Painting the outdoors indoors

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Slide 1: Slide
Art and designLower Secondary (Key Stage 3)Primary Education

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

time-iconLesson duration is: 75 min


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


General learning objectives 
- The class will be introduced to a number of works by Vincent van Gogh and learn about 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
Painting: c. 45 minutes
Final discussion and clean-up: c. 15 minutes
Decide in advance what the class will paint:
- the view from a window of the classroom
- something brought indoors from outdoors
(see 'Optional variations (2)' and 'Materials required' below)
- something they saw and drew outdoors in an earlier lesson
(see 'Optional variations (3)' and 'Materials required' below)
- or something they drew earlier at home
(see 'Optional variations (4)' and 'Materials required' below).
Before the lesson, make sure all the materials are present and ready for use.
Optional variations
1. The introductory explanation can be shortened by going directly from slide 10 to slide 21. Slide 4 can also be left out.
2. 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).
3. 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, they can used their sketches as the basis for their paintings.
4. Divide the material over two lessons. After the explanatory section, give the class a homework assignment: drawing the view from their own home and taking notes on the colours. In the second lesson, each student can use this homework as the basis for a painting.
Materials required
- Art paper
- Pencils
- Various colours of paint
- Mixing boards or empty egg cartons
- Brushes
- Rags or towels for drying brushes
- Jars of water
- For option 2, 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 3 or 4, 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. For instance, he sometimes used drawings 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, his painting 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, a colour photo was taken of the painting. That was very unusual in those days.

Items in this lesson

Slide 1 - Slide

Story: 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. From the window of their apartment they had . . . (go on to the quote on the next slide)
View from Theo’s Apartment, 1887
"A magnificent view across the city ... and a piece of sky above it almost as big as when one stands on the dunes."

Slide 2 - Slide

Continue: When Vincent painted the view of Paris he was indoors, of course. But he felt almost as if he were outdoors. He said that the view of the sky above the city looked a little bit like the view of the sky over the sea. That's the same view you see when you stand on top of a sand dune.

Slide 3 - Slide

Continue: It's not so strange 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 around the city of Arles in southern France. He went to live in Arles after growing tired of all the crowds and activity in the big city.
The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, 1888

Slide 4 - Map

This map shows the location of Arles, near the river Rhone in the south of France. You can zoom out to show the location of Arles in France, or in Europe.
By zooming in and following the path of the river, you can also find Tarascon.
"a quick sketch I made of myself laden with boxes, sticks, a canvas ..."

Slide 5 - Slide

Continue: This is how Vincent described this painting in a letter to his brother Theo in June 1888. When he wrote "a quick sketch," he meant a small painting that he made quickly. When he went outdoors to paint, he brought along all the supplies that he mentions.

Slide 6 - Slide

In preparation for the multiple-choice question, ask the class to take a good look at the painting (for about 10 seconds).
What season is it in the painting?

Slide 7 - Quiz

Ask a few children to explain their answers.
> Vincent painted this in the summer of 1888 (before 13 August, when he wrote about it to Theo). You can see from the shadow that it's a fine, sunny day. The wheat in the field is turning golden.

Slide 8 - Slide

Continue: On sunny days like the one in this painting, the weather in southern France is often fairly hot. But the heat did not stop Vincent from working outdoors. What about other kinds of weather?
What do you think Vincent said?

"the cold ..."
"... makes me paint faster."
"... isn't for me."

Slide 9 - Quiz

Have the class answer the question, and then go on:
Cold weather sometimes did stop Vincent from working outdoors. And in Arles, it was sometimes very cold indeed. Vincent had already experienced that cold weather. When he first went to live in Arles (in February 1888) it was still winter. Temperatures were below freezing, and snow was falling.

Slide 10 - Slide

Continue: So at first Vincent painted indoors, where it was warmer. But even then, he sometimes looked outside through the window, as he had 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. 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. View of a Butcher's Shop, 1888

Slide 11 - Slide

Continue: It was still very cold in Arles, but even so some trees were 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, brought it indoors, and put it in a glass on his table. Then he could paint in comfort, without getting cold.
Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass, 1888 

Slide 12 - Slide

Continue: Vincent painted the twig of almond in early March. Soon afterwards, it became warm enough for him to work outside. So he didn't have to break off twigs from these flowering trees.
The White Orchard, 1888 
The Pink Orchard, 1888

Slide 13 - Slide

Continue: In June, Vincent went to the seaside for a couple of days. He made one of these two paintings there, outside on the beach. He made the other one after returning home. Question: What do you think? Which of the two paintings was actually painted outdoors? Tell the class the answer (the first painting) and then go on to the multiple-choice question.
Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888 
Fishing boats on the beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888
How do we know that?
What do you think?
Vincent wrote about his trip to the seaside in letters to his brother Theo.
There is sand in the paint used in the painting.
Answers A and B are both true.
Answers A and B are both false.

Slide 14 - Quiz

Ask the group to answer this multiple-choice question. The explanation of the right answer accompanies the next slide.

Slide 15 - Slide

Continue: Vincent did write letters about his trip to the seaside to his brother Theo, and there really is sand in the paint. If you look carefully at the original painting, you can see the grains of sand. And under a microscope you can see them even more clearly. Vincent probably painted this on a windy day. It's not easy to paint outside in a strong wind. letter 619 and 620

Slide 16 - Slide

Continue: On the beach, Vincent also made a drawing of the small boats that he saw. He later used this drawing as the basis for a painting. Can you guess how that painting was different? > Not one grain of sand can be found in the paint. That's because Vincent painted it indoors, out of the wind. That was also convenient because he had all his art supplies right there. You could ask a few children to point out differences between the drawing and the painting.
The drawing Fishing boats: private collection 
Going outdoors and painting what you see there
Binnen schilderen wat je eerder buiten hebt gezien

Slide 17 - Slide

Slides 17-20 list the different ways of working outdoors and indoors mentioned in the introductory story about Van Gogh. After they look at the slides, the class can start painting.
Painting a view of the outdoors from indoors
Binnen schilderen wat je van buiten hebt meegenomen

Slide 18 - Slide

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

Slide 19 - Slide

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Painting something you saw outdoors earlier
Binnen schilderen wat je eerder buiten hebt gezien

Slide 20 - Slide

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Make your own painting
- First make a sketch. Make sure the lines are not too thick.

- Keep in mind that the sketch doesn't have to be very exact.

- Once you're happy with the sketch, you can pick the colours you'd like to use.

You have about 45 minutes. Have fun!

Slide 21 - Slide

Continue: Since we're painting indoors, we don't have to worry about cold weather, wind, or grains of sand, and we don't have to carry around our supplies.
Now go over the painting assignment with the class and make any comments of your own. While the class is working, you can put this slide up on the board. Depending on the assignment, you can also use slide 17, 18, 19 or 20 instead.
Talk about your painting

Slide 22 - Slide

You can end the lesson by inviting a few children to talk about the paintings they made. How did it go? What was hard? And what was easy? If some children aren't done, you can give them a chance to finish their paintings another time.