Kingston Upon Hull, UK
Credit: Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

Bud (William) Fields, Lily Rogers Fields, and Lilian Fields

Bud (William) Fields, Lily Rogers Fields, and Lilian Fields
Artist / Origin: Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975)
Region: North America
Date: 1935–36
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Gelatin silver print
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Location: Prints and Photographs Division, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Credit: © Metropolitan Museum of Art/Courtesy of the Library of Congress

What can we learn from images of domestic life?

Familial structures and domestic activities play a major role in virtually every culture. It is not surprising, then, that they have often provided fodder for visual artists. Images of home interiors, with or without their inhabitants, might reveal a great deal about the realities of domestic life in a particular time and place. On the other hand, it is just as likely that they are records of social ideals and cultural values.

Questions to Consider

  • What is the relationship between the people and their homes in each of these images? How do the people define the space? How does the space define the people? What do you think each artist is trying to achieve with his work?
  • Both the seventeenth-century painting by Olis and the twentieth-century photograph by Evans can be discussed in terms of “realism.” What might this term mean relative to each image?
  • Who were the intended audiences for each of these images? In what way, if at all, would those viewers have related to the domestic experiences of the families depicted? In what ways might these scenes of private life have resonated with the social, political, economic, or other concerns of the broader public?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2