Students will examine the artistic characteristics of Childhood Idyll; create a drawing of children during an ideal day from a student/child perspective and a drawing of children during an ideal day from an adult perspective; and explain how what is ideal can vary between individuals, time periods, and cultures/societies.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaSocial Studies
Students will be able to:
- examine the artistic characteristics of Childhood Idyll;
- locate France on a map of the world and identify some defining features of the country;
- explain different nuances of the meaning of “ideal”;
- create a drawing of children during an ideal day from a student/child perspective and a drawing of children during an ideal day from an adult perspective; and
- explain how what is ideal can vary between individuals, time periods, and cultures/societies.
- Display Childhood Idyll and invite students to look carefully and share what they observe. What do they notice about the painting? What colors do they see? Who do the students think the girls in the painting might be? What are the girls doing? How are the girls acting? What makes the students think so? How would the students describe the girls’ clothing? What time period is portrayed in this painting and how can the students tell?
- Share with students that Childhood Idyll was created by William-Adolphe Bouguereau of France in 1900. Have students locate France on a world map. Share some quick facts about France (e.g., geography, climate, languages, natural resources, government, history) by distributing or displaying information from appropriate websites such as the World Factbook for France
- Ask the class: What does “ideal” mean? What parts of this painting look absolutely perfect? Do you think this is realistic or ideal? Direct students attention to the girls’ feet, bows, and flute.
- Have the students take another look at Childhood Idyll and discuss what the artist may have thought was ideal about the way he portrayed the girls in this painting. How is the artist’s conception of ideal childhood similar to and different from the students’ conception of ideal childhood? Talk with the class about how this painting represents an adult’s conception of an ideal childhood, which may or may not agree with students’ perspectives.
- Provide each student with two pieces of drawing paper and invite them to create two different drawings. One drawing should feature a scene of children during an ideal day from a student/child perspective, and the other should feature a scene of children during an ideal day from an adult perspective. To help students understand what an adult’s perspective might be like, encourage the students to think about what their parents would like to see them doing on an ideal day (e.g., washing the dishes, babysitting younger siblings). If time is a concern, you might want to have half the class create drawings from a child’s perspective and have the other half create drawings from an adult’s perspective.
- When the students have finished, display all the drawings from a student/child perspective in one part of the classroom and all the drawings from an adult perspective in a different part of the classroom.
- Have the students take a close look at each group of drawings. What general themes can they see in the drawings featuring a student/child perspective? What general themes can they see in the drawings featuring an adult perspective? How do these two sets of drawings compare and contrast with Childhood Idyll?
- Conclude the session with a discussion about how what seems to be ideal can vary between individuals, time periods, and cultures. Then encourage the students to give each other and themselves a round of applause for a job well done!
- Two pieces of drawing paper and art supplies (colored pencils, markers, etc.) for each student
- Map of the world, visible to all students in the classroom
- Internet access to look up information about France from sites like the World Factbook for France
- About the Art section on Childhood Idyll
- One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Social Studies
- Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
- Analyze historical sources using tools of a historian
- Become familiar with World geography
- Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Reading for All Purposes
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.