Students will explore the use of cool colors in Bouguereau’s painting Childhood Idyll; experiment with cool, warm, and complementary colors; and create a self-portrait using one of these color schemes.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- discuss and identify artistic elements of Childhood Idyll;
- describe three color schemes (cool colors, warm colors, and complementary colors);
- add the three color schemes to print-outs of the painting; and
- create an artwork using their favorite color scheme.
- Display the painting Childhood Idyll and give students plenty of time to look and share observations. Try the following discussion questions:
- What do you think the is relationship between the two girls?
- Where are they?
- Did they walk into the scene barefoot?
- What kind of mood do you think the girls are in?
- What kind of instrument is the girl on the left playing?
- What might the instrument sound like?
Have students explain their responses using specific details from the picture. Refer to the About the Art section for background information to weave in during the class discussion.
- Focus on the color in the painting. Explain how Bouguereau used cool whites, blues, and grays in this painting to give the work its soft, pastel effect. Show the students a color wheel and explain what cool colors are. Cool colors are purples, blues, greens. They can be calming and soothing. Do the colors in this painting make the students feel excited and energetic? Or calm and relaxed?
- Distribute one black-and-white copy of Childhood Idyll to each student. Have the students use markers or colored pencils to add more cool colors to the print-out.
- Show the color wheel again, this time pointing out warm colors. Warm colors are red, orange, and yellow. They are vivid, energetic, and cheerful. Distribute another black-and-white copy of the painting to each student and have them color over the painting, adding warm colors.
- Once again, show the color wheel and talk about complementary colors. Complementary colors are colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. They are purple and yellow, red and green, and blue and orange. Look at Childhood Idyll again and explore how Bouguereau used complementary colors to accent his predominantly cool composition.
- Have students add complementary accents to their two drawings.
- When the students have finished, have them use their coloring sheets to choose their favorite color scheme: cool colors, warm colors, or complementary colors. Pass out drawing paper. Have older students create a self-portrait using their favorite color scheme. Have them look back at Bouguereau’s painting for tips on how to depict facial features, ears, fingers, hair, etc. Have younger students use their favorite color scheme to create a peaceful scene.
- Three black-and-white print outs of the painting for each student
- Color wheel
- Drawing paper
- Markers or colored pencils
- About the Art section on Childhood Idyll
- One color copy of the painting for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Optional: Mirrors to aid students in creating self portraits
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Born in La Rochelle, France, William-Adolphe Bouguereau [BOO-guhr-oh] is often thought of as the typical French academic painter. After many years of studying, painting, and teaching in France and Italy, Bouguereau rose to prominence as the most famous French painter of his day. His combination of realism and idealism attracted many admirers. He cast many of his compositions in “ideal” ways, with figures based in part on classical statues as models. As one of the key supporters of the Salon (the official exhibition of contemporary art in Paris), Bouguereau showed his work there regularly for several decades. Although he lived during a time when artists were exploring new ways of painting, he never strayed from the conservative, academic style of painting he learned during his formative years. The response to his works was mixed: some found his work impressive for his technical skill, while others thought that the subjects were sappy and old-fashioned. Regardless, he is thought of as the European artist who set the academic standard for painting in the 1800s.
What Inspired It?
An idyll is a poem, prose piece, or event depicting a rural and tranquil scene, usually in idealized terms. The girls in this painting are images of idyllic innocence. Bouguereau probably created this painting during one of his frequent trips to La Rochelle, modeling it after local peasant children. Childhood Idyll reflects the classicism of academic painting in the late 1800s, which referred back to the art of ancient Greece and Rome. Bouguereau made his paintings look timeless: instead of portraying the girls in the latest fashions, he paints them wearing peasant-type clothing that could belong to several different centuries. Bouguereau’s painting process was long and painstaking; this painting is the result of months of dedicated research, sketching, and careful planning.
The artist’s brushwork is virtually invisible. The figures are painted with thin layers of paint and almost no texture, leaving a smooth, glossy finish. There are only a few spots where you can see big fanned brushstrokes in the clouds, and short, wispy brushstrokes in the shrubs.
The perception of depth in nature can be enhanced with the use of atmospheric haze. This effect is achieved by using less focus and dull, blue hues for distant objects. The haze in this painting represents cloudiness, but can also indicate humidity, rain, snow, or smoke.
Foreshortening is a technique artists use to create an illusion of depth, either by pushing an object forward or sending it back into space. Look at how much larger the older girl’s feet are compared to her head, for example. The difference in scale between the two anatomical parts suggests that the feet are closer to the viewer than her head.
Composition is the arrangement of elements in a painting. The three main elements in this painting are the girls, the background, and the foreground grasses and shrubs. Bouguereau places his subjects in a space that’s rather like a stage. The two girls are seated center stage, facing the audience at a comfortable distance. The flat landscape and empty sky create a sense of expansiveness, dividing the background into two distinct spaces—the top and the bottom. Although one has the impression that this artwork was painted out of doors, it was actually a very planned and deliberate composition that the artist worked out in his studio.
Bouguereau gives his painting a rosy glow by using pinks and flesh tones to warm the otherwise cool whites and blues. Even the ground seems reddish. Bouguereau adds white and gray to his colors to give the work its soft, pastel effect.
Except for the dark outlines of the girls’ heads against the light sky, there are no strong lines in the painting. Boundaries are merely implied by subtle color shifts. Soft edges and interwoven colors allow our eyes to flow freely across the painting.
The sunlight in this painting is diffused through the overcast sky, softening and muting the colors.