I have been staring at this poster by Gerald Spencer Pryse for a while trying to think what it reminded me of. Obviously Pryse took heavily from Christian art, but the words from Blake’s famous poem also fit well I think.
Obviously children can’t vote, yet they have been a consistent feature of posters since the 1900s. During the first half of the 20th century, artists used children to represent voters. Suggesting perhaps that their was a belief the electorate were a naive body which needed protecting. This changed when women could vote, as children became a symbol to suggest that mothers should vote on behalf of their offspring. The visual link between Fatherhood and elections was less strong.
In this rather marvellous poster from 1910 – which is going on display for the first time, in the exhibition – the artist drew both the ‘People’ and ‘The House of Lords’ as babies. Despite having sufficient milk of their own, the Peers steal the milk from the smaller, somewhat under-nourished, population.
In SAVE THE CHILDREN FROM TARIFF REFORM the child-as-voter metaphor is not so obvious. But there is still a hint that the children represent the whole of society. The shopping basket an indication that Tariff Reform (the taxing of imported goods) would affect the whole of family life. The poster retells the story of Little Riding Hood. Top hats and spats represent politicians or capitalists, who take the place of the wolf in the fairytale. In this image it is not the hunter that will save Red Riding Hood but the audience of the poster – the voters of 1910.
A change took place in the depiction of children after women received the vote. Poster artists used infants to appeal to women, as posters suggested that good motherhood extended to how they cast their vote. Gerald Spencer Pryse’s 1918 example MOTHERS VOTE LABOUR was an early example.
Appealing to women on behalf of their children continued during the election of 2010. As both the Conservative and Labour parties produced posters which suggested that women’s ultimate consideration at the ballot box should be their children.