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The Savoyard Boy in London

1865 James Edward Freeman Born: Grand Passage, Nova Scotia, Canada 1808 Died: Rome, Italy 1884 oil on canvas 54 1/2 x 43 3/4 in. (138.4 x 111.2 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1978.121 Not currently on view


Gallery Label

James Freeman's image of an exhausted, threadbare boy dozing on a London curb typifies the "fancy pictures" of sweet, colorful street children popular on both sides of the Atlantic. But the painting also reflects one of the great reform issues of the nineteenth century. The young beggars were often called "Savoyard boys" because many had emigrated from the Savoy region of Italy. In London, these children were the targets of gang leaders and "resurrection men," the body snatchers who supplied anatomy schools with cadavers.

Torn posters and fliers that mention freed slaves and traveling minstrels emphasize the disreputable condition of these children. More privileged citizens—like those seen in the background of this painting—were morbidly fascinated and outraged by the victimization of the Savoyard beggars. A famous case involving the murder of a boy and the sale of his corpse to a noted physician sparked a frenzy of news stories that led to reform measures in England's parliament.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Keywords

Animal - monkey

Children

Cityscape - England - London

Figure(s) in exterior - urban

State of being - other - homeless

State of being - other - poverty

State of being - other - sleep

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About James Edward Freeman

Born: Grand Passage, Nova Scotia, Canada 1808 Died: Rome, Italy 1884