Friday, February 29, 2008

Art Institute of Chicago

Just a quick post so you don't feel neglected. The Art Institite of Chicago is packing up their Impressionist collection so they can do renovations on the museum wing in which it is kept. Ninety-two pieces, including Caillebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day, van Gogh's The Bedroom, Degas' Yellow Dancers in the Wings, and Gauguin's L'Arlesiennes. This is a fabulous collection of art and for a limited time the people of Fort Worth, Texas will get the chance to enjoy them. The collection will be on display at the Kimbell Art Museum from June 29 through November 2, 2008.

Trust me; seize the opportunity!

Georges Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and several other mainstays of the Art Institute's collection will not travel.

Happy Leap Day! And have a great weekend!

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Complementary Colors

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, fifth edition, a complementary color is “a color that combined with a given color makes white or black.” This is something you can test on your own. Use yellow, red, blue, green, orange, and purple. Mix two colors at a time in as many combinations as you can think of. What are your results?

To make the idea of complementary colors easier to understand, I am linking to a color wheel. Go look at it before you continue reading.

Complementary colors lay exactly opposite each other on the color wheel. In the simple color wheel you just look at, yellow is complementary to purple, red is complementary to green, and blue is complementary to orange.
When complementary colors are place next to each other, both look bright. This has been used to great effect in many paintings. Below, look at van Gogh’s use of red and green in Night CafĂ© (above).
Renoir’s use of blue and orange in Boating on the Seine.
Yellow and purple in Degas’ Woman Drying Her Hair. (This was painting at the end of Degas’ life when his eyesight had begun to fail.) Look how much more intense the yellow in the wall is than the red when placed against the purple of the woman’s body.

Try placing complementary colors side by side in your own painting and notice how bright the colors look.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Degenerate Art

In 1927, the Nazis created a society that would control art. They said they were trying to prevent it from becoming dirty or corrupted. The Nazis wanted to create a society in which everyone looked alike and had like ideas and opinions. What better way to control thinking than to control art?

Imagine if the government decided to destroy any record of any music that wasn’t classical. And then they did it. Suddenly you couldn’t listen to anything with lyrics. There would be no more rock or hip hop or country or anything else. These music styles have helped to shape our culture and our ideas and after awhile I believe that our thinking would begin to change in their absence. This is what the Nazis were trying to do.

Anyway, they took more than 20,000 works of art, including paintings, drawings, and sculpture, by about 200 artists and chose 650 or so for their exhibit of “Degenerate Art.” The exhibit traveled around Germany, making 12 stops in large cities, before many of the works of art were destroyed.

The exhibit was set up to poke fun at the displayed works of art. The walls were often covered with graffiti, and the artists’ names and titles of paintings were sloppily handwritten on note cards next to the works. Click here to watch a short video clip of people looking at paintings in the Degenerate Art exhibit.

Several artists about whom you have already read, were included in the Degenerate Art exhibit, including Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866. He studied economics and law at the University of Moscow before becoming a professor.

He was 30 before he went to Munich, Germany and began to truly study art. He focused, at first, on creating sketches and studies of human bodies.

He settled in Germany after World War I where he taught art at the Bauhaus school and painted until the Nazis came into power. At that point (1933), he went back to France where he remained for the rest of his life.

On a somewhat-side note, the Nazis took some of Kandinsky’s paintings, displayed them in a collection of art they deemed inappropriate and unworthy, and then destroyed the paintings. The exhibition was called “Degenerate Art.” I will post more about this tomorrow.

Kandinsky’s earliest paintings were quite realistic. Then he moved into a style similar to that of the Impressionists before he began creating completely abstract paintings. Yesterday I used Monet’s Water Lilies to show this movement toward the abstract. Today, you can see that Kandinsky developed the same way except that Kandinsky became a truly abstract artist in the end. Check out Olga’s Kandinsky Gallery for pictures. All (or at least most) of his works are posted there in order. As you click through the pages, you can clearly see Kandinsky’s work become more and more abstract.

Kandinsky was especially interested in color, even as a child. Beginning in his earlier, more realistic paintings, Kandinsky used color to show emotion rather than to make objects look real. As he grew as an artist, Kandinsky became more concerned with the power of color in describing what he was feeling. He wanted to use color to make his viewers feel emotion, too.

Gradually, Kandinsky became more abstract. He began to paint objects as patches of color instead of painting perfect details such as facial features or individual leaves on trees. Remember that Kandinsky studied the human body and knew how to paint people well. He liked the abstract more than the realistic. As he grew as an artist, his figures became less realistic until the viewer could no longer identify known objects in his paintings.

Kandinsky was trying to create the same effect on a viewer of his paintings as a beautiful piece of music has on a listener. When you listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, for example, you don’t see snow or swirling fall leaves, or a muddy spring garden after a rain storm. You feel the seasons happening but you don’t actually see them. This is what Kandinsky was trying to do in his paintings.

Kandinsky’s ideas about art are possibly more important than even the paintings he created. He wrote three books about his ideas.

There are two Kandinsky projects posted at Art Projects for Kids. They both look pretty good but I’ve only tried this one, not this one. If you do either of the projects, please comment about your experience. I would love to hear about it and other readers would benefit from your comments as well. Happy creating!

EDITED TO ADD: Practice Geometry Using Kandinky's Art

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Abstract Art

Beginning with the Impressionists at the end of the 1800s, art began to shift from realistic images to abstract images. In other words, artists became less concerned with painting a landscape and more concerned with the emotions a painting could stir in the viewer.

An excellent example of this development is Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series. In his first paintings of water lilies, Monet takes care to create realistic, recognizable lilies floating on a pond. By the end of his life, the lilies are hardly more than green smudges on a blue background, but the effect of the paintings (in my opinion) remains powerful. The first image is an early painting and the second is a late example of Monet's Water Lilies
I would not claim that Monet was an abstract artist. This is just meant to illustrate the process of moving from art that shows recognizable subjects to art that does not.

An abstract artist whom you’ve read about already was Jackson Pollock. There are no fruit bowls in his splatter paintings. No stiffly posed women or shimmering ponds. He meant to do something more than record scenes. He meant to record emotion. Pollock looked inward at the chaos in his mind and laid it out on massive canvases so that we could feel what he felt.

In the next few days I’ll post about some other abstract artists. For now though, look back on my posts about Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso.

Please note that the term “abstract art” is very general. Cubism is a form of abstract art, as is neoplasticism (the movement Mondrian painted in), and many others.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Art Theft: E.G. Buehrle Gallery

My final installment on art theft is a particularly interesting one, I think, and the crime occurred extremely recently. Click to read installments one, two, three, and four.

During the Holocaust and WWII, Nazis stole a lot of art. Much of it was taken from private collectors, especially Jewish collectors, before they were sent to concentration camps or were met with other unspeakable fates. Some of the art was returned to the rightful owners or the families of the rightful owners. Some was hidden away and has yet to be recovered. Some of the art remained the property of the thieves or entered public collections.

I could easily write a week’s worth of posts on this but in the interest of getting on to the point of today’s article, Emil George Buehrle was a Nazi supporter who created weapons for Hitler’s army during WWII. During this time, he amassed a great collection of art. We know that some of it was looted during the Holocaust because he had to return some of the paintings to the owners. It’s impossible to know where every piece came from but I think it’s safe to assume that at least a few of the paintings remaining in his collection were stolen to begin with.

Buehrle’s collection, housed in a townhome in Zurich, Switzerland, is open to the public for three hours on Sundays. Apparently, that is all the time thieves needed earlier this month to steal four masterworks by Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet, and Degas, valued at about $164 million.

Museums are not often targets of armed robbery which makes this an unusual case. While the gallery was still open to the public, masked gunmen entered, forced museum staff and the few remaining guests to lie on the floor, and took the paintings from the walls. Like in a TV bank robbery.

The paintings were probably ordered by a collector before the robbery but it’s possible the thieves are holding the paintings for ransom. Two of the works have been recovered (the Monet and the van Gogh), safe and still in their frames. The others are still missing. We’ll have to wait and see if the thieves make any demands.

And there you have it. Today you got two thefts in one story (that of the Nazis and that of the recent gallery robbers). That wraps up this series but I’ll come up with something interesting for next week.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Art Theft: Sao Paulo Museum of Art

Pablo Picasso created a lot of artwork. I mean thousands of paintings and sketches. Because of this, and because of the value of the paintings, Picasso’s work is among the most often stolen. I had a difficult time choosing just one Picasso theft but I think it’s an interesting one. Tomorrow’s post may also be about a Picasso theft. I’m not sure yet.

In December of 2007, thieves broke into the Sao Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil. The thieves wrenched open the door with a hydraulic jack. They broke the glass on the interior door and slipped in. It took them just three minutes to pull a Picasso (Portrait of Suzanne Bloch) and a Candido Portinari (a premier Brazilian artist) off the museum walls.

Once again, it is unclear what the thieves hoped to gain from the theft. They passed many other very valuable pieces so it seems likely that they were commissioned by a private collector to steal the artwork on his or her behalf.

Perhaps the most important thing about this theft is that it brought to light the security problems the museum had. Sao Paulo Museum of Art had been struggling with money and had not been able to keep up with needed security improvements. Who knows if this will bring about a change? Hopefully the government of Brazil or some generous art lover will donate money to help out this important Brazilian museum.

Don’t forget to check out installments one, two, and three of this series on art theft.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Art Theft: The Gardner Museum, Boston

In case you were getting the impression that these art thefts always had happy endings, here’s installment three. You can read the first here and the second here.

In March of 1990 two guards were on duty late at night at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Two thieves came in, dressed like police officers, and tricked the guards into trusting them. The thieves tied up the guards and locked them in the basement before spending over an hour taking paintings from the walls. Then they took the security tape.

It’s not clear why the thieves stole the painting. Some think they had a list of works they were stealing for a collector because they took a wide variety of items from throughout the museum: 3 Rembrandt paintings, a painting by Vermeer, some sketches by Monet, a vase, and few other paintings and objects. The thieves cut the paintings out of the frames though, which damages the artwork. This is not something a collector would want. In fact, a collector would probably insist against it.

The total value of the works stolen was $300 million so the reward issued by the museum for the safe return, $1 million, was not as huge as it seems. In any event it didn’t bring the artwork back. The police had two suspect but both died before they could be tracked down. Later, the Gardner Museum upped the reward to $5 million.

So far, 18 years later, the art is still missing.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Art Theft: Edvard Munch's The Scream

What follows is the second installment in a series about art theft. You can read the first here.

In 1994, a group of thieves broke into the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway. In the chaos of the Winter Olympic Games, they took one of the four versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. A few months later, police recovered the painting and arrested the men involved.

A later heist involving another version of Munch’s The Scream would not conclude nearly as swiftly or neatly. In August of 2004, two thieves in masks entered the Munch Museum in Oslo. One of them men controlled the crowd with a gun while the other took The Scream and another Munch painting, The Madonna, off the wall. A third man waited in a getaway car and the three were able to disappear before the police arrived.

The car was found not far from the museum. The thieves had left the frames in the car and sprayed the interior with fire extinguishers so the police would have a difficult time finding clues such as fingerprints. Their efforts worked and the men were able to get away with the paintings.

In late 2005, more than a year after the theft, police captured three men believed to have been involved in stealing, transporting, or hiding the paintings. Police continued to search for another three men.

In August of 2006, the paintings were finally recovered, though the two gunmen were never found.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Art Theft: The Mona Lisa

Sorry for the delayed posting. I'm in my fourth day of fever. I just can't seem to stay healthy. Anyhow, here it is.

Museums house some of the most valuable and recognizable items in the world. Because a given painting can be worth millions of dollars, thieves sometimes risk the dangers of getting caught stealing artwork so they can cash in. For the next few days I will be posting about art theft.

Sometimes the thief’s main goal in stealing a painting is not to make money. This was the case when, in 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia stole Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris. Peruggia, like da Vinci, was Italian, and he believed the Mona Lisa was an Italian treasure that should be kept in Italy.

So on August 21, 1911 he went to the Louvre (where he worked) and took the painting off the wall. The museum was closed that day for maintenance and the other workers assumed the Mona Lisa had been taken somewhere to be photographed or cleaned. Peruggia took the painting into the stairwell, took it out of the frame, and hid the masterpiece in his smock. He left the frame and glass in the stairwell and took the painting.

It wasn’t until the next day that the museum employees realized that the painting was missing. By that time, though, the painting was hidden and there was only a slim chance of finding it. There were many theories about who might have taken the painting and where it could be. The police even investigated Pablo Picasso because he was rumored to have bought stolen artwork and some people thought that might have included the Mona Lisa. Of course, he didn’t have the painting.

Two years later, Peruggia tried to sell the Mona Lisa to an art buyer, Alfredo Geri, who contacted the director of the Uffizi (a prominent Italian art museum). Peruggia was willing to sell the painting only if it would be hung in the Uffizi and never returned to France.

But it didn’t work out that way for Peruggia. The painting was returned to the Louvre, after being displayed briefly in Italy, and Peruggia went to prison.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Learning from the Masters

I promised this post in December and, finally, here it is. When I went to Paris I took the picture shown below. Here, a student imitates a painting created by a master. This is a common and useful method of learning to draw or paint because it allows a student to practice many artistic techniques and to learn different styles.

In 1784, all the schools of drawing in Italy were combined to create the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence. At the Accademia, works by great masters of art were (and still are) kept so that students could draw them. These works included sculptures by Michelangelo. Today his famous David is on display in the gallery. This is an excellent example of student learning from the work of the masters.

You can use this method to learn to draw, too. Find a book with illustrations you admire. Try to keep it simple at first. Maybe choose a book about snakes and focus on making your drawing realistic. Then move on to a book about dogs. Choose more difficult images as you gain practice, confidence, and skill. Don’t forget to color in your pictures.

When you want an even bigger challenge, create paintings instead of drawing.

I have posted before on another method of learning art, learning through apprenticeships. Artist who learned through apprenticeships probably would have imitated the paintings of masters also. If you’re interested, The Young Artist, by Thomas Locker, is a good picture book about a young artist who becomes an apprentice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I kind of hate when people put up entire posts based on links to other sites but that is what’s in store for you today. I’m working on something really cool (at least I think so) that will be a series of posts beginning on Monday. I’m excited about it and I hope you’ll enjoy the series as much as I’m enjoying researching and writing it!

Also, you'll notice the new blog layout. It may change again in the next few days but I thought it was time to rearrange things. I rearrange my apartment routinely and it always make me feel better, so there you go.

Anyhow, Happy Valentine’s Day! There are tons of Valentine craft projects on the web. You won’t find any on my site, but I’ll point you in the right direction if you’re interested. The first is an art project on one of my favorite art project sites (which you can also find in the sidebar under Art Projects for Kids). Here you will find a Valentine based on the art of Jim Dine, an American pop artist. It’s a fun project and you will end up with a beautiful
Shiny Valentine.

Another fun Valentine’s Day craft: create a bouquet of tissue paper roses. The directions at Kinderart are pretty good but I would amend them a little. Their instruction say to use masking tape to connect the stem to the flower, then paint the tape to match the stem. It would be much easier (and less messy) to use tape that is already green. You can buy painters’ tape and electrical tape in green and I suggest you use one of those instead of painting masking tape. In any event, a bouquet of tissue paper roses in an assortment of colors can brighten the recipient's dining table for weeks.

And finally, a site unrelated to Valentine’s Day, and the inspiration for this links post:
Teaching Drawing Skills. This page is meant as a resource for teachers and homeschoolers. Carolyn provides simple instructions for drawing objects like a box, coffee mug and saucer, and even a sneaker. Her page helps explain how an artist sees an object and then simplifies it into the lines and shading that form a drawing. It’s a very valuable site for students who want to improve their drawing skills.

I hope you’ve found something useful and I promise tomorrow’s post will be more interesting!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Perspective and Gustave Caillebotte

It’s difficult to show a 3D image on a flat sheet of paper but that is just what many artists do. One technique for creating the illusion of 3D is perspective. Many of you have explored perspective in art already. One popular art project is to draw a street with buildings lining both sides. The street narrows and buildings become smaller to show distance. If you have not yet tried this project you should do so. It will be usual for comparing to the project I have written below. Check out the video clip and the clear directions on this site to get you started.

Yesterday you read about how Gustave Caillebotte used perspective in an uncommon way. He made the image look like it was tilted toward the eye. Today, I’ll show you how he did this so you can try it yourself.

Caillebotte uses a few techniques to create his strange perspective. Firstly, you’ll notice that the foreground is not boxed in on the edges by the sides of bulky buildings. Secondly, the objects in the background are slightly smaller than they ought to be. This makes the foreground subjects look larger than they are, and it makes the background look farther away. Because of this, the street (or river, or floor, or whatever) doesn’t need to taper off into nothingness to show distance (like in your original perspective project).

Check out the video clip on this site to get you started on your project.

Supplies Needed

Colored pencils, crayons, or pastels

Begin by drawing your street. This time, don’t start the street at the corners of your paper. Set your outside lines slightly above the bottom corners. Let your road narrow more quickly than in your original drawing but don’t bring the end of the road to a point.

Line the road with simple square buildings. You can, of course, get as creative as you want with your buildings but simple buildings will demonstrate perspective just as well. Your buildings should shorter more quickly than in your first drawing.

Now decorate and color. If you want to really Caillebotte’s brand of perspective, try drawing some cars driving into the distance. Be sure to make foreground cars much larger than background cars.

Compare your two drawings and notice the differences between the two. How do the slight changes in method create large differences in the final picture?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gustave Caillebotte, Part 2

Yesterday you read about Gustave Caillebotte’s life. Today, his art.

Besides contributing money and time to develop Impressionism in France, Caillebotte became respected as a painter in his own right. Actually, he is among my favorites. I love The Floor Scrapers, shown above, and Paris Street, Rainy Day, shown below. The Floor Scrapers is part of the permanent collection of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. (This is where I saw it and fell in love.) Paris Street, Rainy Day is part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection (free admission in February!)
Influenced by photography, a new technology in the late-1800s, Caillebotte’s paintings are markedly realistic. Because a photo was a frozen moment that could be studied, photography allowed painters to see the way light fell and the way it affected subjects. Look at the way the pools of rain between the cobblestones shine in Paris Street, Rainy Day. Notice, also, that the bleached sky reflects on the slick stones themselves.

One other aspect of Caillebotte’s work that you should notice is the way the scenes often look tiled downward toward the viewer. Look again at Paris Street, Rainy Day and notice that the street seems to curve up. Look also at The Floor Scrapers for another example. Most of Caillebotte’s work is like this. Below is a third example of tilted perspective, Sculls.

EDITED: I have corrected the main text of this post. The Floor Scrapers is not on display at the Phillips Collection. I was mistaken. They are showing Small Branch of the Seine at Argenteuil which is also a great painting by Caillebotte and a fantastic example of the way he painted the effects of light. I still recommend checking out the exhibit, Degas to Diebenkorn!

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte’s story is different than many of the other Impressionists you’ve read about here. He was not a struggling artist. In fact, his family was wealthy enough to own a house in Paris as well as property just outside of the city on the Yerres River where they spent summers. They made their fortunes in textiles and then, as Haussmann rebuilt Paris, in real estate. When his parents died, Caillebotte inherited a large sum of money. During his life, he was better known for the money he pumped into the Impressionist movement than for his paintings.

Caillebotte was born in 1848. He began to paint around the time when his family bought the property on the Yerres River in 1860. Caillebotte went away to fight in the Franco-Prussian War and when he returned he began to really study painting. He met a collection of young painters, including Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Auguste Renoir, and became interested in Impressionism.

After his father died in 1874 and then in mother in 1878, Caillebotte funded exhibitions for each of these artists. He also purchased their paintings and by the time he died he had an impressive collection of Impressionist works. He tried to leave the collection to the French government if only it would hang the paintings in the Luxembourg Palace but it refused most of the art. Impressionism was still not the prominent and accepted artistic style in 1894. When in the late-1920s the French government changed its mind, it was too late; the widow of Caillebotte’s son said no.

He also helped fund four of the Impressionist exhibitions. It was at the second Impressionist exhibition (not one to which he contributed money) that Caillebotte’s art was first shown.

Unfortunately, this article is too long already. You have just read a short biography on Caillebotte and tomorrow I’ll post the second half which is all about his art. And to tide you over until then, Paris Street, Rainy Day:

EDITED TO ADD: Gustave Caillebotte, Part 2

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Blogger Award

Look! I have received a blogger award! The person who has recognized my site is a home school mom, Jenny, who writes about her experiences in home schooling. On her site, Little Acorns, home school parents can find some valuable materials such as printable activities and organizational suggestions. There are many shimmering gems of wisdom scattered through her pages. For example, recently she posted about the Dolch Word List which I had never heard of and found quite interesting. I’m not going to tell you what it is if you don’t know because I want you to click through to her great site and check it out.

And so now it is my turn to pass on the award. Of course, I would like to recognize Peter’s site, PHO, which is a daily read that I look forward to each morning. Through his amazing photos (I mean it, some of these photos look professionally retouched. He’s very talented) and incredibly well-researched historical passages, Peter takes his readers on tours of Paris. And who doesn’t like Paris? You’ve probably seen me mention his site before.

Secondly, I would like to recognize Kathy Barbro. She teaches art to kids and on her website, Art Projects for Kids, she writes instructions for some of the projects she does with her students. These projects are all successfully kid-tested and the photos show real students’ results. These projects all look like a lot of fun. I am especially intrigued by the Giant Paper Mache Pencils. Today, I will post about an artist and link to a related project on Kathy’s site.

Thank you again to Jenny for singling out my site for this award. It's great to know that people are reading and enjoy the articles and projects posted here.

Please be sure to read the post below as that is today’s dose of art.

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Wayne Thiebaud

I don’t write about a lot of artists who are still living or even who worked in the last century because I can’t show you images of their work. This is because of copy write law. I fully support the rights of artists to their work and so, even though others online, who may not have permission, have posted copies of copy writed art, I will not. I will, instead, direct you to another site where you can look at the artwork.

Wayne Thiebaud (whose name is pronounced Tee-Bow, just like the Gators’ quarterback), was born in 1920 and is still living. He began his art career as a cartoonist and designer before becoming an artist in the U.S. Navy. In 1960 he became an associate professor and continued to teach students for nearly 20 years.

While he was with the Navy Thiebaud spent time in New York (on leave) and began painting the pastries and other “American” food that he would become known for. He was very interested in creating realistic paintings and he did this by using thick paint in exaggerated colors. When he painted cakes, for example, he applied the paint like a baker would spread frosting. The food in his paintings looks real enough to eat. Go judge for yourself here, here, here, and here.

Thiebaud is sometimes grouped in with the “Pop Artists” because he painting subjects from popular culture (like cakes, gumball machines, and ice cream Sundays) but actually he began his work before the Pop Artists. It is probable that he was an inspiration to the movement.

Thiebaud painted other subjects but it is the delicious looking foods that are his best known pieces. You can create your own masterpiece in the style of Thiebaud. Go to Art Projects for Kids for a great art project.

For those of you home schoolers, check out the National Gallery of Art’s math lesson which uses Thiebaud’s painting Cakes to illustrate fractions.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Create Your Own Rousseau Jungle

As you read yesterday, Henri Rousseau most liked to paint jungle scenes even though he had never been to a jungle or seen most of the animals up close. Rousseau’s jungles are highly regarded today. You can make your own jungle scene just like Rousseau, regardless of whether you’ve seen a jungle yourself.

Supplies Needed:

Construction paper in green and blue
Magazines (such as landscaping, bird watching, and travel magazines)
Glue stick

Gather your materials. Flip through your magazines and cut out pictures of trees, plants, and animals that you think you might find in a jungle. Be sure to get permission before you cut any magazines. Look at some of Rousseau’s paintings, like the ones in this large Rousseau gallery, for inspiration.

Tear a strip of green construction paper to create grass for your jungle. Glue it to the bottom of the blue sheet of paper (the sky).

Arrange your cut out trees and foliage, then add your animals. When you have created a jungle scene of your liking, glue down the magazine cutouts.

If you prefer to create a jungle that doesn’t require any materials, make your own Rousseau jungle online at the National Gallery of Art Kids page. Please note that you will need Adobe Shockwave Player to create an online jungle. It is a quick download but again, get permission before you download anything.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau was a French painter, born in 1844. He wanted desperately to belong within the ranks of the traditional French Academy painters but it was not to be.

Rousseau was born to a poor family. His father’s debts even caused the family to lose their home at one point. Rousseau served in the army for four years before going on to become a customs officer at the edge of Paris. He worked until he was 49, painting on the weekends, until he could retire and focus fully on his art. He taught painting lessons, performed as a street musician, and did other odd tasks to earn enough money to live as he painted.

He was completely self-taught and this showed in his work. He wanted to paint flawless, realistic works but a naivety, a simplicity, persisted that he couldn’t shake. The traditionalist painters mocked him but he remained confident in his talent.
Rousseau’s favorite subject was the jungle but he never actually saw a jungle. He based his scenery on the botanical gardens in Paris and the animals were drawn from guide books and zoo pamphlets. Some of his subjects he never saw in three dimensions so his paintings have a flat look to them. Also, Rousseau sometimes grouped together animals that would never be seen together in nature. In one painting, the bananas hang upside down from a tree.

There were some who liked Rousseau’s paintings. For example, Picasso saw one of Rousseau’s paintings being sold on the street as a junk canvas that could be painted over by a serious artist. Picasso bought the painting and then went to meet this ingenious artist.
After his death in 1910, Rousseau began to gain popularity and now his canvases hang in museums around the world.

[The paintings shown above are The Sleeping Gypsy, Surprised!, and Tropical Forest with Monkeys.]

EDITED TO ADD: Create Your Own Rousseau Jungle

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How We See Color

I have gone far too long without posting about how we see color. Color is an important aspect of many forms of art including paintings, sculpture, drawings, and collage. Imagine a painting of a fruit bowl in which the apple is orange, the grapefruit is turquoise, and the orange is burnt sienna. How would you know which piece of fruit was which?

A blob of green paint is not itself green. Sound confusing? We see objects because there is light (from the sun or the moon or from light bulbs) to illuminate them. This is true of color as well. That blob of green paint looks green because it soaks up all the light waves except the ones that ones that are the right length to look green.

Have you ever hung a prism in a window on a sunny day and seen little rainbows bounce on the walls? The prism filters the white light by slowing down the waves and reflecting them in different directions. Some waves are slowed more than others. The slowest (longest) waves look red and the fastest (shortest) waves look violet. That blob of green paint acts kind of like the prism except that instead of releasing all the waves, it absorbs some. The make up of that paint allows it to reflect the green waves and absorb all the others.

Because it is light that allows us to see color, our eyes will blend red with blue if small dots of each color are placed close together. This is the idea that Georges Seurat used when he experimented with pointillism.

Also of possible interest: Paint Your Own Pointillist Picture

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Paint Your Own Pointillist Picture

On Thursday and Friday you learned about Georges Seurat, the pointillist master responsible for Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte as well as Bathers at Asnieres. Today, try your hand at painting in Seurat’s style.

It is simple to create your own pointillist painting but be warned: this will take some time. This is not a particularly original project but I think it is an effect one. I have not seen it elsewhere adapted for younger kids but they can have fun with pointillism, too.

If you are working with a group of children, I recommend cutting a strip of paper from a roll and having the kids work together to create a simple landscape. This will make the painting less tedious and encourage teamwork. With really young children, use finger paints and have the kids dab the paint on with their fingertips.

Supplies Needed:


Gather your materials. Cover your workspace with newspaper or a drop cloth.

Decide what you want to paint. It is best to choose a simple image like a landscape or seascape. I would also suggest that you start small. Use standard-size computer paper to start. Outline your picture in pencil.

Any type of paint will do but I recommend using a non-toxic variety. Use the eraser end of a pencil to dab the paint onto your paper. Use a different pencil for each color or wash the eraser between uses. Be aware that if you let the paint sit on the eraser for too long it will not wash off. You should have some back-ups ready in case.

When applying the paint, experiment with dabbing blue next to yellow instead of mixing green straight away, or red next to blue for purple. How well does it work? How far away do you have stand for the colors to blend?

When you’ve finished, let your painting dry. Hang and enjoy.

For a variation, try painting on blank cards for a handmade birthday greeting. Maybe use your newly learned pointillist technique to paint a stylized version of the birthday boy or girl. You could also paint small designs on squares of cardstock to use as gift tags.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Georges Seurat, Part 2

Are you feeling well rested? Good! I have plenty more information to share with you about Georges Seurat and Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. If you missed yesterday’s post, go read it before you read on. Just to make things easier, I re-posted La Grande Jatte below so you won’t have to keep flipping between posts.
And now, back to Seurat’s biography, where we left off yesterday. In 1883, and it took all of 1883, Seurat painted his first large masterpiece, Bathing at Asnieres, shown below. The Paris Salon didn’t like it, though, and wouldn’t let Seurat show it at their exhibition. As you can imagine, this frustrated Seurat and he and other artists formed their own group, the Societe des Artistes Independants.
In 1884 he began his best known piece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (shown at the beginning of this post). He finally finished it in 1886, two years later. This painting is now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago and has been since 1926. It is a massive piece of about 10 feet wide by 6 feet tall and is worth the trip. If you do get the chance to see the painting up close, notice that there is a shadow in the distant trees that looks like someone lurking. Also look closely at the skirt of the woman with the monkey. In person, you can see that Seurat made the skirt larger after the painting was finished. This painting is a great example of why it’s important and preferable to view original paintings than photos of paintings on glossy pages.

Incidentally, the Art Institute of Chicago is offering free admission to its permanent collection during February 2008. Two excellent exhibitions will be opening in February, Edward Hopper, who painted the famous Nighthawks (shown below), and Winslow Homer, on whom I’ve already posted. If you’re interested in Winslow Homer don’t forget to check out the review I posted on Anna Kirwan’s Of Flowers and Shadows. (If you visit, you will have to pay for the special exhibitions, but not the permanent collection which includes La Grande Jatte.)

Seurat lived a short life which ended in 1891 when he was just 31 years old. He had two sons, one of whom was born after Seurat’s death. Nothing is known of the children.

EDITED TO ADD: Paint Your Own Pointillist Picture

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