A View of Fall from an Artist’s Eye

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will gain an understanding of the depiction of fall through an artist’s eyes while examining Pissarro’s painting Autumn Poplars. Using the painting as their inspiration they will create a poem depicting fall.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 45 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • identify artistic features that depict a season;
  • actively listen to a read-aloud book;
  • compare and contrast illustrations in a book with a painting;
  • write a poem about Pissaro’s artwork; and
  • present their poem to the class.

Lesson

  1. Read aloud Hello Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher. Discuss the changing seasons with the students. Raise topics such as how people change what they wear, what activities they’re involved in, and types of food they eat based on the season.
  2. Display the image of Pissarro’s Autumn Poplars. How does this painting compare to the illustrations in Hello Harvest Moon? What colors do the students notice in the book and the painting? Allow students time to look and share observations, raising questions such as: What season does Pissarro’s painting represent? How can you tell? How does this painting make you feel? Is this a realistic painting of what fall looks like? How so? How not? Encourage them to point out what they see. If they do not discover it on their own, point out the two grazing cows in the background.
  3. Using the About the Art section, discuss the Impressionist movement in the arts. Point out how these artists were interested in capturing the effect of light in a single moment instead of trying to show exactly what the scene looked like.
  4. Share with students a poem about fall (Robert Frost’s Gathering Leaves or October work well). Explain to students that they will now write a three-line poem about Pissaro’s painting. Each poem will follow a specific format.

  • Line I: Describe where it is happening (In the slender poplar trees)
  • Line II: Describe what is happening (The moonlight shimmers)
  • Line III: Describe when it occurs (On a crisp October night.)

Encourage the students to include lots of descriptive words and words that evoke images in their minds. For younger students, brainstorm words that describe the seasons as a class. Older students can write a second poem about fall or another season that they create from their own thoughts. Invite students to present their poems to the class.

Materials

  • One copy of Hello Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher (Clarion Books, 2003)
  • Paper and pencils
  • Copies of About the Art section on Autumn Poplars
  • One color copy of the painting for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • 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
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • 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.