Students will look closely at Cole’s painting Dream of Arcadia and talk about what they see. They will then use their imaginations to play a game of Hide-and-Seek in the painting.
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonOne 25 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- say which part of the painting is their favorite;
- identify the dark and light sections of the painting; and
- explain why some objects are better for hiding behind than others.
- Warm-up: Have children look closely at the painting and name things that they see in the painting. Use probing questions to help guide them all around the painting. You might ask what they think the water feels like, what the people are doing, what animals are in the painting, etc.
- Tell the children that you are going to play a game of Hide-and-Seek using the painting. Ask them to tell you where they like to hide when they play Hide-and-Seek on the playground, at home, or at a park. What makes them good? Talk about what might make a good hiding place in the painting.
- One child gets to hide and tells the teacher the hiding spot. The other children then get to play “20 Questions” to find him or her. For example, they may ask, “Are you behind a tree?” “Is it a big tree?” and so on. Once that child is found, the child who found him or her gets to hide (if more than one child finds the hider at the same time use some other method to select the next hider).
- After a couple of rounds with one person hiding, have the children play “Sardines.” Five children get together to decide where all five of them would be able to hide if they were really at the location portrayed. The rest of the class will again play “20 Questions” to find them.
- About the Art section on Dream of Arcadia
- One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- 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?
Thomas Cole was born in England (1801), the only boy in a family of seven children. His family moved to America in 1818, where his father started a wallpaper factory. At the age of 18, Cole was given a book on painting and fell in love with the medium: “This book was my companion day and night, nothing could separate us—my usual avocations were neglected—painting was all in all to me. I had made some proficiency in drawing, and had engraved a little in both wood and copper, but not until now had my passion for painting been thoroughly roused—my love for the art exceeded all love—my ambition grew, and in my imagination I pictured the glory of being a great painter.” Cole was a self-taught artist who eventually became a very successful landscape painter. He spent his childhood in an industrial area of England, and upon moving to America, fell in love with the landscape of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and later with the Hudson River valley. He was not content with being, as he said, “a mere leaf painter,” and felt the need to take the field of landscapes to a higher and more sophisticated realm. He sought to bring moral and religious meaning to his landscapes.
What Inspired It?
The theme of Thomas Cole’s Dream of Arcadia is man’s relationship to unspoiled nature. Cole felt that the American wilderness was beginning to disappear as a result of the industrialization of the nation. In this painting, Cole harks back to the land of Arcadia, a rustic, secluded area of ancient Greece. The people who lived in Arcadia led simple, happy lives, in harmony with nature. Cole creates an idyllic image of an unblemished landscape—one where people frolic in the trees, sheep roam the hillside, and children play in the gentle river. Cole was greatly inspired by the work of Claude Lorrain, a French landscape artist who painted roughly 200 years before him. “Claude, to me, is the greatest of all landscape painters,” said Cole. Cole used many of the same artistic devices that Claude used in his paintings, such as the luminous distance, the large trees in the foreground that frame the painting, and elements of architecture in the middle ground. Claude often emphasized the effects of light in his paintings—something Cole focused on as well in Dream of Arcadia.
Cole used the sunlight to create contrasts of shaded and warmly lit areas. Highlighted details create a visual path back into the painting.
On the cliff sits a complete Doric temple bathed in sunlight. The Doric order was the earliest and simplest of three orders of Ancient Greek or classical architecture. Notice the impossible reflection of the temple in the stream below—a detail that adds to the magical feeling of Arcadia.
The smoke rising from the front porch of the temple signifies the burning of a ritual sacrifice.
A city sits in the distant background, cut off from the foreground by a river and some trees. In the groves, forest, and fields of Arcadia, the humans find surroundings that are beautiful and fresh.
Under the trees on the left side of the painting young men and women relax, play music, and dance. Their clothing seems rural and is reminiscent of styles of ancient Greece.
The shepherd can be seen as a symbol of man’s harmony with nature through his relationship to his natural surroundings.
Despite his skill with landscapes, Cole always had a hard time painting people. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “Worst of all is the inhabitants of [Arcadia]—I found them very troublesome, very—They have almost murdered me!”
The people in the left foreground are participating in a ceremony that involves a herme, which is a square stone pillar surmounted by a bust. This particular bust could be an image of Pan, who was the guardian of Arcadia. Due to the large number of flowers, it could also be a ceremony dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers.
Cole’s signature was discovered on a boulder in the foreground while the painting was being cleaned in 1967. Prior to this, there were questions as to whether this particular painting was the original, since it measured smaller than the recorded measurements of Cole’s work. But when it was removed from the frame, it became apparent that the canvas had been folded back for framing.