Most of us love flowers. At this time of year, stores are crowded with people looking for flowering plants for their gardens. And, of course, Mother’s Day, a big day for bouquets, is just ahead!
So this post is for you if you’d like an easy art project for children to do for Mother’s Day and would like to learn more about a group of artists who also loved flowers—the Impressionists!
They painted fields of wildflowers, flowery hats, and bouquets of roses. But they especially loved to paint in their gardens.
Gardening was very popular in France, and the Impressionists liked showing modern life. So their garden paintings also bloom with beautifully dressed women strolling, reclining on the grass, or sitting at tables in dappled sunlight. Children play in many of these paintings. Family members and friends were often the models.
The Impressionists liked the look of the quick, snapshot-type view they had learned from photography, and they would crop
their compositions in places that made the viewer feel a part of the scene, and give movement and spontaneity to it.
Most of all, gardens were ideal for the Impressionists’ light, colorful palette and their desire to capture the quickly-changing effects of light on colors. They worked quickly and applied paint in patches of unmixed colors, which worked well to give the impression of masses of flowers.
The Artist: RENOIR
Renoir enjoyed painting beautiful things such as flowers, women, and children. He loved life and wanted art to be “cheerful and pretty.” And no one captured carefree parties at outdoor cafes like Renoir.
His feathery brushstrokes also created the “impression” of dappled sunlight coming through the trees better than anyone.
At 14 Renoir had been apprenticed to a porcelain painter and there learned that colors looked brighter and lighter when painted on a white ground. When he switched to canvas, he continued to prime them with white or cream instead of using the traditional dark grounds.
Like the other Impressionists, Renoir used a limited number of colors and didn’t pre-mix these on his palette. Instead he mixed them on the canvas itself and applied them wet-in-wet.
Unlike the other Impressionists, Renoir thinned his colors when he did faces, allowing that white ground to show through. It makes his faces look translucent. In contrast, his flowers are often done with thick paint.
The Painting: A GIRL WITH A WATERING CAN
This is such an Impressionist painting! It’s in a garden, and it looks like someone just ran to get the camera to take this little girl’s picture. They were hurrying to get it quickly before she moved, so it’s a little out of focus. The dabs of paint become flowers only when you step back.
And it’s so Renoir—a pretty little girl in her best dress, smiling at the “camera”! We can imagine birds singing, and the scent of the flowers heavy in the sunshine. And someone saying,”Oh, this will be a great picture to send to Grandmother!”
Okay, after that first impression, look away and see how many of these questions you can answer!
- What is the little girl holding (besides the watering can!)?
- What color is her hair?
- What color is her hair bow?
- What color is her dress?
- What are the two types of decorations on her dress?
- What decoration is on her shoes?
- What is she standing on?
Now let’s go back and see how carefully planned this painting really is! (You know Grandmother would pore over every detail!)
Notice how the figure of the little girl connects and unifies all the broad swaths of color behind her: her head touches the back flower border; her dress and arms connect with the green lawn and the yellowish path; and her feet touch the curve of the rose bush area.
It’s unified but not static. Renoir uses those massive blocks of color, especially the green lawn and yellow path, to move your eye around the painting. All those color swaths follow the same curve back into the painting, taking your eye with them. They don’t go back far enough to take your attention away from the little girl, though. And, of course, the patches of red catch your attention and move your eye around!
But what is the focal point of the painting? What does Renoir want us to look at the most?
It’s the little girl’s face. What draws your eye there? First of all, we are wired to attend to faces! But Renoir does things to nudge us in the right direction.
- The little girl’s face and hair are lighter than, and stand out against, the surrounding grass.
- Her dark blue dress contrasts with, and frames, her face.
- Her red bow is the brightest area of red in the painting and draws our eye to her face.
- Her reddish hair and red bow are complimentary (opposites on a color wheel ) to green, so they have high contrast and give an almost shimmery look to her hair—very eye-catching!
- Last, but not least, there’s a trail of buttons from her high-top shoes up the front of her dress to her face.
In the Middle Ages Christians went on long and dangerous trips to view the relics at the great Gothic churches of Europe. Others entered monasteries and gave up everyday pleasures to spend their days in manual labor and prayer.
Some believed their very salvation depended on these things. Most did believe they had to do such extraordinary things in order to improve or grow in grace.
Thanks to the leaders of the Reformation, we know our salvation is based on faith in the atoning death of Christ for our sins.
But in many ways we still approach the growing in grace part like people of the Middle Ages.
We still often look to extraordinary or special events to help us grow. We want instant growth from events such as retreats, conferences, concerts, and short-term missionary projects.
Don’t get me wrong! These are often good things, but special events are one shot deals that only come once in a while. They can’t produce steady growth, and not everyone can participate in them.
The Bible teaches that our daily growth in grace as Christians really depends on ordinary things that we can all do, and this painting illustrates these.
Our initial faith is like the seeds that produced the flowers in the painting. They have already been planted, but they can’t grow without something as ordinary as water from the little girl’s watering can.
Neither can our faith grow without what are often called the ordinary means of grace:
- attending church to worship and hear God’s word preached
- taking part in the sacraments
- regular times of personal Bible reading and prayer
Although they may not seem very exciting, these everyday practices that everyone can do are the water that helps us grow spiritually.
The painting also helps us understand our part and God’s part in this growth. While water is necessary for growth, it doesn’t cause the growth. God does. “… neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:7
So it is with our growth in grace—when we are, with God’s help, diligent to practice the ordinary and outward means of grace, watering the seeds planted by God, He blesses that effort, in an inward, supernatural, and mysterious way that we call grace. And the plants (the fruits of the spirit, Galatians 5:22) in our life grow stronger and more beautiful day by day.
Determine with God’s help to practice the ordinary means of grace. Make them habits. Good habits are fine to have!! And the Lord has promised to bless our most meager efforts.
An Art Project for Mother’s Day
Moms and Grandmothers, you’ll love it!
3. Now, just like the Impressionists, paint blobs of paint right over the crayon ‘flowers’. Blobs work because the wax of the crayons repels the water color and shows through. (Encourage children to use small amounts of water to mix paint. Otherwise the colors get pretty watery)
4. While the flowers dry, trace on another piece of paper around each child’s hands (have them spread their fingers apart a little). Include a few inches of their arms. (use colored paper or children may color these and add rings, watches, etc.)
5. Cut out the hands.
Voila! Write Happy Mother’s Day across the top and give to Mom or Grandma!
Other Things to Do
Visit art museums with Impressionist collections and see how many have flowers in them. Many American museums have at least a few, because Americans were among the first to buy their work. Mary Cassatt, an American Impressionist artist living in Paris, introduced many of her friends to Impressionist art and encouraged them to buy these works. At the time they were very reasonably priced!
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Parts of this post came from talks I have given for different groups, and I enjoy speaking to homeschoolers, women’s groups, and others on the topics of art and Christian history. If you’d be interested in my speaking for your group, contact me here.
The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only