#PortraitParty Part 1: Introducing Daisy’s Homeschool Activity

two boys on a museum bench

After a few weeks of self-isolation, I realized my edge on getting the kids into art history wasn’t cutting it with wonderful museum virtual tours. Even the naughtiness of Beyoncé & JayZ’s Louvre music video, ApeSh**t, had lost its luster for Storsh (aged 9) and Balthazar (aged 4). Moreover, art at home with Balthazar (making a police bus out of a cherry tomato carton (clad with criminals), or becoming a pressed flower card-making factory for Easter) wasn’t replacing the in-person drip of art history games that the boys are used to.

Cubist surrealist portrait of a woman by Picasso
Pablo Picasso, The Red Armchair (1931), Art Institute of Chicago. Cubism is a terrible name, there aren’t any cubes & it’s not 3D. Picasso asked of portraiture, ‘Are we to paint what’s on the Face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind the face?‘ Cubism breaks with realism, instead depicting forms over time from multiple perspectives. For instance, here, the lady is looking directly at us at one point, then in profile at another. A pioneer of many movements, Picasso was on the cusp of abstraction.

As background, I have a museum treasure hunt company (currently just this blog). We live 15 minutes from the British Museum, Storsh’s school is 15 minutes on the other side of the BM. Before moving to London from Paris we lived 15 minutes by foot from the Louvre, where we went most days after school. Most of my job of educating the boys is done for me by grace of being in the actual museums. In self-isolation, the challenge of replacing a museum experience and making the art come alive was getting the best of me. And with Easter break upon us, now the onus of creating homeschool activities was all the weightier.

Van Eyck's framed portrait of a Man in Red Turban
Jan van Eyck, Man in a Turban (1433), National Gallery (London). With this we talked about van Eyck’s frame where he wrote in Classical Greek ‘As I can‘ at the top of the frame. Art Historians have wondered if he was making a play on ‘As Eyck Can’ using this self portrait as a showpiece for how realistically he could paint. Hardly humble!

We needed something to look forward to, something to plan. Something light and silly involving art an art history. A big project that will tie together our various remote learning activities. We might even need a secret to have. Who doesn’t like covert operations? Who doesn’t like big plans that are one big secret?

famous painting of Edvard Munch's The Scream
Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893), National Gallery of Art, Oslo, Norway. The boys loved the Edvard Munch show at the British Museum last year, so this is an obvious choice. That The Scream has been the target of dramatic thefts and that one version went for $120,000,000 at auction in 2012 also left an impression on them.

Storsh’s homeschool art class is something he’s really enjoying: self-portraits (merci, Monsieur Sibelly!). This set off my lightbulb: we’ll have a Portrait Party! Making a gallery (just a wall of the house), we’ll set a date for the big opening, where Daddy (Hernan) will be the guest of honor, to whom the portraits will be presented. Till then, however, it’s a top-secret mission! With a dearth of house guests, setting a date and having a person to prepare the gallery of people (portraits) for will hopefully help keep the kids focused. Who doesn’t want their homeschool activity to be a party?

portrait of four girls by John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), MFA Boston, Mass. That Sargent was born to expat parents & lived between Rome, Paris & London hits home for Storsh. For this one I’ll ask for them to figure out the source of light (where’s that shadow?). I might also place this next to a Velasquez to see what connections they draw.

The premise is simple & will be something we dip into over the weeks to come: we’ll hang a dozen portraits, learn about those portraits/painters and create characters per portrait, pulling on the children’s story-telling & writing abilities. Hernan will of course see our gallery, but he won’t know which person we’ve chosen. It can be an on-going conversation till the Portrait Party happens, and with each conversation I can surreptitiously sneak in a bit more about the painters, subjects or periods. For this reason, we’ll eat our meals near the gallery, so to prompt collective time in looking at them.

Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind the face?‘ Pablo Picasso

The kids and I will choose one portrait each, copy it (paints or pastels for Storsh, crayons for Balthazar) and make a cardboard mask (more like a picket, just because we have the materials for this from when Trump was last in town) pasting our version of the portrait (on A4 paper) to a piece of cardboard. At the opening, the actual #PortraitParty, we’ll hold our paintings in front of our faces, but on the reverse side of our drawings we’ll paste our fact sheets about the real portrait, as well as the storyline that the kids have made up about the subject. They will have captioned their story line in the gallery’s ID tag (in the case of Balthazar, dictated to me to write). At the actual Portrait Party, we’ll all dress up as closely to the person we’ve chosen and when we hold our drawing in front of our faces, Daddy will look at our wall of portraits and guess whose portrait we are. The Covert Operation (or homeschool activity) will be unveiled! The one line captions the kids will have written on the wall (next to the paintings) may just help — but more on that later!

That’s the plan at least! First we need to make a gallery and to populate it with portraits from art history. Storsh and Balthazar have already named it: The PP Gallery!

Refined toilet humor aside, we’ll see how it unfolds… Please follow our blog or make suggestions for our #PortraitParty as we post our progress.

two boys sitting on a museum bench
Storsh & Balthazar, March 2020 at the Uffizi (Florence, Italy). We were laying the groundwork to an Italian expansion before Covid-19

This is the intro to a #PortraitParty series that I’ll be running over the next month or two. In an attempt to hook you, we’re sending a free PDF home art activity from one of our London or Paris Museum Kid Packs. To receive a page of art history fun (for example a Botticelli Spot-the-Difference or da Vinci detective decoding exercise), please:
sign up to our blog
– follow us on Social Media (@THAT_Muse_)
hashtag #PortraitParty

Later in the series we’ll take our PP Gallery project to you, profiling anyone who posts their children’s a favorite portrait (ideally describing what your kids like about the piece!) and tagging #PortraitParty on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

4 Comments on “#PortraitParty Part 1: Introducing Daisy’s Homeschool Activity

  1. Thanks for this lovely idea Daisy! Not sure I’ll be able to convince my stroppy teens to write a review of your gallery unveiling but I for sure will be following along your project. Kisses to you and your buddying gallerists cum story-tellers!

  2. Lovely C &T don’t have to write a review, but would be welcomed additions to our vernissage, one day when we have one in person! In the meantime kisses from our curators and storytellers! xxx

  3. This is absolutely brilliant Daisy! We can’t wait to know more about it and you can be sure Alba and Felix will love to send there impressions!

    • CHARLOTTE! I responded from my phone but it clearly didn’t stick! How happy you make me in this! Please also send a photo of both Alba and Felix so I can show them to Balthazar and Storsh as well as which portraits they like. Sending big kisses, D

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