“By the single example of this painter devoted to his art with such independence, my destiny as a painter opened out to me.” ~ Claude Monet
Recently the children in my class participated in an exploration of the paintings of Claude Monet, the French Impressionist who lived from 1840 to 1926. This was an invitation to look at images of his art, react to it, and try to paint one of the pictures that appealed most to them. It is not the first time I have observed young children’s efforts to imitate the work of such artists as Kandinsky and Picasso and seen what young artists can do when given the opportunity to be inspired by great art. Of course there was no expectation that children would reproduce perfectly what they were seeing. I believe that children can make quite sophisticated observations, incorporate these into their own creations (e.g., particular colours, subjects in the painting) and feel a sense of pride that comes with facing a new challenge. Pastels and watercolour paints were used, and each child spent as long as fifteen minutes to create their work of art. I took note of comments that children made either while painting, or while looking at the images they were shown.
As part of this experience, we watched an animated film called Linnea in Monet’s Garden (based on the book by Christina Bjõrk) which allowed us to travel to France and see some of Monet’s paintings at the Marmottan Museum. The children could see how the paintings look if we stand close to them, and how the colours change when we step back. We also travelled with Linnea to Giverny, to visit Monet’s house and the beautiful Japanese garden where Monet loved to paint. The children really enjoyed reading Where is the Frog? by Geraldine Elschner, a lovely book about a frog who wants to be painted by Monet, and eventually steals one of his paintings! But the book that inspired the children’s paintings was Monet’s Impressions, a publication of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While these resources are no substitute for actually standing in front of a painting by Monet, they certainly contributed to children’s excitement about the experience of trying to paint like him, and to share their thoughts.
While I love the children’s artwork, I think my favourite part of this experience was hearing what the children had to say about it and what their worlds revealed about their understanding. In some instances, children’s comments were statements describing what they did, such as “I painted houses, trees, water and a boat” and “It’s beautiful red and yellow flowers and two people.” Other comments explained why particular paintings were selected. “I like painting nature,” and “I picked the painting because it looks fancy.” Some remarks described their techniques. “I’m painting grey on grey on grey. Look, some white! I see a little bit of green,” and “What happens if you put purple? What does orange and green make? Look! It makes dark green!” Some described their feelings. “My painting is beautiful. It makes me feel good,” and “I like it when I look at it. I feel happy.” Some children had theories. “These cracks in the blue sky… I don’t really get it. It’s not often you see that. I don’t think that’s what Monet saw. ” And some so beautifully captured the magic of being lost in the moment of painting like Monet. “This is where we live. That’s Monet’s garden.”
“My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.”
~ Claude Monet