Art History:   Grade 1 Lesson 7

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Art Periods

CHILDREN IN ART - Children at Play



  1. Children's Games, oil-on-panel 1560, Pieter Breughal the Elder, Flemish (1525-1569), Kunsthistorishces Museum, Vienna, Austria, reproduction print.
  2. Children's Games, detail,  reproduction print.
  3. Children's Games, detail,  reproduction print.
    Pieter Breughel was one of the great painters from the Netherlands. His paintings celebrate the simple country life. Perhaps he was inspired by the ideas of the Renaissance on a trip to Italy in 1551. Notice the perspective in "Children's Games".

    This was painted over 400 years ago. You can see that the children are dressed differently and that their houses and streets are different. There are lots of games and activities shown. Most of them look like a lot of fun even today. Some of the games and toys we can't identify. This village scene looks a lot like reccess at school!
    A few ideas from the picture are:
      a.  masks
    b.  swimming
    c.  dolls
    d.  horse on a stick
    e.  hoops
    f.  building blocks
    g.  jungle gym
    h.  stilts
    i.  piggy back
    j.  music-making
    k.  pretending
    l.  bowling
    m.  follow the leader
    n. marbles
    o.  somersaults
    p.  riding a barrel
    q.  blindman
    r.  dancing
    s.  climbing a tree
    t.  king of the hill

    250 children are following 75 pursuits independent of adults. There are no instructors, umpires or spectators. The games are played for pleasure, not renown, and yet there are some contests of skill or strength. Most of the games follow set rules.Some, such as Tug-of-war, Blindman's-buff and Hide-and-seek were played more than 2000 years ago in Greece. Buck-Buck is a game from Roman times. The stooping player must guess which hand is held up and how many fingers by the player on his back.
    Notice that there are no circle games or ball bouncing or rope-skipping.

    Children's Games - by William Carlos Williams

    This is a schoolyard
    with children

    of all ages near a village
    on a small stream
    meandering by

    where some boys
    are swimming

    or climbing a tree in leaf
    is motion

    elder women are looking
    after the small

    a play wedding a
    nearby one leans

    an empty hogshead

  4. Recreation, -, Mai-Thu, Vietnamese  (1906-1980), gouache on silk, private collection, reproduction print.
    Recreation is a refreshment of one's mind or body after labor through diverting activity - play.
    Name all the means of recreation you recognize:

    1. kite flying
    2. circle games or conversation
    3. board games or puzzles
    4. running
    5. wrestling - Judo
    6. ball games
    7. climbing
    8. dreaming

    Find the thoughtful children. Find the active children. In the East, passive recreation is as valued as active sport. Is this reflected in the painting? Find some other (besides pensive children) elements of calmness in this painting. Same soft, rolling background, repeating haircuts, similar faces, many of the same pants and shirts. Find the elements of action besides the active games. Bright warm colors scattered over the painting. Perhaps the artist wanted to tell us about the beauty of a child's body in its many positions while playing games or sitting or standing thoughtfully. Do you think he cared to give us a portrait of each child? Compare with Breughel's painting. Notice the lack of shadows - a typical oriental technique, and the same grouping of children.

    Notice the stamp as well as Mai Thu's signature.
  5. Two toys, wooden reproductions.
  6. Snap the Whip, 1872, Winslow Homer, American, (1836-1910), The Butler Institute, Youngstown, Ohio, reproduction print
      Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836 and grew up in nearby Cambridge. After a brief period at Bufford's Lithography Shop in Boston, he moved to New York and was hired by Harper's Weekly for which he would produce designs until 1875. He covered the Civil War for Harper's, making several trips to the front. On his return to New York after the war, he concentrated on oil painting. he was elected National Academician in 1865. From 1866 to 1867 he traveled abroad. On his return, Homer settled in New York. He spent his summers producing idyllic images of Americans at leisure. In 1873 Homer's first watercolor series was done at Gloucester, Massachusetts. He traveled to England in 1881 to paint near Tynemouth, a fishing port on the North Sea. His first works produced were narrative subjects which would concern him for the rest of his life; man's struggle with his environment. He settled permanently at Prout's Neck, Maine. he ofter traveled with a fishing fleet to Nassau, Bermuda and the Bahamas. In 1908 he suffered a paralytic stroke and died to years later at Prout's Neck.

    1.  Can you guess what these children are playing?
    2.  Who is playing the game? What are the girls doing?
    3.  Have you ever played snap the whip? Can you describe the game?
    4.  What time of year is it? Where is it?
    5.  Can you guess what the building in the background is?
    6.  How are the boys dressed? How do you dress differently?
    7.  What is the school house made of? What is your school built with?
  7. Bathing Place at Asnieres, 1883, Georges Seurat, French (1859-1891), National Gallery, London, reproduction print.
      George Seurat was a founder of Neo-Impressionism, born in Paris. He developed a method of systematic painting and sought to fill his paintings with color and light, but with scientifically based techniques. There is a strong formal order to his subjects.

    Pointillism - dots of color juxtaposed on the canvas which appear to the spectator to blend when viewed from a distance instead of being blended on the palette.

    Seurat repeated simplified shapes over and over, but with variety. he only produced seven large paintings.

    1. How does this compare to our beaches?
    2.  How are the children dressed?  and the adults?
    3.  Are the water games the same or different?
    4.  What shapes can be found?



Play is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "to engage in sport or recreation or to move aimlessly about or to deal or behave frivilously or mockingly."

This year we have looked at lots of different children throughout the world and throughout the ages. Artists have depicted them in many ways and for many different reasons.

Playing is as much fun today as it was many years ago. You play much in the same way that children in other places play. We are going to look at some pictures of children at play. We are going to find out what they are playing with and see if you have ever played with something similar. Then we are going to look at some toys that your parents or grandparents might have played with and compare them with toys you have today.

There are a lot of companies today that make educational toys. They are made especially to help children grow and to develop. Many of the things children played with years ago helped them to learn the same skills of size, shape, numbers, balance etc. See if you can name some of the skills needed for each game or toy.

Our view of children has changed over the centuries. Before the 19th century, "child" expressed kinship, not an age state. Children were viewed as small scale adults and dressed accordingly. Most children were unaware of their own precise age. Only infants, which extended up to age seven, were clothed differently to adults. There was no sex differentiation and infants' activities included dolls, hobbyhorses and toys. All children of that general age were grouped as infants.

Children from age seven to adult were considered "little people" who shared games, beds, chores and dress with their elders. They knew gambling and drinking at an early age. "Children's" games such as Hide and Seek were all played with adults, adolescents and children.

From 1600 on the child became increasingly an object of respect and a special creature with a different nature and different needs. Their "innocence" called for protection from the adult world. The upper classes had established a separate innocent childhood by 1800 and it slowly spread to all children.


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