#PortraitParty Part 2: Setting Up the Homeschool Art Gallery

boys making a poster

This week the boys and I made a general mess, moving furniture about to convert our dining room into an avant-garde, everyone-wants-to-be-there ‘PP GALLERY’. As you know from my last blog post, this is the beginning of my homeschool art project with the kids. We’re going to PARTY with hip artists & snazzy characters from history (fictional and otherwise) whose portraits we’re sticking on the walls. The installation of this #PortraitParty will be laid out over several weeks, and involves a covert operation with which to surprise Daddy (Hernan), our guest of honor. Our secrets will be unveiled at the opening, or vernissage of the PP GALLERY (PP stands for Portrait Party, and of course has the unreasonably sophisticated reference to our refined toilet humor).

Boy pushing a sofa, preparing the space for a homeschool art gallery

Checked off in the Gallery Installation is making the signage. Storsh may even make a PP Gallery brochure (again stemming on a homeschool assignment to get Storsh to try to write with an intentional voice, convincing an audience to join us – thank you, Miss Redding!). While we’ve been coloring in bubble letters, to help Balthazar with his alphabet we’ve been naming cities and countries that start with the letter that he’s working on.

Boy coloring in the letter A, part of the signage for the "PP Gallery", for his homeschool art activity

Who’s invited to the #PortraitParty?

In lockdown, our guests will be the portraits we post on the wall. I’ve had a ball discussing the invitation list on the phone with my mother. We’ve amassed about 25 portraits from art history, which the kids and I are now thinning out. I chose some for their place in history, others for art historical significance, still others because they might inspire a good story one from the boys (Frans Hals people can look both derelict and impish). Here are a few we’re still considering:

Portrait of French King Francois the First
Jean Clouet, Francois Ier (1530), Louvre. Storsh has moved on from Clovis and Louis IX to Francois Ier, who I hope his school will spend a good amount of time on. Along with childhood friend Anne de Montmorency, Francois Ier is responsible for the seminal Louvre collection of Renaissance art (having brought over Leonardo to France, thus qualifying him to appear in our All Things Gaul treasure hunt au Louvre). Clouet & wife were buried in the largest graveyard in Medieval and Renaissance Paris, Ste Innocente (now where Les Halles is in Paris), which we wrote a trilogy of posts on for our first Halloween Skull Scouting treasure hunt

Male guests of honor

From Bronzino’s Cosimo de Medici, (1575) because Balthazar is going through a medieval knight phase and he’s clad in armor and Cranach’s Martin Luther (1529) for Storsh who was asking about the difference between MLK, Jr and Martin Luther, Caravaggio’s Lute Player (1596), because the boys warmed to this the last we were at the Met in NY and it’s always useful to get Storsh to show Balthazar where the source of light is coming from)

Bronzino portrait of Cosimo de Medici in armor
Bronzino’s portrait of Cosimo de Medici (1575), Uffizi, Florence. We were just in Florence, where our museum treasure hunt business was planning on expanding. Coronavirus aside, a great plus to that is the boys became fascinated with the Medici Family, especially Cosimo.

Female guests of honor

From John Singer Sargent’s Madame X (1883) to check off American expats in Europe, to David’s Madame Recamier (1800) as Storsh enjoys anything related to Napoleon and when we’re at the Louvre he only looks at the ginormous coronation painting, so this might get him to turn around, Frieda Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) to provide them with the idea of a background being as interesting as the subject.

Frieda Kahlo self-portrait with monkey, hummingbird and cat
Frieda Kahlo Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas. Did you know this Mexican painter painted more than 55 self-portraits?


I’ve also tried to include diverse periods in our homeschool art project. From Cubism, a break into modern art with spatial pioneering lines and angles (Picasso’s playful Marie-Thérèse Walter) to Fauvism with its divine colors (Matisse’s portrait of his wife, the Green Line).  All week the boys have been tuning into these portraits, getting comfortable with them, making up stories about them. And of course, considering which they like the best and why. They’re collected on my computer screen and with each visit to that PP Gallery file I feed them one or two facts about either the subject or the painter.

Unfinished self-portrait by Robert Delaunay
Self-portrait by Robert Delaunay (1905-6), Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris. The boys are drawn to modern art in a way that I’m lacking (when we lived in Paris Storsh’s favorite place was the Orsay). Delaunay, the co-founder of Orphism, focused on color and abstract works that Storsh loves at the Pompidou

Installing the PP Gallery

The gallery installation of the PP Gallery is 3-fold. The first stage is making the space and signage (done!). The next is posting portraits on the wall (many are printed, the boys need to eliminate more from the lot). We’ll live with these portraits up for a while so we can mull about with them, tell some stories about them, and memorise the bare facts. Then the last part of the installation is the fun part for me: caption posting.

Two children hold a home-made sign saying "PP Gallery", part of their homeschool art project
Storsh and Balthazar proudly displaying the sign for the PP Gallery, our homeschool art project

All works of art need captions, with at least the bare minimum: artist name, country, dates, period, etc. The kids will have to learn these for each portrait we post to the wall. This is the first part of this homeschool art history game: I’ll point to a painting and they’ll have to rattle off as many elements to the portrait as they can, earning a marshmallow per basic fact. Storsh, because he’s older, will potentially earn more when he starts pointing out bits of the painting that compare with others, or reflect period differences. They’ll be rewarded with a marshmallow for every basic fact they remember correctly (name, date, place, period, contemporary, etc).

Boy pointing to computer screen, selecting portraits to include in his homeschool art activity.
We’ve spent a lot of time rejecting and including and adding new portraits. As Storsh said, when they get printed, that means we mean business!

Our gallery captions will have two additional points:

1) Either a key phrase specific to the painting/period or to the subject/artist. So, a Seurat painting might have ‘pointillism’ or the Mona Lisa might have ‘sfumato’. Later we may add in contemporaries to movements, so Seurat’s might have Paul Signac, the Leonardo might get other Verrocchio students such as Perugino, so that they start to group artists to periods.

2) I’ll leave an extra line below the typed caption, which the kids can fill in with a key word. This will start off a tale that will inevitably include some sophisticated concept of farting or picking ones’ nose. Storsh has had a year-long obsession with the American Revolution, gobbling up any book or watching any & all PBS Liberty’s Kids episodes all because my mother read him Ben & Me about Benjamin Franklin, who had a proclivity to pinching ladies’ bottoms & who wrote an essay called ‘Fart Proudly‘, aka ‘A Letter to the Royal Academy about Farting‘. HOW I’m going to get the boys interested in history, art history, literature once their humour has become more urbane than loo laughs is beyond me. But at the ages of 9 and 4, I can rely on farting and the lot to pique their interest in nearly anything.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503-1506), Louvre Museum, Paris. The kids will get a special series of marshmallows if they shout out ‘sfumato’ and what it means or list to me some stories behind the most famous woman in France.

We’ll showcase our PP GALLERY in the following post and see how it goes. After that’s up, the next phase in our homeschool art history extravaganza will be for us draw the portraits and get to writing about them. Then we’ll be ready to party!

Want to get involved?

This is the second post in the #PortraitParty series that I’ll be running over the next month or two. To receive a printable page of art history fun from one of our London or Paris Kid Packs (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.

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