Painting the outdoors indoors

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Self-Portrait as a Painter
Date  1887-1888
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent van Gogh is a famous Dutch artist. That means he's from the Netherlands. But he spent the last few years of his life in France. First, he spent a couple of years with his brother Theo in Paris.
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Art and designLower Secondary Education (GCSE)

This lesson contains 22 slides, with interactive quizzes and text slides.

time-iconLesson duration is: 75 min

Introduction

Working indoors, the class will paint a subject from the outdoors – just as Vincent van Gogh often did.

Instructions

General learning objectives
- The class will learn about some art works by Vincent van Gogh and how they were made.
- They will learn to use Van Gogh's ideas and chosen subjects in their own paintings.
Time required
Introduction/explanation: c. 15 minutes
For painting: c. 45 minutes
Final discussion and clean-up: c. 15 minutes

Preparation
Decide in advance what the class will paint:
- the view from a window of the classroom
- something brought indoors from outdoors
(see 'Optional variations (1)' and 'Materials required' below)
- something they saw and drew outdoors in an earlier lesson
(see 'Optional variations (2)' and 'Materials required' below)
- or something they drew earlier at home
(see 'Optional variations (3)' and 'Materials required' below).
Before the lesson, make sure all the materials are present and ready for use.

Optional variations
1. If the chosen subject is something brought indoors from outdoors, then the class can start painting after slide 11 (Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass).
2. Divide the material over two lessons. After the introductory explanation, have the class go outside to sketch the area and take notes on the colours. In the second lesson, the students can use their sketches and notes as the basis for a painting.
3. Divide the material over two lessons. After the explanatory section, give the class a homework assignment: drawing the view from their home and taking notes on the colours. In the second lesson, the students can use their drawing and notes as the basis for a painting.

Materials required
- Art paper
- Pencils
- Various colours of paint
- Mixing boards or palettes
- Brushes
- Rags or towels for drying brushes
- Jars of water
- For option 1, all sorts of subjects from nature can be used to make a still life: flowers or blossoming twigs in a jar of water, autumn leaves, sticks, stones, etc.
- For option 2 or 3, use the drawings made in advance.

Background information
Vincent van Gogh loved the outdoors and painted many subjects from nature right where he found them. But sometimes he went indoors to paint what he had seen outdoors. Then he carefully prepared. For instance, he sometimes used drawings or oil sketches that he had made outside as a starting point for paintings that he made inside. And sometimes he simply painted the view from his window. Now and then, he found things outdoors but brought them indoors, where he could paint them more easily.

Unfortunately, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon no longer exists. It was once in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, but it was lost in the Second World War. Fortunately, we still have a colour photo of the painting.

Items in this lesson

Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Self-Portrait as a Painter
Date  1887-1888
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent van Gogh is a famous Dutch artist. That means he's from the Netherlands. But he spent the last few years of his life in France. First, he spent a couple of years with his brother Theo in Paris.

Slide 1 - Slide

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Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title View from Theo's Apartment
Date  March- April 1887
Place Paris, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Slide 2 - Slide

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When Vincent painted the view of Paris he was indoors, of course. But he felt almost as if he were outdoors. He compared his city view to a view of the sky over the sea when you stand on top of a sand dune.
From their apartment, Vincent and Theo had 'a magnificent view across the city . . . and a piece of sky above it almost as big as when one stands on the dunes.'

Slide 3 - Slide

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This painting is called The Painter on the Road to Tarascon. Vincent painted it in 1888. In the Second World War, it was destroyed in an bombing raid.
It's not surprising that Vincent made that comparison, because he loved to spend time outdoors. He liked to draw and paint outside in the open air. Here you see him walking in the countryside near the city of Arles in southern France. He had gone to live in Arles after growing tired of all the crowds and noise in the big city.
'a quick sketch I made of myself laden with boxes, sticks, a canvas . . .'

When Vincent wrote 'a quick sketch', he meant a small painting that he made quickly. The supplies that he lists were what he took along when he went outdoors to paint.
This map shows the location of Arles, near the river Rhône in the south of France. By zooming in and following the path of the river, you can also find Tarascon.

Slide 4 - Slide

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In southern France, the summer days are often very hot. But the heat did not stop Vincent from working outdoors.

What about other kinds of weather?

Slide 5 - Slide

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What do you think Vincent said?
'the cold . . .'
A
'. . . makes me paint faster.'
B
'. . . isn't for me.'

Slide 6 - Quiz

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Cold weather sometimes did stop Vincent from working outdoors. And in Arles, it was sometimes very cold indeed.
'Now I’ll tell you that for a start, there’s been a snowfall of at least 60 centimetres all over, and it’s still snowing.'

This is from a letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in February 1888, soon after arriving in Arles. It was still winter, temperatures were below freezing, and snow was falling.

Slide 7 - Slide

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Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title View of a Butcher's Shop
Date  February 1888
Place Arles, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
On the right side of the shop front, you can see part of the word charcutier (pronounced something like 'shar-coo-TYEH'). This is French for 'butcher'. 'Reboul' is the last name of the shop owner.
So at first Vincent painted indoors, where it was warmer. But even then he was sometimes inspired by what he saw outside, as he had been in Paris. This is the view from the hotel where he lived before he had his own house. On the other side of the street is a butcher shop.

Slide 8 - Slide

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Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass
Date  March 1888
Place Arles, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Despite the cold, the trees in Arles were already starting to blossom. Vincent thought blossoms would make a good subject for a painting, but he didn't want to sit outside in the cold. So he took a twig from an almond tree and brought it indoors. Then he could paint in comfort, without getting cold.

Slide 9 - Slide

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Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title The White Orchard (left) The Pink Orchard (right)
Date  April 1888
Place Arles, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent painted the twig of almond in early March. Soon afterwards, it became warm enough for him to work outside. So he could paint these blossoming trees on the spot, in the orchards.

Slide 10 - Slide

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Compare the two paintings and prepare for a multiple-choice question . . .
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (left) Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Date  June 1888
Place Arles, France
Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
In June 1888, Vincent went to the seaside for a couple of days, to the fishing village of Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Slide 11 - Slide

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Which of the two paintings was actually painted outdoors?
A
The one with the boats at sea
B
The one with the boats on the beach
C
Both paintings
D
Neither painting

Slide 12 - Quiz

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But how do we know that? What do you think?
A
Vincent wrote about it to his brother Theo.
B
There is sand in the paint used in the painting.
C
A and B are both true.
D
A and B are both false.

Slide 13 - Quiz

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Vincent did write to Theo that he had painted this in the fishing village. But there are also real grains of sand in the paint. If you look carefully at the original painting, you can see them. Under a microscope, you can see them even more clearly. Vincent probably painted this on a windy day.

Slide 14 - Slide

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Artist Vincent van Gogh
Title Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Date  June 1888
Place Arles, France
Collection Drawing left: private collection. Painting right: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
On the beach, Vincent also made a drawing of the small boats that he saw. He later used this drawing as the starting point for a second painting. Can you guess how this painting was different? Not one grain of sand can be found in the paint. Vincent must have made this painting indoors.

Slide 15 - Slide

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In short:
Just like Vincent, you can . . .

Slide 16 - Slide

Slides 17-20 list the different ways of working outdoors and indoors mentioned in the introductory story about Van Gogh. After the students look at these slides, they can start painting.
. . . go outdoors and paint what you see there, on the spot
Binnen schilderen wat je eerder buiten hebt gezien

Slide 17 - Slide

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. . . paint a view of the outdoors from indoors
Binnen schilderen wat je van buiten hebt meegenomen

Slide 18 - Slide

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. . . paint something you brought indoors from outdoors
Binnen schilderen wat je van buiten hebt meegenomen

Slide 19 - Slide

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. . .  or paint something you saw outdoors earlier.
Binnen schilderen wat je eerder buiten hebt gezien

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Assignment

Slide 21 - Slide

Now discuss the assignment (see the options above).

Tell the class about your work.

Slide 22 - Slide

You can end the lesson by inviting a few children to talk about the paintings the made. How did it go? What was hard? And what was easy?