Artful and analytic

10th March 1995 at 00:00
Georges Seurat A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Claude Monet Waterlilies Claude Gellee Seaport at Sunset, Leonardo da Vinci The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, Nicolas Poussin The Four Seasons Jan Vermeer - The Texture, of Light, Age group: 14-18 VHS videos, 30 mins each approx. Pounds 14.99 each (inc VAT) Le Channel Ltd, 18 Hertford Street, London W1Y 7DB A new video series is a revelation.

This is an interesting set of videos which, because of its sharp focus on one painting at a time or a set of work, gives in-depth analysis rather than the more common biography, and uses computer technology ("videographics") to make some fascinating and telling points.

Take Georges Seurat's "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" a huge painting, which took nearly two years to complete, this required numerous preparatory drawings and small studies, quite apart from the painstakingly time-consuming "pointillist" technique. To give students an understanding of the sheer volume of this work and its relevance is quite difficult, but by cleverly superimposing drawings over the final painting, the video is able to show just how important and accurate Seurat's studies are.

Claude Monet's later paintings, by contrast, appear to be almost instantaneous, but they were worked upon day after day, partly because of changing lighting conditions, also because colours needed to dry before applying fresh pigment, thus avoiding a muddying of the colours. "Waterlilies" shows the garden Monet created at Giverny, where 54 canvasses of waterlilies were painted. Monet's idea for series paintings probably sprung from the Japanese artist Hokusai who made 100 different prints of Mount Fuji; Monet owned some of his prints. Monet would also make numerous pictures of haystacks in different lights, like the English photographer Fox Talbot. Technical details of Monet's work are shown, such as letting oil from the paint dry on blotting paper, then thinning the paint with turpentine to enable brighter colours to be achieved.

Claude is an equally interesting choice for the series. There is so much going on in his "Seaport at Sunset" and a terrific amount of detail to take in. By initially describing what is happening in the image, the narrator helps pupils to understand how to approach such work.

Leonardo made his name as a portraitist and people are an integral part of all his religious paintings. The enigmatic smile of the "Mona Lisa" is reflected in various works, including "The Virgin Child with Saint Anne". While talking about this painting, the video reveals much about Leonardo's life, work and methods, but the focus is again very much on the single work or group of works. Analysis of the painting's structure and reference to its allegorical content enhance our understanding.

"The Four Seasons" by Poussin is a set of biblical scenes full of symbolism. To help construct his compositions Poussin used small dressed, wax figures, and models placed on a kind of stage and arranged. The lighting was then adjusted for best dramatic effect and the result sketched. Each of these paintings is de-constructed by the computer to explain the compositional elements. The series is almost like a visual symphony; a music form yet to be invented.

The variety of lighting effects in Vermeer's paintings were due to an elaborate shutter system in the house he lived in. Most famous for his interiors, Vermeer used only five rooms, inspired by those in his home. His work is very much about meticulous attention to light and reflection. "The Astronomer" and "The Geographer", both of which share very similar compositions in the same room, are examined in detail, and it is suggested that Vermeer may have used the camera obscura to help compose his images accurately.

A 30-minute video about one painting sounds tedious. Far from it; all the programmes in this series are well presented and really hold attention.

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