From Criticism to Admiration

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will examine the artistic characteristics of Autumn Poplars and Childhood Idyll, explore how Impressionism initially encountered resistance when introduced in France, and write an encyclopedia-type article about another invention, idea, or movement that was initially criticized but later became accepted and admired.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • examine the artistic characteristics of Autumn Poplars;
  • explain how Impressionism initially encountered resistance when introduced in France; and
  • write an encyclopedia-type article about another invention, idea, or movement that was initially criticized but later became accepted and admired.

Lesson

  1. Display Autumn Poplars (share that it was created by Camille Pissarro in France around 1894) and Childhood Idyll by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Ask students to compare and contrast these two images by looking at colors, image clarity, subject matter, paint application, lighting, etc. Create a list of similarities and differences.
  2. Ask students to record their response to the following prompt on a sticky note: Explain your reaction if you expected to see a painting that looked like Childhood Idyll, but instead saw Autumn Poplars. Invite students to share their responses and post their sticky notes on the board.
  3. Based on their responses, explain that the people of Pissarro’s time agreed/disagreed with their comments, as they thought his artwork and that of the Impressionist artists was completely unconventional and distasteful. Many people criticized Pissarro and other artists, calling their work “oil and watercolor monstrosities,” and claiming the artists were “colorblind” because of their use of unrealistic colors. Using the political cartoons found on the following websites, discuss how people reacted to Impressionist artwork and why: Bridgeman Art Culture History and Lisa Confetti art blog (scroll down to political cartoon and description.)
  4. Explain that as shown in Autumn Poplars, Impressionist artists used bright colors, painted everyday scenes, and left their brushstrokes broken and visible—techniques that challenged the rules of academic painting at the time. Most Impressionists were not allowed to show their works at the Salon, the official French art exhibition. In response, Pissarro organized an exhibition of Impressionist paintings in 1874. In the course of his lifetime, Pissarro saw the Impressionist style move from being unconventional and rejected to favorable and admired.
  5. Invite the students to think of additional inventions or ways of doing something that were initially met with resistance and criticism in the United States or somewhere else in the world, similar to how Impressionism was not particularly well received during its early years in Europe (see the website They Were Predicted to Fail - But Thank Goodness They Didn't! for ideas). The students may offer ideas such as inventions, fashion styles, musical genres, or political ideas/movements. Record the students’ ideas on a large piece of chart paper or (interactive) whiteboard.
  6. Have each student select and research a particular invention, idea, or movement that initially encountered resistance but eventually became accepted and admired, and write a short encyclopedia-type article describing this transformation over a period of time. You may need to provide students with access to the Internet or other materials and resources to find further information about their chosen topic.
  7. When students are finished, be sure to have them share their written pieces and display their work collectively in a “Transformation Encyclopedia” binder.

Materials

Standards

CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Evaluate and analyze sources using historical method of inquiry and defend their conclusions
      • Understand the concept that the power of ideas is significant throughout history
      • Become familiar with Western Hemisphere historical eras, groups, individuals, and themes
      • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
      • Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, and themes
    • Geography
      • Become familiar with World geography
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Autumn Poplars

Autumn, Poplars, Éragny (Automne, Peupliers, Éragny)

1894

Camille Pissarro

Who Made It?

Camille Pissarro was born on the island of St. Thomas in the West Indies (Virgin Islands, when the island was still a territory of Denmark), where he spent most of his formative years. Pissarro was an artistic youth and spent much of his time drawing and painting. He moved to Paris in 1855, began his art studies, and joined a group of young painters who later became known as the Impressionists. Impressionist artists used bright colors, painted everyday scenes, and left their brushstrokes broken and visible—techniques that challenged the rules of academic painting at the time. Most Impressionists were not allowed to show their works at the Salon, the official French art exhibition, because of their unconventional approaches to painting. In response to their exclusion, Pissarro organized an exhibition of Impressionist paintings in 1874. A total of eight Impressionist exhibitions were organized after 1874 and Pissarro was the only artist in the group to show his work at all of them. He is considered by many to be the central figure of the Impressionists. In his time, Pissarro saw the Impressionist style move from being unconventional and rejected to favorable and admired.

What Inspired It?

Pissarro painted Autumn Poplars from the window of his country home in the village of Eragny, about an hour northwest of Paris. He loved painting outdoors and even invented an easel on wheels to help him accomplish this. Pissarro was an innovative artist, constantly searching for new means of expression; his style was always evolving. In this painting, Pissarro experimented with color, painting dots of pure, unmixed colors side by side. When viewed from a distance, the colors blend together, creating an image that is very different than what one would see close-up. He began experimenting with this technique after meeting French painter Georges Seurat [sur-AHT], who is known for this style of painting. Pissarro put his own twist on Seurat’s tight, tiny dot technique by using looser brushstrokes that appear more like dabs of paint.

Pissarro and the Impressionists had liberated themselves from the constraints of subject matter, composition, and style. Impressionists were breaking boundaries and exploring new ways to depict the world through painting. In light of their work, new possibilities opened up—among them what colors to use, what subjects to portray, and even how to paint them. Pissarro explored and experimented with these new possibilities throughout his career.

Details

Subject Matter
Subject Matter

Pissarro, like most Impressionists, was interested in scenes from ordinary life and the effects of light. In this painting, there are no people, just several poplar trees in their rich autumn colors. Don’t miss the grazing cows in the background between the trees.

Color, Light, and Shadow
Color, Light, and Shadow

Many different colors can be seen in this painting: yellow, green, pink, red, black, and blue. Light shines from behind the trees, causing shadows to be cast, which were painted in a darker green, across the grass. Leaves that have fallen off the smaller tree in the foreground dot the green grass.

Brushstrokes
Brushstrokes

If you look closely at this painting, it’s easy to see thousands of small dots or dabs of paint. When viewed from a distance, the colors begin to blend into one another, creating a more recognizable image.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.