Category Archives: Artists and their works

“Preaching with his brush,” Henry Ossawa Tanner Painted Warm Scenes of Christ and His Mother.

Henry Ossawa Tanner once said he, “preached with his brush.” He won awards with his religious works and was one of the first African American artists to win international fame. He took several long trips to study and paint in the Middle East, because he wanted to show real people in authentic settings.

Many children will be heading back to their studies this month so Molly and I are back to our school year schedule, too. Here’s what you can expect most months:

  1. Fun ways to learn about famous artists and their artworks.
  2. Kid-friendly devotion based on the artwork
  3. Art activity based on the artwork
  4. Newsletter with curriculum connections to the artwork and reviews of related children’s fiction and nonfiction books. And freebies!
  5. We also frequently do interviews with children’s authors. In fact, be sure to look at our Special Announcement at the end of this first school year blog.

On to our post about Henry Ossawa Tanner and his 2 beautiful paintings about Christ and his mother.

In this post you’ll:

  • Learn a little about Henry Ossawa Tanner and his 2 paintings of Christ and His Mother
  • Find helpful vocabulary
  • Discover activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy the painting
  • Be sure to check out a Special Announcement at the end about September’s blog that also has a cute photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

The Artist

Henry Ossawa Tanner by Thomas Eakins, public domain

Tanner grew up in Philadelphia, the son of a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother, a teacher, had escaped from slavery on the Underground Railway.

When he was 13, Henry saw a landscape artist painting in a city park and decided to become an artist. He spent hours painting in the city zoo, but after high school went to work in a flour mill. The work made him so sick, he had to quit.

Tanner spent his recovery time painting, and in 1879 enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, studying under Thomas Eakins. He was the only African American student. When Henry went out on his own, though, he found it difficult to succeed because of prejudice against African American artists.

Eventually, Tanner traveled to study in Paris as so many Americans did in the late 1800s. He loved Paris and its art and found more opportunity and less discrimination. He married and made Paris his home, only returning to America for visits.

Vocabulary

These words, which will be in bold green the first time they come up, will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of the painting.

  • Genre art  art that shows everyday events and people
  • Portrait  a painting that focuses on one or just a few people. These may contain background landscape as in the Mona Lisa or a still life containing things that tell a little about the sitter

Tanner came to love the art of Rembrandt. He shared the Dutch artist’s faith and appreciated his portraits of Jesus and other biblical subjects. Tanner loved how Rembrandt used light and shadow to create drama, and how he showed the character of his subjects, giving dignity to everyday people and their work. Tanner continued to experiment with how to use light to create atmosphere and heighten a painting’s message.

There are 2 versions of this painting. One titled Christ and His Mother Reading the Scriptures (1909). The other called Christ Learning to Read (1910-1914). In these warm genre paintings, Mary and Jesus lean together as they both hold the scroll. Mary has her arm around her son, holding him close. Jesus is intent on his reading as his mother looks on with encouragement. From photographs, we know that Tanner’s wife and son were the models for both paintings.

Christ and His Mother Reading the Scriptures bu Henry O. Tanner, 1909, Dallas Museum of Art, public domain

Christ Learning to Read by Henry O. Tanner, 1910-1914, Des Moines Art Center, public domain

Both paintings also show the influences of Tanner’s studies in France, which led him to use lighter colors—cool blues and warm yellows and reds—and looser and more expressive brush strokes. We see the cool blues of her robes contrasted with the warm golds and tans of Jesus’ robes.

Though both paintings contrast light and shadow, the Learning to Read painting has more brilliant lights. It was painted after a trip to North Africa, where perhaps Tanner learned how to better show that bright Middle Eastern sunlight. In each painting, Christ stands out against the blue of Mary’s robes.

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore these 2 Beautiful Paintings

Before doing other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Ask children how Mary and Jesus feel about each other. What tells them that? Ask how they feel when they’re involved in activities with those they love. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.

Having 2 similar paintings by the same artist lends itself to a comparing and contrasting activity:

Encourage children to compare and contrast colors, shadows, items in the paintings, clothing, expressions, brightness, etc.

Ask them which painting they like better and why.

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly hopes you enjoyed learning about these two paintings of Christ and His mother and will join us next week for a devotion based on the paintings.

Special Announcement

Look what’s coming to Kathy the Picture Lady blog in late August through September!

Many wonderful new children’s books are releasing, so starting with the last post of August, I’ll be interviewing 6 children’s authors, and Molly will talk to some of the main characters in each of their new releases of picture books and board books!

Molly hopes you’ll join us to learn more about such fun characters as a mole, a rocking chair, frogs, animal daddys, pugs, and all the people and creatures that came to the manger when Jesus was born!

Here’s Molly with her special stash of books that she  hopes to add to very soon!

 

 

Devotion Based on 2 Artworks by Mary Cassatt

In Mary Cassatt’s painting, A Young Mother Sewing, a little girl is leaning on her mother’s lap. Do you think her mother is working on a dress for her? We can imagine though, that she’d really like her mother to stop and come play.

Have you ever had to wait for an adult to finish something before helping you or playing a game? It’s hard to be patient at those times.

A second artwork by Mary Cassatt, called The Fitting, reminds me of a time like that for me.

The Fitting by Mary Cassatt, The Brooklyn Museum, public domain

When I was young one of the hardest times for me to be patient was when my mother hemmed my dresses. She began by measuring up from the floor with a wooden yardstick. I had to stand straight, with no drooping to the right or left as she placed pins at the right place. As she went round and round, checking, re-pinning, and checking again, Soon I’d start feeling wiggly, because I wanted to go play.

Have you ever had to be fitted for or shopped for clothes for a special event and thought the adults took too long? Did you feel wiggly and want to play?

Now I’m grown up, I know my mother was being careful because she loved me and wanted me to look my best. And when I look at The Fitting, I’m reminded of these verses from Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:1-5 NIV)

We are God’s children, and He uses the Bible as His yardstick to show us how to become more like Him, our loving heavenly Father.

Can you think of a time when the Bible helped you see a change you needed to make in how you treated friends or family?

Pinning is only part of the hemming process. In A Young Mother Sewing we see that hemming is done by hand and takes time and skill. It’s important not to get the stitches so tight they cause the cloth to pucker or so loose they fall out.

A Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt,1900, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, public domain

In the painting, I can imagine the mother laying her hand on her daughter’s head, encouraging her to be patient so the dress will turn out beautiful.

God has laid His hand upon us and encourages us to learn from Him. He knows us and doesn’t push us so hard that we get frustrated, but He also loves us enough to keep helping us make our lives more beautiful to glorify Him in the world.

Think of one lesson from your Bible that you can put into practice this week. Do you need to use kinder words? Do you need to be less impatient and wiggly when you have to wait for Mom or Dad to come play?

Let’s pray: Thank you, Heavenly Father, for knowing and loving me. You are always with me. Please help me become more like Jesus. In His name, amen.

Before You Go

Go here to learn about the painting, A Young Mother Sewing and how to enjoy it with your children. Go here if you’d like directions for a children’s art project based on Mary Cassatt’s paintings.

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

And be sure to visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids, and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly and I hope you enjoyed this devotion based on art by Mary Cassatt. If you’ve signed up for my newsletter, you’ll soon receive our May newsletter with more fun things to do.

in this photo Molly is learning to sit inside a hula hoop and wait patiently for me to say she can get up.

 

 

 

 

Let’s Look at Mary Cassatt’s Painting of A Young Mother Sewing

Although Mother’s Day is over, Molly and I hope you’ll join us this month as we look at one of Mary Cassatt’s beautiful and timeless paintings of mothers and children engaged in everyday activities.

In this post you’ll:

  • Find helpful vocabulary
  • Learn a little about Mary Cassatt and her paintings of mothers and children
  • Discover activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy her paintings
  • See a cute photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

Helpful Vocabulary

These words, shown in bold green the first time, will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of the painting.

  • Impressionists: a group of mostly French artists, who in the late 1800s, began painting outside so they could catch the way colors changed in different lights. They worked quickly with dabs and dashes, (creating an impression of their subject) so their paintings looked strange and unfinished to viewers. The Impressionists held their own annual exhibits in Paris. The style also spread to other countries.
  • Genre art:  art showing everyday events and people
  • Composition: the way an artist arranges all the parts to create a painting
  • The Renaissance: the rebirth or revival of classical (Greek and Roman) influences in art and literature, refers especially to the 14th -16th centuries in Italy when such greats as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael worked.

The Artist

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) who grew up in Philadelphia, always wanted to become an artist. Despite her father’s objections, she entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts when she was 15. But women had separate classes from men, which frustrated Mary, and there were few museums in which to study great art. So, like many American artists, Mary traveled to Europe to study.

Even in Paris, Mary couldn’t attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, (France’s most prestigious art school), but she could study privately with Ecole masters and copy masterpieces at the Louvre. Many artists studied in this way.

Mary joined the French Impressionists just 5 years after their first exhibition in 1874. The only American and one of only three women, Mary continued exhibiting with the Impressionists until 1886

The men in the Impressionist group could go to cafes and travel around Paris and the surrounding countryside to find subjects to paint. Mary Cassatt and the other women couldn’t go to these places unless accompanied by a man. So they painted the domestic life of women and children, using their family members as models. Mary Cassatt is loved today for her beautiful paintings, pastels, and prints of mothers and children. In her Genre art we see the love between mothers and children in ordinary daily moments.

Though Cassatt lived the rest of her life in France, she never forgot the need for art in American museums. She helped Americans buy artworks to eventually go into these. Her own works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, and many other big and small museums.

The Painting

A Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt,1900, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, public domain

Let’s look at a painting called A Young Mother Sewing. Cassatt has captured a quiet moment in time—the mother is intent on her sewing, while the child is staring at the viewer.

Though it is a genre painting, Cassatt has used a Composition in which the mother and child form a triangular shape, drawing our eyes up to the mother’s face. That triangle, together with the background horizontal and vertical lines, makes a stable, balanced composition.

This kind of composition was very common with portraits of the Madonna and Child in The Renaissance. So, though the woman is just an ordinary mom doing some sewing, Cassatt has given her great dignity and importance.  To compare, here’s a Madonna and Child painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci,1499-1508, National Gallery, London, public domain

While using classical composition, Cassatt also employs impressionistic techniques:

  • She fills the painting with light. Where the sun hits, we see yellow highlights, and instead of black for shadows on the child’s dress, we see light blues and greens.
  • She dissolves the outlines of faces, hands, and fabrics, which is characteristic of much Impressionist art. If we look closely at the vase on the table, we see the pattern is barely indicated, and the flowers are just orange blobs.
  • Instead of a detailed landscape behind the woman, which we would see in a Renaissance portrait, we see just patches of paint to indicate lawn and trees receding into a shadowy blue distance. Compare that to the detailed background in the Mona Lisa, also by da Vinci.

    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1516, Louvre, Paris, public domain

    Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore A Young Mother Sewing

Before doing any other activities, ask your children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and ideas. According to your children’s ages, work in a little of the new vocabulary, but keep it short and simple.

  1. Ask what colors and patterns they see. Mention how the striped pattern on the mother’s dress helps show their close relationship.
  2. Ask children in what ways this painting resembles a modern photograph.
  3. What do they think the little girl is thinking as she looks at the viewer?
  4. Is she asking her mother a question or maybe asking her mother to come and play?
  5. Ask children if they’ve ever come to you or another adult to ask a question or to come and play? What happened? How should we behave at such times?
  6. What do they think will happen next?
  7. Other things you can do is to have children find all the blues, all the greens, and so on.

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Cute picture of Molly. In one of our everyday moments we’re reading a special book by Nancy Sanders about animal babies and their mommies. Here’s a link to my post interviewing Nancy about her adorable board book, Bedtime with Mommy.

Molly and I hope you enjoy learning about this special painting of a mother and child and will join us next week for a devotion based on another of Mary Cassatt’s artworks, The Fitting.

John James Audubon, Painter of American Birds

The spring shower ended soon after we arrived at our hotel in West Texas, so we went out for a walk. Hundreds of small birds fluttering at the edges of muddy puddles drew our attention. At first we thought they were bathing, but when we looked at the hotel, we saw mud nests in various stages of construction honeycombing its walls. Nests the birds were building one mud pellet at a time.

This first encounter with cliff swallows began my fascination with them. John J. Audubon’s first encounter with cliff swallows also fascinated him. Here are a couple excerpts from his account of it in The Birds of America:

“In the spring of 1815, I for the first time saw a few individuals of this species at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio . . . . forming their nests and rearing their young. Unfortunately . . . the specimens were lost, and I despaired for years of meeting with others.”

“In the year 1819, my hopes were revived by Mr. ROBERT BEST, curator of the Western Museum at Cincinnati, who informed me that a strange species of bird had made its appearance in the neighbourhood, building nests in clusters, affixed to the walls. . . . I immediately crossed the Ohio to Newport, in Kentucky, where he had seen many nests the preceding season; and no sooner were we landed than the chirruping of my long-lost little strangers saluted my ear. Numbers of them were busily engaged in repairing the damage done to their nests by the storms of the preceding winter. ”

Audubon goes on to describe their building activities:

“About day-break they flew down to the shore of the river, one hundred yards distant, for the muddy sand, of which the nests were constructed, and worked with great assiduity until near the middle of the day, as if aware that the heat of the sun was necessary to dry and harden their moist tenements.”

You can find a fuller account of his experiences studying cliff swallows and other birds on the Audubon website,https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/republican-or-cliff-swallow#

Audubon gave as much attention to every bird he studied. It became his life’s work to find, paint, and describe the habits of as many American birds as he could.

Read on to:

  • Find helpful vocabulary
  • Learn more about John James Audubon and his life work
  • See activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy Audubon’s paintings
  • A cute photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

Vocabulary

These words, which will be in bold green the first time they come up, will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of a painting.

  • Ornithology (adj. ornithological), the scientific study of birds
  • Engraving (v. engraved), a print made from a metal plate in which the lines of the image have been cut

The Artist

John J. Audubon was a naturalist and artist who came from France in 1803 at the age of 18 to farm in the United States. He neglected the farming to explore the countryside and study and sketch animals, especially birds. He spent hours observing their habits. One night he even squeezed inside a huge hollow tree so he could observe and count the thousands of swifts that roosted inside it.

Before modern-day banding was thought of, Audubon tied threads around bird’s legs and discovered that many birds came back to the same nesting spots each year. Audubon gave up farming and moved to Kentucky to open a store on the frontier. For a while his business was successful, but it failed in 1819, and after that he began taking long treks through the forests to study, sketch, and gather specimens.

European ornithological books didn’t contain many American bird species, so Audubon decided to publish his paintings and descriptions. No one in this country was willing to publish such an expensive work (Audubon wanted his birds to be as close to life-size as possible, and each of his watercolor paintings had to be engraved for printing and then hand-painted).

In 1826 Audubon sailed to England. He hired a printer and financed the project by selling subscriptions to the book, which came out 5 prints at a time. Wealthy patrons, including the queen of England and the king of France, bought subscriptions. At that time, the whole book of 435 engravings cost about $1,000. In 2000, with only about 100 of the original 176 complete books left, mostly in museums or libraries, one sold at auction for $8.8 million.

The Paintings

Birds in most paintings before Audubon’s time were drawn from stuffed specimens, and they looked it. Audubon’s early drawings looked similar, but as he studied the birds and practiced drawing and painting, he began to paint birds in much more natural poses. He also added plants from the bird’s habitat, and accurate portrayals of their nests as with the cliff swallows.

Cliff Swallows by Julius Bien after John J. Audubon, Smithsonian American Art Museum, public domain

Though Audubon’s paintings were also well-designed artistically, he never lost sight of the purpose of showing the birds accurately. Take these barn swallows. As required for a field guide, we can see their beaks, their feet, and their markings from every angle, but the dramatic design of the raised wing gives movement to the painting. And the two strongly forked tails mirror each other and contrast with the background.

Barn Swallows by Julius Bien after John J. Audubon, Smithsonian American Art Museum, public domain

Many of Audubon’s paintings have lots of drama. In this painting of Virginia partridges, a red-tailed hawk attacks the nesting birds. The partridges scatter in every direction, while the hawk’s wings form a dramatic pattern against the sky.

Virginian Partridge, plate 76 by John J. Audubon, public domain

Audubon wanted even the largest birds to be shown almost life-size, and fitting them on a page often produced some very modern-looking graphic designs. Look at the flamingo with its long neck echoing the bends of its legs to reach down to the water. It’s a design that catches our attention!

American Flamingo by John J. Audubon, Brooklyn Museum, public domain

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore these Beautiful Paintings

  • Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the paintings. Some birds are nesting, others are feeding or fleeing. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.
  • These paintings by Audubon provide many opportunities to compare and contrast bird nests, beaks, feet and legs, and color combinations and patterns, and see how God fit each bird exactly right for its environment so it could find food, have materials for nesting and avoid predators. For example, the explosion of partridges from the nest could confuse the hawk, allowing many to get away.
  • Ask them which painting is their favorite and why.
  • Talk with them about the amount time Audubon must have taken to observe and create these accurate and colorful paintings. Do they think they’d have the patience for that kind of work?

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter above and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly and I hope you enjoyed John James Audubon’s paintings. We hope you’ll come back for a devotion based on these next week! To be sure not to miss a post you can sign up for my blog above.

On the lookout for birds near the marsh last summer.

 

 

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer, Painter of Light

In The Milkmaid, one of Johannes Vermeer’s best-known paintings, we see why this mysterious artist is often called the “Painter of Light.” Two hundred years before the Impressionists, Vermeer’s paintings glow with light and color.

Read on to:

  • Find helpful vocabulary
  • Learn a little about Johannes Vermeer and his painting, The Milkmaid
  • Discover activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy The Milkmaid
  • See a cute photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

Vocabulary

These words, which will be in bold green the first time they come up, will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of the painting.

  • Genre art  art that shows everyday events and people
  • Geometric  when used in artsimple shapes showing squares, circles, triangles
  • Impasto  thick paint applied to show texture
  • Texture  how a surface feels–in paintings this might be shown with thick paint or even scratches or spattering
  • Pigment  a color substance mixed with a binder, such as linseed oil or egg to make paint

The Artist

Vermeer (1632-1675) was born and lived all of his short life in the city of Delft in the Netherlands.

View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer, public domain

No one’s sure who Vermeer studied with, but he was admitted as a master to the Guild of St. Luke, which regulated artists, when he was just 21, so he had to have studied and been an apprentice for several years. Some believe he studied with a former student of Rembrandt. But it’s an unsolved mystery.

Vermeer painted slowly and with great detail, only finishing about 2 paintings a year. Today only about 35 of his paintings survive, and it’s possible that’s about all he ever painted. But that’s a mystery, too.

The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer, public domain

There are no portraits that are definitely of Vermeer, so we aren’t sure what he looked like. The above painting is believed to be a view of the artist painting in his studio. But it’s back to, so another mystery!

 At this time, history paintings, which included biblical and mythological scenes, were considered the most important kind of paintings, and Vermeer began his career painting this type of art. Eventually, he switched to quiet, indoor scenes depicting people, often women, involved in everyday tasks, and that’s what he’s most famous for. This type of painting is called genre art.

And that’s just what The Milkmaid is a wonderful example of.

The Painting

The Milkmaid by Johannes, 1660, The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, public domain

In The Milkmaid a woman stands at a table with a window on the left that allows light to flood into the room (a classic Vermeer composition). The maid is absorbed in her task of pouring milk from a jug into the bowl. Though just a maid, Vermeer has given her the dignity of a figure in an historical painting.

Notice the beautiful still life on the table—all the different textures—the rough, brown earthenware, the shiny and nubbly blue jug, a wicker basket, and a loaf and chunks of crusty bread. Hanging on the wall behind is a shiny gold kettle.

Vermeer’s backgrounds are geometric with many horizontal and vertical lines, which help give his paintings a calm mood.

So the scene is quiet. The only movement is the flowing milk.

Light is really the subject. Like the Impressionists in the 1800s, Vermeer was fascinated by light—how it reflected off different surfaces, sparkled on and changed the outlines of objects, and affected colors.

It’s believed that he may have used either a camera obscura (which was a little like a pinpoint camera made from a box) or various lenses to help him study light and help him draw accurately. Another unsolved mystery!

You can’t really see it on reproductions, but Vermeer often applied paint thickly (impasto) to achieve textures and to leave ridges and points that would catch the light and make things shimmer and sparkle more realistically.

When you can look closely at the paintings you see beads of light produced by painted dabs and dots that look a little like the pointillism of 19th century artists like Seurat.

Vermeer loved bright contrast in colors and especially loved yellows and blues. Somehow he afforded the blue pigment made from lapis lazuli, a blue pigment that had to come from Afghanistan. Most artists used the pigment sparingly because it was more expensive than gold, but not Vermeer! Another mystery!

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore this Beautiful Painting

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.

Ask children what they think will happen next. Have them imagine and describe who will eat the meal the maid is preparing.

The Milkmaid by Johannes, 1660, The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, public domain

There’s so much detail to see in a Vermeer, that a scavenger hunt or I spy of activity would be great to find different colors, textures, and items.

Have them find a color or texture in the painting and then look for it in your house or outside on a walk. All the colors of the rainbow  (especially deep blues!) are in this painting, along with many textures—soft, shiny, rough, nubbly, etc, so they’ll be busy for a while.

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages. Add link

Cute picture of Molly the Artsy CorgiIt’s been so cold lately, that Molly decided enjoy a warm fire surrounded by cuddly, NOT cold, snowpeople!

Molly hopes you enjoy learning about The Milkmaid and will join us next week for a devotion based on Vermeer’s colorful painting. You can sign up to receive these posts above.

Pause from the Hustle and Bustle to Glimpse the True Meaning of Christmas in Fra Angelico’s Annunciation Painting

This year many of us are back to a more normal and busy season of shopping, decorating, and preparing for Christmas! What a blessing after many months apart, but sometimes the hustle and bustle becomes overwhelming and takes our eyes off the true meaning of Christmas.

In the Renaissance Florence, Italy was a city filled with hustle and bustle. It was a major center for weaving and dying wool and silk, and merchants made lots of money exporting their cloth all over Europe.

Their wealth helped fuel the Renaissance. Florence produced some of the most famous artists of all time:

Ghiberti (the bronze doors of the Baptistry), Brunelleschi (the architect who finally figured out how to build a dome big enough for Florence’s cathedral),

St. George, Donatello

Donatello (revolutionized sculpture with relaxed poses and realistic figures),

and of course Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

A few years before the pandemic my husband and I joined the thousands of tourists who daily spill out of trains into Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station and into a city still filled with hustle and bustle.

Getting our bearings outside Santa Maria Novella train station

Long lines await those who come to tour Florence’s Duomo (cathedral), gaze at the masterpieces by Leonardo and Botticelli at the Uffizi Art Gallery,

The Uffizi, author photo

Madonna and Child by Botticelli, photo by author

and see Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Accademia.

Not to be outdone, Florence’s streets are a shopper’s paradise. High-end fashions, gold jewelry, and home goods fill stores and overflow into big outdoor markets. Venders of leather products are everywhere, making it a toss-up whether the sales pitch, or the smell of leather is stronger!

Florence bustles even more at night. Families with babies in strollers and dogs on leashes emerge for their evening passeggiata, (stroll), joining tourists still snapping photos. Everyone throngs the streets, walking, shopping, visiting, and dining in outdoor restaurants. In every piazza (square), street musicians and puppeteers draw happy crowds. It’s fun, but can become overwhelming.

After a couple days we wanted a quiet place to refresh our tired minds and bodies and found it at the Museum of San Marco in what was once a Dominican monastery.

Surrounding a quiet cloister is some of the most beautiful art in Florence, though few people know about it. A cloister sometimes refers to a whole monastery, but is technically the covered walkway around a peaceful garden that the monastery buildings surround.

In the 1430s Dominican monks took over the monastery, dating from a much earlier time, and began renovations. One of the friars, Fra Giovanni, soon known as Fra Angelico, painted frescoes of the life of Christ throughout the monastery and in each of the monks’ cells (rooms).

In fresco painting, paint is applied to a freshly plastered wall, becoming part of the wall itself as plaster and paint dry together.

Once only monks could see Fra Angelco’s frescoes, but today anyone can wander through the quiet halls, looking into each small cell to see brightly colored frescoes of Jesus’ life on the otherwise plain walls.

One large fresco, The Annunciation, once greeted the monks, and now greets us, at the top of the stairs to the monks’ cells. Because the stairs turn a corner, we didn’t see the fresco until we were right below it. Then it filled our eyes as we climbed the last few stairs.

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation is a beautiful annunciation painting, showing a moment of quiet serenity in a cloister like the one downstairs. The archangel, Gabriel, bows before Mary to announce that she will bear the Christ Child, and Mary folds her arms in humble submission to God’s will.

The Annunciation, by Fra Angelico, Museum of San Marco, Florence, Italy, author photo

The fresco is part of a plain wall. It has no elaborate frame, but the simplicity of the painted columns and arches create lights and shadows that draw us into its painted space. They frame the serene Annunciation in beauty as no gilded frame could.

Archangel Gabriel’s colorful wings and gold embroidered robe catch our attention next. The robe drapes in graceful folds, showing rich shades and tints of pink.

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, detail. author photo

That pink repeats in just two other places—the floor of the open cell behind Mary and on her headband. The repetition of pink takes our gaze from Gabriel to the woman seated on a humble wooden stool. Mary’s plain, white robe contrasts with her dark blue mantle and frames her face and folded arms.

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, detail. author photo

Fra Angelico didn’t want us to miss her sweet expression and submissive gesture.

Behind Gabriel in the fresco, a garden blooms with delicate flowers and lush greenery. A walled garden in annunciation paintings symbolized Mary’s purity and virginity. It also reminded viewers of the Garden of Eden and what mankind lost when Adam and Eve sinned.

The Annunciation, by Fra Angelico, Museum of San Marco, Florence, Italy, author photo

Devotion, based on Luke 1:26-38

Fra Angelico eventually became prior of the monastery of San Marco. The Dominican order was founded, as were the Franciscans, as Europe transitioned from a mostly rural economy to a time of more trade and bigger cities. Traditional, often rural, monasteries and monks couldn’t easily help city dwellers.

Dominicans and Franciscans didn’t stay in their cloisters. They went out into the busy city streets to preach the gospel in down-to-earth sermons and minister to people in need. During the years of the Black Death thousands of friars died caring for the sick.

When the San Marco friars returned at the end of a busy day, they would pass through the quiet cloister and trudge up many stairs to their cells.

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico Museum of San Marco, Florence, Italy, author photo

  • As they turned the corner and Fra Angelico’s fresco of The Archangel Gabriel coming to Mary filled their eyes, were they reminded of the vast splendor of God and His heaven?
  • When they looked at Mary, did they share her attitude of humility and submission to be obedient to God’s call?
  • When they looked at the garden, did they think of the Garden of Eden and mankind’s fall into sin and separation from God?
  • When they looked at the cloister and thought of their own cloister downstairs, did they long for a permanent rest from their labors, especially against their own and others’ sins?
  • Did they stand in awe of the amazing love and grace God has given us in the gift of His Son?
  • Were they amazed anew by the miracle of God taking on human flesh and being born of a virgin to dwell among His people?
  • And did they praise God for opening the Way to return to a renewed and eternal garden of peace with God through faith in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection?

Most of us today can’t withdraw into a monastery to get away from the hustle and bustle of the materialistic holiday season.

But perhaps we can daily find a little quiet space and time to think on God’s splendor, our humble estate, our longing for a permanent rest from struggling with our own sin and a sinful world, and praise God for opening the Way through Christ back to the Garden!

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Molly and I hope you’ll come back for just one more post in December for an angel art project for your children. It’s so simple, yet bright and beautiful, you will want to display it on your tree or table!

 

 

Saying Grace by Jean-Siméon Chardin

Our November artist, Jean-Siméon Chardin, lavished time and great care on still life paintings of foods and genre scenes of everyday children and families. So what better artist for November, when we in the United States gather for a special Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, and give thanks to God for His blessings?

We’ll look briefly at a couple of Chardin’s still lifes and spend most of our time on the genre scene called Saying Grace.

Read on to:

  • Learn a little about Jean Siméon Chardin (Shar dan)
  • Be delighted by his paintings
  • See activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy Chardin’s work
  • See a photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

The Artist 

Chardin (1699- 1779) was born in Paris and never lived anywhere else. The son of a carpenter, Chardin was apprenticed at about 14 to a history painter. Even though he never traveled to Rome or the Netherlands, Chardin could study the works of artists from all over Europe in the various private collections and art markets of Paris.

He went on to join the Academie de Saint Luc (Luke) and open his own studio. (Luke, the gospel writer, was once considered the patron saint of artists, so artist guilds were named for him). Membership in such a guild was usually required for an artist to sell his or her work to the public and to have apprentices.

Though he trained with a history painter, Chardin never had an interest in that type of art. He also resisted the highly decorative rococo style popular in France at that time. Instead Chardin painted still lifes and genre scenes of everyday French people.

Near the end of his life, when his eyesight was failing, Chardin did some beautiful pastel portraits, such as the one of himself working at an easel. Look closely at his eyes and see that he’s looking at himself in a mirror before continuing his self-portrait. Don’t you just love those enormous round glasses? And his curious head gear?

Chardin, pastel self-portrait at an easel,1779, The Louvre, public domain

Chardin’s warm, expressive paintings were loved and bought by collectors across Europe and today are in numerous museums.

The Paintings

In Chardin’s work we see influences from the still life and genre art of The Netherlands in the 1600s. Like Dutch artists, such as Maria van Oosterwyck (see my post about her in March, 2021), Chardin lavished his talents on making still lifes realistic. The many intricate shapes and the red accents catch your attention. His still lifes show off gleaming silver and delicate china. You feel as if you could reach out and touch the fuzzy surface of a peach or the ridges of a walnut sitting in its shell. In the Basket of Peaches the knife handle seems to jut out into our space, showing Chardin’s mastery of perspective.

The Preparations of a Lunch, Jean-Simeon Chardin, 1756, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne, public domain

Basket of Peaches with Walnuts, Knife, and a Glass of Wine, Jean-Simeon Chardin, 1768, The Louvre, public domain

In Chardin’s genre paintings, we catch glimpses of the clothing and interior settings of middle-class French people. We see women check a child’s lessons, arrive home with food from the market, and children play with tops and blow bubbles—all things we and our children can identify with.

In Saying Grace, a mother is putting a meal on the table for her 2 children, who look like they’ve just stopped their play. Notice the drum hanging on the front chair. Chardin’s colors are warm and inviting—muted reds, warm browns, and a rich teal blue.

Saying Grace, Jean-Simeon Chardin, 1744, The Hermitage, public domain

Apparently the mother has just asked the smaller child to say grace, and she gazes lovingly at the child’s hands folded in prayer.

Activities to Help You and Your Children further explore Saying Grace

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the paintings and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary. Here are some things to notice:

  • What do they think the small pot and pan in the foreground are? (Probably the pot holds coals from a stove or fireplace to warm people’s feet, and the long-handled pan carries the live coals to and from.
  • Encourage children to see how the reds on the smaller child’s skirt and hat are repeated on the chairs and inside the foot warmer. That catches our attention and moves our eyes around the painting.
  • What do they think about the little chair the child is sitting in? How will the child reach the table to eat?

Further Exploration:

This genre painting is so true to its 1700s time period in France, that you and your children may be interested to learn and discuss some of the following:

  1. Did they notice the very pointy shoes the mother’s wearing?
  2. Children may also be interested to know that the small child in the foreground may be a boy. From the 1500s to the early 1900s, little boys usually wore skirts just like girls. This made potty training easier, as pants of that time often had rather intricate fastenings (zippers weren’t invented until the late 1800s and only came into use in men’s and children’s clothing in the 1920s and 30s). So for a long time boys wore dresses until somewhere between 2 and 8. When they reached the age to wear pants, there might be a celebration of this milestone in growing up.
  3. Certain styles of hats, belts, less lace, darker colors, etc. all help art historians decide if a young child is a girl or boy. But since clothes were expensive to make or buy, parents would often hand down clothes as needed, despite style, so it’s hard to be sure.
  4. Children may enjoy looking at a couple other of Chardin’s  paintings of children  here and here
  5. Older children may enjoy researching clothing styles through the centuries. Here are a few questions to get them thinking:
  • How often were pointy shoes in style?
  • When and why did men begin wearing pants.
  • What are some other names for pants?
  • When was the zipper invented and when did it first get used in clothes?
  • What about buttons and pockets?

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpieces for you whole family!

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly’s wearing her French beret and posing with a pumpkin in honor of Thanksgiving and Chardin’s work. She and I hope you enjoyed this peek into the ordinary life of 18th-century France, and will come back next time for a Devotion based on Chardin’s painting, Saying Grace.

 

 

 

Van Gogh’s Sunflower Paintings

Vincent Van Gogh loved the color yellow. When he moved to Arles in southern France, he painted his house yellow and decorated it with his many sunflower paintings. He wanted the house to become a studio center for artists, but like many other things in this troubled artist’s life, it was a disappointment.

The Yellow House, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, public domain

Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, but today his paintings sell for millions and brighten the walls of major museums all over the world. Amsterdam, in Van Gogh’s home country of the Netherlands, has a state museum dedicated to Van Gogh’s works, and his paintings are among the most recognized and loved everywhere.

The post includes:

  • A short bio of Vincent van Gogh
  • Information about the painting, Sunflowers
  • Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand the painting, Sunflowers

The Artist

Born in the Netherlands in 1853, Vincent loved art and literature. At 16 he went to work for an uncle who was an art dealer. While in the London office he fell in love, but his proposal was rejected, and Vincent sank into a time of sorrow.

After a short time in the Paris office and a time working among poor coal miners, Vincent decided he could better serve people through art and returned to Paris in 1886. There he discovered the Impressionists and the works of Seurat, and his paintings changed from dark to bright colors. He moved to southern France for the rest of his short life.

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In Arles, he found the landscapes and people he wanted to paint, and he often painted all day and night without stopping to eat. He stuck candles onto the brim of his hat so he could paint at night.

Vincent began alternating between depression and periods of hyperactivity, but he continued painting even during times in hospitals. In those last years he produced an amazing 800 paintings, sometimes, one a day, and as many drawings. In 1890 Vincent, feeling like a failure and a financial burden on his brother, took his own life.

The Paintings–first a little about Van Gogh’s painting style

Portraits: In many ways, Van Gogh’s work followed in the footsteps of an earlier great Dutch artist, Rembrandt. Like Rembrandt, Van Gogh painted many portraits of the ordinary people of Arles,

Portrait of the Postman, Joseph Roulin, 1888, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, public domain

Van Gogh painted 40 self-portraits, almost as many as Rembrandt. Also like Rembrandt, van Gogh wanted to show what was going on inside people and once said, “I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals.”

Landscapes: Van Gogh painted landscapes that show his swirling brushstrokes, bright colors, lots of movement. Like Rembrandt, van Gogh used thick impasto paint that creates textures. Van Gogh wanted his landscapes to show the healing power of nature.

Wheat field with Cypresses, 1889, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, public domain

Now the Sunflowers!

Still Lifes: Van Gogh probably grew up seeing many still lifes, as these were a big part of Dutch art. He enjoyed painting flowers, in gardens and in vases. Even these still lifes vibrate with color and the textures of thick paint.

Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers 1888, Vincent van Gogh, Neue Pinakothek , Munich, public domain

Sunflowers, 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, public domain

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore this Beautiful Paintings

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary. Look for details, such as:

  • Does it look like a photo or is it fuzzy?
  • Could the subject be real or not?
  • How does it make you feel?

1.You might compare and contrast these 2 versions of van Gogh’s sunflowers.

 2.The Sunflower paintings (there are several versions)  are great for discussing color and texture with children:

Color: Van Gogh loved the bright sunshine and colors of southern France.  With your children look at a few portable colorful objects (such as apples, toys, flowers, fall leaves) inside, then take them outside to look at how the colors intensify in sunlight. Take them into the shade and see how the colors change again.

The Impressionists studied the effects of sunlight on color, and Monet, discovered that when he went to the south of France, the sun was so much brighter, he had to adjust his colors to reproduce what he saw. The American, Winslow Homer, who painted his northern seascapes in oils, had to switch to watercolors to show the bright tropical sunlight of the Caribbean.

Textures: Van Gogh used thick paint that shows the textures of how things might feel if we touch them. Send children on an indoor and outdoor scavenger hunt to find different textures and then use adjectives to describe the textures.

Before You Go

Here are some fall photos of Molly with sunflowers and among the yellows and reds of my fall garden.

Molly and I  want to share some good news with you , which also explains why this post was a little late. We apologize! But here’s the good news. In September, I was honored to sign with the Steve Laube Agency, a great Christian literary agency.

And I was a guest on Patti Shene’s Step into the Light podcast, sharing my testimony and and why I love teaching art! Here’s the link.  

It was so much fun!

 

 

 

 

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpiece for you whole family!

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly and I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about Van Gogh and his art, and we hope to see you right back here soon for some devotional thoughts based on Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings.