Students will gain an appreciation of Camille Pissarro’s painting Autumn Poplars and the innovative style of the Impressionists through sketching and painting a moment in time.
Intended Age GroupSecondary (grades 6-12)
Length of LessonTwo 45 minute lessons
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- analyze and discuss a painting for its composition and stylistic techniques;
- create a list of words that describe the moment in time in the painting;
- create a quick sketch that captures the essence of a moment in nature;
- use sketches and other preparatory exercises as inspiration for a finished work; and
- present their work to the class in a polished and professional manner.
1. Display the image of Pissarro’s Autumn Poplars. Allow students time to look and share observations. Have them look closely at color, shape, technique, shadows, attention to detail, etc.
2. Ask students what they know about the Impressionist movement. Join their discussion, using the About the Art section to share more information about the Impressionist movement and background information about Pissarro. It might be helpful to share the following information from About the Art:
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.
3. Have the students analyze the painting for Impressionist characteristics, such as brush strokes, textural quality, and color. Share information from the “Details” section of About the Art:
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. 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.
4. If possible, take the students outside with their sketch paper and drawing utensils. If going outside is not an option, provide copies of natural scenes or have students look out a window as Pissarro did when painting Autumn Poplars.
5. Have students work in groups of three to come up with a list of descriptive words about what they see around them. Have people share their lists.
6. Give students ten minutes to make sketches of the scene. Remind students that the sketches don’t have to be realistically perfect, but they should capture the impression of the scene, the essence of the moment. Have them pay close attention to light, shadow, atmospheric conditions, and movement.
1. Display the Pissarro image again and review what the class noticed about the painting the day before. Is there anything new that they hadn’t noticed the day before?
2. Revisit the list of descriptive words and sketches from the previous lesson. Now that students have had time to reflect on that moment, ask the students what they would add to or change about their sketches.
3. Distribute watercolors or oil pastels and have the students create a color painting or drawing inspired by their sketches. Encourage them to remember what it felt like outside and to use Impressionist techniques in their work, such as loose brushstrokes and unusual colors.
4. Invite students to present their drawings to the class, explaining their artistic choices.
- Sketch paper (or individual sketchbooks if you have them) and drawing utensils
- One large sheet of drawing paper
- Watercolors or oil pastels
- About the Art section on Autumn Poplars
- One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
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.
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.
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.
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.