In his many winter snow scenes, Claude Monet showed that winter has lots of color! In 1890, in a field near his home in Giverny, Monet began his first series—painting the same 2 or 3 grain stacks to capture how light changes the color of objects, even snow!
Monet thought he could do it in just a few canvases, but he ended up with about 30 paintings in the series. Each day he trundled out to the field with a wheelbarrow full of unfinished canvases that he switched as the light and weather changed.
When winter came, Monet paid the farmer extra money to leave the stacks in place so he could paint them in winter. He painted early and late and once complained that the winter sun set so quickly it was hard to capture its effects.
People immediately loved the grain or hay stack paintings, and their sale allowed Monet to buy his home in Giverny. People still love them—in May of 2019 one sold at auction for a record-breaking 110.7 million dollars.
This post is about an earlier winter painting by Monet, The Magpie.
Done in 1868, its quiet beauty shows how Monet was experimenting and developing his style, especially his use of color in shadows ( an earlier winter painting has black and gray shadows). The Magpie also shows the technique he was developing to capture fleeting changes while painting en plein air (outdoors). The post includes:
- Information about the painting
- Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand the painting
- A kid-friendly devotion
In these early years the official French salon rejected most of Monet’s paintings, and he sold very few. But in 1868 he received a couple commissions and was able to rent a house on the Normandy coast.
He wanted to paint the famous cliffs there, which he did. But The Magpie shows there had been a heavy snowstorm and Monet probably couldn’t get to the cliffs. Instead he painted this scene, probably close to the house he was renting.
(when it’s not traveling as part of special exhibits, The Magpie lives at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Its website doesn’t allow you to enlarge the painting, but this link will take you to one you can enlarge as you move your cursor around to see details) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Monet#/media/File:Claude_Monet_-_The_Magpie_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
- In the painting the sun is low in the sky, casting long shadows across the sunlit scene. The painting’s brightness is accentuated by the dark tree trunks, branches, and the wattle or woven wood fence. Monet paints the deep snow with patches or dabs of paint, his emerging technique for capturing the changing light. In the middle ground a long light rose-colored building with reddish chimneys, is the only truly warm place in the painting. In the background is the sea.
- Look closely at the sky to see yellows and reds and blues and violets. And when you look at the snow, especially in the shaded areas, you’ll see violets and blues and even some yellows and pinks.
- The focal point of the painting (the area that draws your attention) is the magpie sitting on top of the fence.
Activities to Help You and Your Children Enjoy the Painting
Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Then have them to tell what else they see. Enhance observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary. Help them see nuances of color in the sky and snow.
1.This painting is great for describing what we’d hear and see and feel if we’d been there with Monet. Here are some good questions to help children imagine what it would be like:
- Have you ever been out after deep snow and noticed how quiet it is?
- Have you ever walked in the woods after a snow and had snow plop down on you from the trees overhead?
- What would you need to wear to be comfortable in this scene?
- Would you feel the cold seeping into your feet even through your boots? Can you imagine how cold Monet’s fingers must’ve gotten as he tried to paint this?
- Would the fence feel rough or smooth?
- Do you think the snow would be warm and sticky enough to make a snowman?
- Do you see how Monet has created a rhythm of shadows across the painting in front of the fence?
2.It could also be fun to make up a story about the magpie. Here are some story prompts:
- How long has he been sitting on the fence?
- Where was he before?
- Is he looking around for food or is he resting?
- Is he quiet or singing?
- What other creatures might live here?
- Look up information about magpies to see how they survive winter.
So take a walk with your children. Help them be especially observant with some of the following suggestions:
- Have them stand still and listen, then tell what they hear
- If it’s quite cold, can they see their breath hanging in the air as they speak
- Study shadow shapes and colors on the snow.
- Look at the sky and describe the colors and clouds
- Look for bird nests (they show up more without leaves on the trees).
- Look at different tree shapes (these also show more in winter)
- Observe animal tracks. If you go out soon after a new snow, you may see rabbit or squirrel or even deer tracks. Take photos of these and look up how to tell the difference between rabbit and squirrel tracks.
- Many birds stay around all year, so it’s fun to watch them and observe their winter habits. Use a field guide to identify species.
After your walk come inside, make some cocoa, and gather to talk about your walk and what you’ve learned.
- Discuss with your children all the things they saw and heard on your walk. Read Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
- Talk about the variety and beauty of clouds, trees, types of nests, and tracks in the snow. Describe the type of snow you walked in. Talk about and look up why some birds go south and others can survive cold winters.
- Read verses from Job, chapters 38-39 (especially 38:19-22 and 24-30) and talk about God’s wisdom, creativity, and continuing care of all He has made.
- Discuss the ways you saw God’s hand caring for plants and creatures while outside enjoying the quiet of a winter day. (Suggestions: snow covers and protects plants from the cold; squirrels and rabbits have thick, furry coats for warmth; red cardinals and black-capped chickadees eat seeds that are still around in the winter)
Just as the quiet winter day helps us see God’s hand in creation, taking time each day to be quiet with God can help us know Him even better. God is our heavenly Father, and He wants us to come to Him and talk to Him in prayer about all the things going on in our lives. He wants to talk to us, too, through His word that helps us learn about Jesus and His love for us.
What do you enjoy most about winter and how does it point you to God?