A thousand words are said to be sparked by a single image.

While smartphones, Insta-perfect apps, and polished pics have superseded canvas, brush strokes, oil, and acrylic, there’s still a lot of love for the latter.

Millions are paid out every year just for a chance to own a framed part of history.

It doesn’t take a smug, over-educated curator “specialising in the sublime” to point out the value this window into the past adds to art.

100 years ago, it was still paint, the painter and the painted, who conveyed the soul of the moment.

Great art reflects life.

The simple and the complex are all found in works produced by many of the world’s best artists.

This is because art tells a story.

Nowhere does this prove more true than in how artists have memorialised their own families.

Although the art of motherhood dominates the art scene, dads share some of the spotlight.

The Smithsonian states: ‘A sense of fatherhood can be found among some of its 6,000 artworks, objects, and artifacts.’

Seven solid examples of artists capturing the art of fatherhood include:

1. Michelangelo. Creation of Adam, 1511.

Michelangelo - Creation of Adam - art

Part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, the fresco reaches from Creator to creature. This is, the Vatican says, Michelangelo’s depiction of ‘the divine breath of life’. Man is made animate by the spark which brings life from uncreated life.

2. Vincent Van Gogh. First Steps, 1890.

Vincent van Gogh - First Steps - art

First Steps is a rendition of an 1858 drawing by Jean-François Millet, commissioned by Alfred Feydeau. Van Gogh’s recreation of the scene was encouraged by the birth of his nephew.

Van Gogh (1853-1890) was reaching with “delight at the prospect of the impending birth of his brother’s son.” There is also, “a sense of regret for a family life that Vincent had long hoped for, but never attained,” the VG Gallery explains.

3. Rembrandt. The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1661.

Rembrandt - The Return of the Prodigal Son - art

Rembrandt made good use of light and shade. His portraits use light to emphasise the face on a dark backdrop, and his portrayal of historical events does the same.

Based on Jesus’ parable recounted in Luke 15:11-32, Rembrandt conveys the love of a wealthy father for his wasteful, wayward son.

A centre figure emerges from the shadows, staring at the painting’s audience as if to say, “See, hear, and do likewise.”

4. Henry Ossawa Tanner. The Thankful Poor, 1894.

Henry Tanner - The Thankful Poor - art

Tanner (1859-1937) was an American Christian painter of African heritage. Brooks Museum interprets the scene as a tribute to hard-working black families, maligned by society.

The fatherhood theme is supercharged. Here a grandfather and grandson offer a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal. Well-presented, their humble reliance on God the Father is revolutionary.

5. Russell Drysdale. The Rabbiter and His Family, 1938.

The-Rabbiter-and-His-Family-by-Russell-Drysdale-1938 art

Drysdale (1912-1981), an Australian painter, was rightly described by artist Sydney Nolan as the ‘most Australian of us all.’

A father who later lost his son and wife to suicide, Drysdale had an uncanny ability to draw what it means to be Australian from the landscape. I’m a big fan.

In his 1938 work, Drysdale puts dad in the centre as provider and protecter. His face is tanned from day work, and his towering figure signals authority.

6. Norman Rockwell. The Facts of Life, 1952.

Norman Rockwell. The Facts of Life, 1952. art

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) helped define Americana. The Facts of Life was the 1951 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, described as ‘an earnest and obviously uncomfortable dad attempting to explain the birds and bees to a son.’ (Image credit: © SEPS)

7. Mary Cassatt. Brother and Son, 1884.

Mary Cassatt. Brother and Son, 1884. art

Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American impressionist artist who is mostly celebrated for her depictions of motherhood. Her portrait of her brother and his son is somewhat of an anomaly.

A student worksheet from the Philadelphia Museum of Art stated that Cassatt captured the closeness of father and son, ‘almost merging them together as though they were one.’

Art is a fragment of frozen time, sparking a thousand words by speaking none. Throughout the ages, and across genres, the artists’ depictions of dads cut to the bone of the dad-life.

They tell us, there’s more to being a good father than meets the eye.


Photo by Tatiana Syrikova.

About the Author: Rod Lampard

Rod, his wife Jonda, and their five kids are homeschooling veterans. Rod spent 12 years in management at Koorong, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Ministry & Theology, and is a writer for the theological, politically edgy news site Caldron Pool. Rod also writes for the Spectator. Find his personal blog here.

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