The history of art is full of interesting family portraits and loving, mother son images.
However the pictorial record of fathers and sons is quite a different story.

Here are a few famous mother and son paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci               Gustave Klimt        Pablo Picasso

The few examples of father and son paintings go in an entirely different direction.

Peter Paul Rubens                Francesco Goya       Rembrandt van Rijin

In the Rubens and the Goya, the son is seen as rival and dealt with rather
primatively. Rembrandt’s scene is the return of the prodigal son. Here the son is
welcomed back with a combination of  love, sadness, and resigned acceptance
of his inevitable wandering and the pain it causes.

The existence of so few loving images of  fathers and  children (other than the Norman Rockwell variety) in painting, tells something very powerful and distressing about our culture and its’ archetypes.

Something to ponder on Father’s Day…..but thanks to a comment by my friend, Margaret Pirrouette, I’ve decided to end on a more positive note.
Though they are photographs, as the man said, “…all you need is love…”

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  1. i agree with this statement. but there are some very loving photos of john lennon and his son sean. perhaps we are able to change this sad image of fathers in the future.

  2. You’ll find plenty of pictures of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus in art. Here is a link to a number of books which have cover art.

  3. oh sorry it seems to have scrubbed the link. Will try with spaces.
    www. adoremusbooks. com/stjoseph.aspx

  4. thank you david for posting that photo its a beauty and does remind me all you need is love if your a mother or father .happys fathers day

  5. metscan says:

    A Happy Father´s Day to You!
    I´m sure Kathy provided you with the best room service ever ; )!!
    Over here, father´s day is in the fall. Should there not be some global logic with the dates?
    Somehow, I like better photographs of a parent and child, than paintings on the same subject. Photographs manage to grab the tender moment better IMO.
    However, of the paintings you show, the Klimt one has that something, which makes it stand up best for me.

    • David Leeds says:

      Mette, Thanks for the father’s day wishes. Strange that they’re on separate times of the year. I think, here in America, it’s a totally made up holiday, with no important cultural significance. Maybe coming in the fall there, it’s related to the harvest, and a reward for all the hard work. That would make sense, and be more meaningful. I also agree about photos- much more intimate. One of the great things about photography. Cheers to you and your family.

  6. kathy says:

    It’s a very interesting observation and I’m so curious now why this should be?
    St. Joseph and Jesus are one example of a “tender” father and child in the history of Western art, but it seems that’s it. If the theme of Mother and Child is taken from the Madonna and Jesus, then why no continuation of a Father and Child theme? No asking for an answer, just a very curious thing.

  7. David, I love this post. That is so interesting about the lack of images of father and child in art. But you ended it on such a great note. Love that photo of John Lennon and his son. Hope you had a great Father’s Day!

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard