Sunday, January 26, 2014


Impressionist Managerie  Grades 7 & 8 
By Carmella Tuliszewski


Knowledge- The students learn of the works of various Impressionists and Post-Impressionists artists including- Monet, Cezanne, Seurat, and Vincent van Gogh. They also understand their influence on Modern Art.
Skill- The students learn to incorporate stylistic colors and brushstrokes to create an Impressionist painting.  The use calendar photos of animals to draw from.
Attitude- The students experience the unique expressive qualities of Impressionist painting.


Teacher begins slide presentation

1. “Poplars in Spring”, 1881 by Claude MonetThis painting reflects the artist’s philosophy that "landscape is nothing but an impression - an instantaneous one." Monet waited and watched the shifting sun and shadows and then quickly brushed in the moment he wanted. He liked to paint the same scene many times so he could study the effects of changing light and weather. Children frequently trailed the artist and carried his canvases.

This painting is Monet's reaction to a brisk spring day at Fécamp, as the breeze ruffles the trees, and clouds tumble by in a luminous sky. Like a true Impressionist, he has applied brushstrokes of brilliant blue, green, and yellow in contrasting patterns.  Notice the off-center composition of the trees against the sky. Like other Impressionists, Monet was probably influenced by the asymmetrical compositions of popular Japanese wood-block prints.
  • The term Impressionism was first used in 1874.
  • However, Impressionism wasn't always as well liked as it is today. In fact the term was used by a Journalist (Louis Leroy) to criticize Claude Monet’s work!
  • The term comes from one of Monet’s paintings called “Impressionism: Sunrise”
  • Impressionist artist took ordinary objects and used color to illustrate light and shadow.
  • Impressionism is a style of painting characterized by an artist’s abstract interpretation of objects or scenes.
  • Unmixed primary colors and small brush strokes are used to simulate actual reflected light.
  • Impressionism was about playing on emotions as well as imagination.
  • Some the most famous names from the time are Monet, Manet, Seurat, Degas, Renoir, and Van Gogh.

Technological advances of portable easels and metal tubes that stored paint indefinitely allowed Impressionists like Monet to take extended painting trips outdoors. A wide range of pigments was also available, though Monet used a small, typical Impressionist palette of eight to ten colors. "The real point," he wrote a friend, "is to know how to use the colors." Despite failing eyesight, the artist painted well into his eighties. The public discovered his work by 1890, and his fortunes quickly improved. By 1920, the painter who once had struggled to feed and clothe his family complained about the "too-frequent visits from buyers who often disturb and bore me."

Looking Questions
       Describe the shapes that you see. What shapes are repeated?
Notice brushstrokes of warm colors next to brushstrokes of cool colors.
Name two colors that are complementary to each other.
Where do the colors contrast?
Do you see any outlines?
Look carefully at the textures of the trees, leaves, grass and sky. How do the brushstrokes describe different textures?
2. “Still Life with Basket of Fruit”, 1888 by Paul Cézanne. What’s going on here?  (Students may not know)  Let’s see, if we follow the table under the tablecloth, what happens at the other end of the table?  (It looks broken.)  Yes, and how about this pot?  (It doesn’t look like it’s really sitting on the table; looks like it will fall over.)  Yes, there’s a lot going on here.  Cézanne believed that because of our prior knowledge, we actually see things in our minds eye the way we know them to be not the way we actually see them.  He shows this in his art by modifying the perspective, so that we see all the objects at once from different points of view.  Another very important aspect of Cézanne’s work was the way he divided color.  The most distinctive feature about Cézanne and all the Post-Impressionists work was division of color.  Unlike the Impressionists before them they did not blend or try to blur the image on the canvas.  Instead they each deliberately and in their own distinctive ways blended on their palettes and applied one color at a time side by side.  Teacher pins up “Mont Sainte-Victorie”, 1904 and writes on board the following highlighted words as she talks.  Cézanne’s method was with small blocks of color placed side-by-side or juxtaposed to form an image.  

Looking Questions
Does this painting seem radical to you in any way?
Discuss Cézanne's choice of objects. Do some of them seem odd or distorted?
Are there any colors that surprise you?
What circular shapes do you see? What do the circular shapes represent?
Where do you see triangles? Straight lines? Curvy lines?
What shapes did he choose to repeat?
Do some of the objects have similar colors?

What makes a Cezanne a Cezanne?

  1. SHAPE- reduced objects to geometric shapes.
  2. COLOR- modeled with patches of color placed side by side or “juxtaposed” the color, he did not use shading or contours
  3. PERSPECTIVE- modified his perspective to show different views of objects within the same picture; this demonstrates his belief that we see all sides simultaneously.

Cézanne believed that everything in nature could be broken down into a cube, a sphere or a cylinder.  His ideas and techniques were the precursor to
Picasso and the Cubist movement of the 20th century.

3. “The Starry Night”, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh.  No introductions needed here, you have probably studied this artist since Kindergarten.  As you can see Van Gogh also used division of color to form his images but in a very different way than Cézanne.  What are the differences between these two paintings?  (Mont and Starry Night)  (Van Gogh’s dashes of color move)  Yes.  While Cézanne was interested in how we see things, Van Gogh was much more interested in the emotions well feel as we see them.  Van Gogh’s dashes and separations of color  want us to get closer, to become involved and move with the scene.

What is a word you would use to describe Van Gogh’s work?  (Movement, powerful, emotional)  And all these words are a form of expression.  Expressionism in art is the distortion of form and color for emotional interpretation.  What does that mean?  (It doesn’t show things realistically, it changes the look of the subject to express a feeling.)  Yes, very good!  The less a painter is obliged to stick to the natural look of things the greater his expressive range should be. 

When we say that expressionist painting is a “free” expression, we must still remember that what may look like a very free painting may still be a highly calculated one.  A perfect example is “The Starry Night”, 1889 by Van Gogh, established as a classic of modern art.  

Looking Questions
1. Which Element of Art strikes you the most? (Color)
2. How is color used to create balance?  (Lights and darks)
3. Where is the most dramatic dark in the picture? 
(The cypress is played against the most dramatic light of the fiery moon on the opposite side of the picture.  This also points to contrast and value, two other elements and principles of art.  There is Balance here in the upward twisting of the cypress springing from the ground, used as a kind of brake to the forward twisting rush of the comet-like form across the sky.)
4. After you see this beautiful color what next gets your attention? 
(Movement. In the center of this explosive sky winds the Milky Way.  Van Gogh’s invented and expressive form of the Milky Way). 
5. What other repetition or “balancing act” is happening here? 
The cypress tree and the church steeple.  (This little church steeple in the middle of all this energy actually helps to unify the composition.) How does it do this?  By repeating the vertical direction of the tree and by breaking up the hills in the background.  (The rushing line of the horizon might otherwise carry us too quickly across the art and off the edge of the canvas.  This delicate balancing and repetitions is the main reason why a picture of such violent force is self-contained and not chaotic.)

 “The Starry Night” is so charged with emotion that it is tempting to believe that some sort of spontaneous combustion created it.   Van Gogh’s paintings always seem to have come straight from the easel; we seem to be in the painter’s presence- even after we discover that this is a calculated, well thought out picture.  And we know this because we have Van Gogh’s preliminary drawings for various parts of the picture, at least one earlier study of the same subject and his letters over a period of many months with references to his plans for its development.  In his letters he talks again and again about his plans for this piece. 
He wrote a friend, who admired his expression in this work,
“That was not accidental.  I drew it many times and there was no feeling to it.  After I had done the pictures that were so stiff, came the others…How does it happen that I can express something like that?  Because it has taken form in my mind before I start on it.  What I am doing is not by accident but because of real intention and purpose.”

Sounds contradictory doesn’t it?  To have a work look so spontaneous and be so calculated at the same time.  Expressionist art like Van Gogh’s by nature of it’s intensity and personal quality, reaches it’s highest achievement using the whole accumulation of knowledge and technical skill at the artist immediate command, as if spontaneous use.  But to think of an artist inspired to create a picture without preliminary work is as unreasonable as to imagine an actor giving an inspired performance without having learned his lines or a poet creating a masterpiece in a language he doesn’t know.

What makes a Van Gogh a Van Gogh?
1.     Composition- Uses balance, repetition, contrast and movement to take the viewer through the picture.
2.     Thick Application of Paint- Principle feature of Van Gogh’s work, using Impasto, relief-like technique to add direction and emotion.
3.     Contours- Uses outlines to bring together large areas of color to create divided shapes.
4.     Color- Van Gogh’s colors do not reflect real life but the feeling of the moment; often uses complementary color contrasts for direct effect.

Van Gogh’s ideas and technique were the precursor to the Expressionists Movement of the 20th century.  This movement also extended into Abstract Expressionism or nonrepresentational expression as in the work of Jackson Pollack.


4. “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of  La Grande Jatte”, 1887 by Georges Seurat.  This is a very unique and recognizable style of painting. Tell me how the division of color is handled here.  (Dots)  Yes, Seurat was a major force behind the Post-Impressionists movement.  He was the first to use this new idea of division of color and has come to be known as the founder of Post Impressionism.  In fact, there are many examples in which Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin have at one time experimented with his pointillism technique

Looking Questions
What is happening with color the further into the picture we look, especially with the figures, shadows and water? 
There is a rhythm here created by repeating patterns.  Point out the repeating patterns.
Which Complementary colors are dominated here?

Seurat’s Pioneer work in optical mixing was a great influence on the Op Art Movement.

Teacher ends slide show and demonstrates how optical mixing works.
On a square of paper she has painted blue dots and yellow dots very separate of each other.  But when she holds it at a distance to show students they will say the color is green.  She passes around the square so that they can see how their eyes were “fooled”.

After viewing these 4 major Post-Impressionists, do you think they were just a later continuation of the Impressionists or were they very different?  (Very different)  Yes, in fact the Impressionists were not at all thrilled about the appearance of these artists on the scene.  The Impressionists had a long hard struggle to be accepted in the 19th century art world.  The ironic thing is that when their struggle was over and critics and the general public had accepted them as serious artists, along came another younger group of artists who thought they had a better way of doing things.  Renoir commented on the waning of Impressionism, “I had rung Impressionism dry and I finally came to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint or how to draw.”  And so it became time for a new approach and a new way of seeing the world.  This new group of artists became known as the Post-Impressionists.  A lot of people today tend to put these two groups together as if there were no difference between them.  But they were very different and many did not like each other.  Some of the Impressionists, especially Monet, fought very hard to keep these new artists out of their exhibitions. This new group of artists was the first to be known as “Avant-garde.”  What does avant-garde mean?  (Unconventional, strange.)

This is the beginning of what we think of today as the Modern World and and the beginning of Modern Art.  As you have seen these particular artists- Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Seurat all had a great influence on the art movements of the 20th century.

ACTIVITY- What the students will do.
1.     Students view and participate in teacher’s presentation. 
2.     Students choose their animal photo
3.     They lightly draw the subject on 12” x 18” paper.
4.     Teacher demonstrates the various techniques shown in the presentation and gives students some time to experiment with brush strokes and color mixing.
5.     Students choose their process and begin painting.
6.     Teacher monitors around room encouraging students to try a few “avant garde” color combinations in subject and shadows as accomplished by the artists of the Impressionist era.

Tempera Paints, bristle brushes, water
12” x 18” white paper, pencils, and erasers
Photo research for animals
Presentation prepared ahead of time by teacher

Art History Reference- Monet, Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat

NAEA Standards- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Assessment/Evaluation- This lesson is successful if  they will be able to recognize painting styles of the four Impressionists discussed and complete an Impressionist style painting.

Examples of student work.

I collected animal photo calendars every year when they went on sale for $1 each.  This is what the students worked with.

I constructed table top easels from corregated cardboard.  Students used these to clip their reference photos on while they worked.  They said it made them feel like "real artists".

Even tho the medium used here is only tempera, use bristle brushes for this as it adds to the impressionist quality brush stroke.

Demonstrating the teachniques and the practice time before starting the project really helps with their confidence once they start in on the real thing.

I almost always used this lesson to follow last weeks lesson on value painting.  It really reinforced what they have already practiced and demonstrated the carry over of what they had learned.

Feel free to modify for your needs and e-mail me with any questions or to let me know if you tried it and how it went.  I'd love to hear from you!

This lesson was always successful even for the most timid of teenage painters.

Good luck!  Carmella


  1. Carmella, it is very generous of you to pass on all your teaching notes! I can only imagine the hard work that went into putting it together. Your student's beautiful work says it all!

  2. Thank you Celia. I hope they will be used by other artists and teachers.
    Just paying it forward!


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