March 03, 2008

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

The Tate Britain. Not the Tate Modern. Now there's some real art for you.

When I was but a wee lass (and I couldn't have been more than 4), I made my parents take me to the Huntington Gallery to see my favorite paintings -- Pinkie and Blue Boy. Why did I have such particular favorites when I was so small? It didn't hurt that my parents took me more than once to see them in person, nor that the girl had a pink dress on, but the main reason was probably a very old and very special art book that was kept on a high shelf and that I could only look at with supervision. I'd seen the pictures in there and then in real life. What a treat!

Those aren't my favorite paintings any more, though they still rank on up there in my top list. My favorite painting, and it has been for years, is Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Whenever, I'd see a picture of it in a book, it would be noted that it hung in the Tate. Therefore, I've been wanting to go to the Tate to see it at least since high school.

When we rounded a corner and walked into the room though, I didn't even see it at first. Of course, there were about five other paintings in the room that I also wanted to see, like The Lady of Shallot, but suddenly as I moved down the room there were the two little girls, standing amongst the flowers and lighting their lanterns. I'm not sure if the kids understood exactly why I was suddenly giddy and bouncing up and down, but seeing the painting in person pleased me greatly.

Was it their favorite? No. The two little ones slept through the museum. The five year old was particularly taken by Lady Macbeth (which might be a bit more telling than I want to know) and the eight year old was drawn to a painting called "Heads of Six of Hogarth's Servants."

What do I do in art museums to make them interesting? Probably not enough, but there are certain things we look at in different paintings. Types of dress -- for instance looking at the difference between the empire waisted dress of Sarah Siddons and the real waistline on a dress worn by someone else. We look for the stories (like Macbeth or the Lady of Shallot or King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid) or we look for historical clues -- like can you tell who might have been ruling England when all these people with big ruffs and pearls in their hair were painted? The Tate galleries (both Britain and Modern) are laid out by theme and not by artist particularly, which makes finding connections between paintings easier. Another fun thing to do is to pick a wall and have each person choose their favorite painting and tell one reason why. Acceptable reasons could be anything from liking the pretty dresses to thinking the layout is interesting or the subject has an unusual expression.

Art museums aren't the liveliest places to take the kids and I probably enjoy them more than anyone else, but as long as I don't do a week straight of them, none of the kids mind going to see a few paintings and sometimes it makes me dance with joy to see something I've loved forever.


I love that painting, and that room at the Tate, too. It was a thrill to see a lot of that stuff.

Even if your kids sometimes don't get it now, they will so appreciate the great introduction to art you are giving them.


Posted by: Jennifer at March 5, 2008 05:48 PM