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ArtKids: A Visit for Families

Young people are always welcome at the Athenaeum! In 1871, when the library first opened to the public, a special celebration was organized just for children. Since then, the Athenaeum has steadily added programs and services expressly for young visitors and their families. This tour, ArtKids, is designed to encourage conversation between children and adults in the Athenaeum's Art Gallery. These conversations build the visual literacy and critical thinking skills that are the foundations of lifelong enjoyment of the arts. The questions included here are just a starting point, however, and are left open-ended so that you can go wherever your imagination may take you!


Lets' start with J.G. Brown's Hiding in the Old Oak. Why do you think these girls are hiding? How can you tell?

Brown, Old Oak

Paintings of children were very popular in America during the 1860s and 1870s, about 150 years ago. People enjoyed them because the paintings reminded them of what it was like to be young. What do you think it would feel like to be hiding in this tree? Have you ever hidden in a place where it was hard for other people to find you? What was fun about it?


Choose one of the girls in the painting and imagine what she's thinking based on what you see. Take turns with the other people in your group saying your thoughts aloud and guessing which child each of you chose.


The next painting we'll visit is also about hiding. It's Seymour Joseph Guy's Up for Repairs.

What do you think this boy is doing? How can you tell? What room do you think he's in? What do you see that makes you say that? Who could the woman in the background be?

Paintings of children during this time period often had morals or lessons to teach. Ho do you think the boy in this painting is feeling? What do you think the moral here is?


Either together or on your own, make up a story about why this boy is mending his clothes. What has happened? What will the woman say to him when she comes into the room? Share your story with the other people in your group.


Here is a painting of a girl holding her baby brother, Adolphe William Bouguereau's Going to the Bath.

How can you tell this girl is taking her little brother for a bath? Have you ever helped take care of a younger child? What are some of the things you did to help?

Family relationships were very important during the nineteenth century, especially in rural areas. Children often had to help their parents get all of the work done around the farm or else the family could go hungry. Do you think the children in this painting live in the city or the country? Do you think that they get along with one another? How can you tell?


Now that you've looked carefully at this painting, walk around the Art Gallery and find other images of adults or older children with babies. How are their relationships different from or similar to the one shown in this painting? Talk about what you see that makes them different or the same.


Let's turn to another painting of siblings, a copy of Anthony van Dykes' Children of Charles I.

Why might these children be wearing clothes like these? What do you think it would feel like to wear these outfits? Are the children playful or serious? What do you see that makes you think that?

The boy at the left will one day become king of England. How does the artist show us that he's important? How do you think the relationship between these siblings is different from that of the siblings in Bouguereau's painting? Why do you think the dog looks up at the boy?


As you look at the painting, have each of the people in your group come up with three or four words that describe the children's clothing. Share your words with your group, then put them all together into a poem about the painting.


Let's take a look another painting, Louis Emile Pinel de Grandchamp's Donkey Driver of Cairo. 

How is the boy's relationship with his animal different from that between the children and their dog in van Dyke's painting? Do you think that this boy is having fun or working? What do you see that makes you say that? What could be on the donkey's back?

Thanks to the invention of steamships and railroads during the 1800s, artists like de Grandchamp were able to visit faraway places more easily than ever before, and they could show people back home what life was like in the places that they visited. How do you think the artist shows us where the boy is? How do you think the boy is sililar to or different from children in the Unites States?


What kind of animal would you want to help you if you had chores to do? Use your imagination and draw your helper. Share your drawing with your group and explain why you chose it.


Here is a painting by Seymour Joseph Guy of a girl with a large wolf.

Do you recognize the girl and wolf from a popular fairy tale? What part of the story could the painting illustrate? What could the girl be pointing to?


Think about your favorite story. If you were going to choose one scene from the story to illustrate it, as Guy has done in this painting, what would you choose? How would you draw it so that people could recognize what the story is? Tell the other people in your group about your idea, or draw it and then share your drawing with them.

There are a lot more paintings of children in the Art Gallery and in the Library. Come visit them and think of games to play with each one! Have fun!