Art History:  Grade 1 Lesson 1

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CHILDREN IN ART - "Reading" a Painting - Ways to Enjoy Art


Many artists like to use children as subjects for their works. This year we will be looking at many different kinds of art almost all of the art will feature children. Some of the works will be very old, some will be fairly new. People have been making art in many ways for thousands of years. Some of the art we share with you will depict rural scenes, some will depict city life - most will show you children. Today most families have a camera and often fill an album with family snapshots. Sometimes people have paintings or drawings of their families done by artists as well. Some artists make a living by painting portraits (paintings of people usually showing their faces). A family is usually dressed in fine clothing and posed when portraits are done. Other artists paint children in a way that captures a feeling of a place, or time, or activity. Today we are going to look at some of these paintings in a special way. We are going to "read" the paintings.

(Note: be sure to tell the children that the prints you show them are reproductions of the original works).

First graders are just learning to read. "Reading" a painting is easy - you don't even have to know the alphabet! All you have to do is look. You can keep questions in mind as we are looking. When you hold up a reproduction print, you must first introduce the class to it and solicit contributions by guiding the class with questions.

The methods below are ideas and you are not limited to them. Remember as you discover all the details with the children, keep them alive -

Summary of methods for reading a painting :


Use your senses - touch, smell, hear and taste, as well as look.


Place the painting in history - compare lifestyles.


Learn something about the artist.


Does the painting tell a story?


Does the painting express a feeling or mood? How does it make YOU feel?

  1. The Sunny Side of the Street, 1950, Philip Evergood, American (1901-1973), The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Reproduction print.


    Here are some ideas of things to look for in the print. The children will help you "read" the story of the street depicted.

    Chalk on the sidewalk and street for games
    Hockey on skates
    Garbage Cans
    Fire Escapes
    TV antennae
    Child in wheelchair
    Bridge in background
    Man in foreground might be blind
    Woman with baby all dressed up.
    The picture has many sounds that the artist wants you to hear.  Philip Evergood was born in new York City in 1901, educated in England; art education there and in New York and Paris. He exhibited Biblical paintings in New York in 1931. The Depression affected him deeply; he changed his subjects to life's social problems, racial discrimination and political oppression. Not a complete or lasting change as he often taught at universities in New York, Iowa, Minnesota and elsewhere and received many awards for his paintings.
  2. Dwellings, Ordsall Lane, Salford, 1927, Lawrence Stephen (L.S.) Lowry, English (1887-1976), , Reproduction print.
    This picture is included as a possible comparison with "Sunny Side of the Street".
    The children could suggest other names for the Salford picture.
    Would "Sunny Side of the Street" be an appropriate name for the English street picture?
    Suggest reasons for the grayness in the picture. Is it fog or industrial pollution or both?
    Does the grayness suggest silence? What else makes this a more silent picture?
    Would you like to live in this city? Why?
    How do the massive, dark buildings make you feel?
    Can you guess why the artist placed many children standing alone in the street instead of playing games together?
    Links: Lowry Biography
  3. Breezing Up (a Fair Wind), 1876, Winslow Homer, American (1836-1910), oil (61.5x97cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC , Reproduction print.
  4. Girl Holding Rattle, c.1835 , Erastus Salisbury Field, American (1805-1900), oil, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, Williamsburg, VA. Reproduction print.
  5. There are 3 boys and a man in the sailboat and they have been fishing. The water is rough and choppy. The boys seem tired after a long day. Look at all the shades of blue used to convey a windy, cloudy day. This was painted in the early 1900s. The name "Gloucester" appears on the sailboat - which is a town on the coast of Massachusetts, north of Boston. There are many commercial and sport fishermen in Gloucester today. These people were out for sport fishing and might be headed in with their dinner. They'll be wet, cold and salty, and probably very hungry.
    Erastus Salisbury Field, the artist of this primitive painting was a Massachusetts native. He was largely self-taught except for 3 months of study with Samuel F B Morse in 1824. His early work consisted mainly of portraits for which he received as much as $18 each. In 1831, he married Phoebe Gilmore, an amateur artist who painted under the name of P.B. Field. From 1842 to 1848, the Fields lived in New York City where Erastus worked as a daguerreotyper. In 1848 the couple returned to Massachusetts. There, after the death of his wife in 1859, Field turned to Biblical and mythological subjects.
    American Folk Painting
    American Folk Painting, like other forms of folk art, is that type of work characterized by an artistic innocence which distinguishes it from the more formal decorative and fine arts. With its great charm and genuine appeal, folk or primitive painting is a vital contributor to our cultural history, for it captured on canvas a way of life now gone. The first colonial painters imitated the works by Dutch and English artists. Even by the time of the Revolution, few American artists had any academic training. Consequently, many of the works they produced display a lack of emphasis, are weak in organization and composition and combine flat, unshaded form with patches of bright color.
    Since only the wealthy could afford the services of a professionally trained artist, most Americans were satisfied with the work of craftsmen painters or portraitists with little or no education in the field. These itinerant painters, who often traveled from door to door urging people to "preserve their features" were called Limners. The term is taken from the Latin luminare, which means to light up or illuminate. These limners usually got their start in the art world by working under a craftsman such as a sign painter, house painter, coach painter or gilder. During the summer these men and women would close their shops and travel; often doing a likeness or portrait for board and lodging or producing a landscape and sketches for an affluent householder at some vacation spa. The subjects were usually seated or standing amidst identifying symbols or attributes; fans and flowers for ladies; swords for soldiers;
    Although the folk artists might be able to produce a good likeness, or at least one which pleased their patrons, they usually found detailed anatomy and linear perspective beyond their technical skills. instruments for musicians; and dolls and hobbyhorses for children. Due to the frequent use of the same jewelry and wardrobes in many paintings, a legend developed that the wandering artists painted bodies and backgrounds of portraits in the off season and just added heads when the commission was awarded. There is no evidence to support this theory; in fact, there is much to contradict it. The uncompleted sketches of the period show heads without bodies, not bodies without heads. it is also known that the artists carried props of jewelry and clothing which most likely accounts for the similarities in wardrobe. American folk painting reached its peak of popularity after 1800 when the rising middle class of the new nation arrived at the point of self-consciousness where its members desired to express pride in their new status and their accomplishments. new England, especially Massachusetts and Connecticut, was the first area where large numbers of paintings were produced. This was a populous region with an affluent middle class as well as a center of strong craft tradition. Later, however, as the population pushed westward, Limners could be found at work in new York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. In 1839 the daguerreotype was developed. This introduction of the photographic image led to steady decline of limner art. After 1850, painted portraits once again became a luxury commissioned by the very wealthy and executed by professionals.
  6. Mrs. Freake and Baby Mary, 1674, unknown Limner artist, Worcester Art Museum, MA. Reproduction print.
  7. I and the Village, 1911, Marc Chagall, Russian (1887-1985), Museum of Modern Art, NY Reproduction print.
    Like a dream or memory, I and the Village is a jumble of images that overlap and fade into one another. A man and a cow stand almost nose to nose, a woman milks another cow, and around them are some topsy-turvy houses and people, and a plant. These seemingly unconnected confusing images were taken from life in the village where Chagall grew up.
    Chagall was born to a religious Jewish family in a small Russian village. When he was 23, he moved to Paris where he painted some of his best-known works, including "I and the village". In this painting Chagall looks back fondly on the village he had just left.
    The painting doesn't show the village in the usual way but is more like the traditional stories of Jewish storytellers who can weave the simplest event into a tale full of twists and turns. These tales become magical worlds of their own. The farm animals, plant, church and the villagers flow together to create a single, solid picture of village life. The circular curving lines seem to suggest the passage of time and changing of the seasons.
    Links: More Chagall : Grade 5 Lesson 2

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