Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children

Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children
Maria-Christina Sayn-Wittgenstein Nottebohm
Pimpernel Press
There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to looking at art. We all respond differently to paintings: our response depends on what we bring to a work of art; it’s not fixed and likely to change as we change.
Curiosity, the author tells us is the starting point; and everyone –child or adult has that. Whether or not one is able to visit galleries and museums in person, doesn’t stop anyone from experiencing and enjoying works of art through books or via the internet. An important point to remember, says the author, is not to try and see too much in a single visit. She suggests that choosing several focuses of attention will prove much more satisfying than dashing round endeavouring to see every single exhibit. That way lies frustration and, or, boredom. In fact the whole introduction is full of wise and helpful suggestions for any adult contemplating an art gallery visit with one or more children.
‘Puppa’ then goes on to introduce a variety of Old Masters, grouped together thematically. So we have Animals, the Natural World, Families, At Home, Fabulous Faces, Action and Heroes,

Science and Technology to name just some of the thirteen sections.

The Railway, 1873 (Édouard Manet) Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

In total there are some fifty paintings of a variety of styles from Early Renaissance to Impressionist; some of the works are from famous artists such as Constable, Degas and Leonardo da Vinci; others will be less familiar ( a few were new to me) but equally worthy of attention.
Each painting is given a whole page illustration opposite which is a page containing factual information about the artist, the background to the work, and pointers, including questions, to focus on when viewing the particular picture. The whole emphasis is on opening up, rather than closing down on, an individual’s response and there is plenty to satisfy those who enjoy stories.
In short, it’s an excellent resource for families or for primary school teachers.

I’ve signed the charter  

London Bound

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Katie and the British Artists
James Mayhew
Orchard Books pbk
In this recent Katie reissue, our charming young heroine accompanies her Grandma to The National Gallery. On route she ponders on the question of what job she might have when grown up. Then, in the gallery while Gran has a snooze, she takes a look at some of the pictures, starting with Constable’s The Cornfield. Her comment that she’d love to be a shepherd, receives a surprise response from the shepherd boy in the painting (called Ben in the story) and the two then strike up a friendship …

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and together go in search of alternative occupations. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed offers a train-driving experience, George Stubbs’ Whistlejack leads to an opportunity for Ben to try his hand as a horseman, albeit not very successfully,
The two then climb into a Gainsborough – The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly

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and therein Ben discovers an artist’s life isn’t for him and finally Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire furnishes a brief sea voyage after which Katie returns to her gran and Ben to his sheep.
For anyone visiting the National Gallery with young children or a primary class, this delightful book is an excellent introductory starting point to some of the 18th and 19thC paintings therein.


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London Through Time
Nick Maland and Angela McAllister
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Nick Maland (of the Oliver series fame) has illustrated what is essentially a concertina fold-out time line of London. We join two children, Maisie and Max (and a friendly pigeon) as they time travel from Roman Thameside London, through the plague ridden city of the Black Death, thence to Fleet Street of Tudor London, on to 1666 to view the Great Fire and along a Georgian street with its aromatic, mid 18thC coffee houses. From there we drop in on the city in 1865 where chimneys belch filthy smoke and poor children work for a mere farthing and thence, onto Victorian times where the city is shrouded in a filthy black smog. Flip the fold out and move into Edwardian times with the Votes for Women marches, then in 1914 watch the soldiers leave for the Great War; visit the Roaring Twenties, the Blitz of the World War 2 and join the Coronation parade of 1953 for Elizabeth 11. The swinging sixties are the penultimate destination when boutiques grew up all over London and finally after almost 2000 years, our guides bring us back to the present, to Trafalgar Square and the familiar sights of Big Ben,with the London Eye in the background.
A final page asks readers to spot items shown in fourteen tiny vignettes which will in all likelihood send them back for a second look at this fascinating visual trip through England’s capital city.
Nick Maland’s art work is packed with fine details and superbly executed and Angela McAllister supplies the informative written accompaniment to Max and Maisie’s historic wanderings.

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