Looking at Pictures (National Gallery)

Many of you will know that I love exploring art with kids. Every two months, we take one great artist, look at his/ her work and discuss what we see and think about it. If we can we do this in a gallery or museum, but if we can’t the internet provides a great resource or we look at picture books aimed at children. We THEN love to get arty. Generally, we avoid “copying” the artwork of the artist, but focus more on technique or what he did or why he did it… creating our own piece of art inspired by the artist.


We have a number of books to support me getting the children interested in art. One set of these books, are the “Katie Books“. It is a whole set of picture books by James Mayhew looking at Art through the eyes and imagination of a little girl Katie. Katie usually visits the museum with her grandmother, who promptly falls asleep, whilst Katie wanders off an literally enters the world of the paintings. I love how it encourages children to think beyond the painting itself and what may or may not be happening in the picture. Are the people in the picture happy or bored? Are they busy or resting? Is the weather good or bad? Can they see what they are doing? Katie goes from adventure to adventure.

I love these books and the best thing for us, is that MAINY of the paintings described in these books are exhibited in the National Gallery in London. We get to see these paintings in real life. Which is wonderful, as with mainy paintings, the REAL ones always have surprises in store for us – some are much much bigger than we thought, others are more striking, some are smaller, some much brighter.

Looking at Pictures with Kids

Which brings me to this wonderful art book from the National Gallery itself: Looking at Paintings. The first wonderful thing about this book, is that of course ALL these paintigs are at the National Gallery. So if you are planning a visit to the National Gallery, either get this book in the gift shop (first!) or see if you can get it online before hand. And then you can prepare to look at the paintings with the children – do an art treasure hunt.

It also provides you with different things to talk about with the children – e.g. The Bathers, by Seurat – it is great to have the general “child friendly” questions, such as “what do you think is happening” “how does it make you feel” “what colours do you like best” “can you see/ find xx?” but the book provides you with a little more background – i.e. that it was one of the first times to depict ordinary people doing ordinary things on such a large paintings – large paintings were reserved for people of importance, not the common factory work going for a swim… etc.

It also provided me with some pointers about how to discuss the big set of triptychs available for viewing at The National Gallery. We spent a longtime looking at them last Easter and my son was actually a little disturbed (But WHY are they being mean to Jesus, Mummy? What are they doing there? Is that blood?).

Both books I highly recommend if you plan to explore more art with your children or a visit to the National Gallery. Remember the National Gallery has a great gift shop too, where you can find all the books online or in store. They have a great arty product range for children too. Clearly I am bias but the kids and I love their arts and crafts section in particularly and they make great gifts this Christmas.

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