13 Jul 2010

Putting together the pieces

Picture Study the Charlotte Mason way is one of the Inspirational subjects. It is a peaceful interlude in our busy day, and it has always been one of the favourite parts of our week.

Our study is simple, and lasts only five or so minutes each Thursday. We study one artist each twelve week term. Sometimes it is the artist suggested on the Ambleside Online rotation; at other times we choose an artist better suited to our current study. Here I explain our choice of Japanese printmaker, Andō Hiroshige 安藤広重 as this term's study, and it has been one of our most enjoyable ever owing mainly, I feel, to our visit to the marvellous Ukiyo-e Ōta Memorial Museum of Art during our recent visit to Toyko, where we were able to view the exhibition The World of One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Utagawa Hiroshitge and see first hand the museum's extensive holdings of the works of this renowned printmaker. Viewing the printing process was also an eyeopener, and it is always fun seeing bloopers - those prints that are released in error with the wrong colour in the wrong position...

But I digress. I am good at that.

Once we have selected our artist, we look in depth at six of his works, introducing a new picture each week. One week we will also look at a picture of the artist himself - ideally a self portrait but if not a depiction painted by another - and discuss a little about his life and things going on in history at that time. We concentrate on the interesting or unusual here, or on parts of the artist's life that are relevant to the paintings. We find his home on our map, and write his dates of birth and death in our Book of Centuries along with a small colour print of our artworks - Jemimah's choice. I always try to remain conscious of the fact that our subject is called 'picture study' and not 'artist study' for a reason. We are not studying the history of art either, but rather learning to appreciate the beauty contained in the artwork itself. We are studying the pictures.

Jemimah looks at the work for five minutes following which she narrates what she remembers to me. Sometimes her detail is impressive. At other times she struggles a little. Especially if she doesn't like the work so much. Some weeks she draws a picture narration of all or part of the picture. We write the title of the painting, the artist's name and the date of completion on the back of the print, and that is all, the first week.

The picture goes into Jemimah's Own Book of Masterpieces -right on front. She delights in this book - simply a collection of all the pictures she has looked at since she started school - some 60 or so already. They are all dear friends to us.

The next week we look in more detail at the same picture. What season does it depict? Does the artist have a favourite colour or technique? Has he signed it? Why do we think the artist painted it? Can we tell in what era it was painted, and how? Is there anything we would like to know more about? Do we like it and why? Jemimah narrates again, and we're done.

At the end of term we look at all six paintings together looking for themes. Did the artist always use the same medium, are are some watercolour and others oils or acrylics? Are all the paintings religious or fantasies or following some other uniting theme? Are the paintings realistic or not? Which is your favourite and why? Can we learn something about the artist by looking at his art? Are his works similar to those of other artists in her Masterpiece Book?

That's it for us. Unless there is an exhibition somewhere that we can see. It is always wonderful to see a piece of art in reality. (Can you remember how disappointed you were when you stood in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre the first time? How small she was!!)

There is one other 'unless' too. And that is really the purpose of this post. As we stood viewing Hiroshige's prints in Tokyo that day, hubby and I were both startled to see a print that we both knew very well.

It was the picture you see above. Kamata-no Umezono. 蒲田の梅園 Plum garden at Kamata. Or maybe apricots. One or the other, anyhow. Only our copy looked like this.

Or sometimes like this.

Yes, we had a Hiroshige jigsaw at home in the Box Room. We looked at each other with amusement. How did we not realise!!

Back home in Australia we lost no time in rectifying our oversight. An extra painting was added to our rotation (not even from the same series as the others, but does it matter?) and Jemimah was set the task of completing the jigsaw. For school. She was delighted.

Jigsaws are a fantasmagorical way of studying a painting in depth. Never will you spend so much time looking at the detail of a piece of art. We first experienced this with a Dali painting. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening 1944 to be precise. We worked on it during an especially cold July weekend in 2008 when the whole extended family were in Daylesford to celebrate my dear Dad's 80th birthday. Jemimah has loved Dali since that time.

Her experience with the Hiroshige print has been just as successful. Her narration this morning included a discussion of the use of a palanquin by travellers on the highways to Edo. She discussed the fabric on the cushion to make it more comfortable. She talked about Hiroshige's use of cobalt blue as an accent colour. She told me how this artist often cuts things in half - we only see half the palanquin for example even though that is in the foreground of the work. She talked about perspective and the size of the trees. She noticed all the pilgrims strolling beneath the trees. She spoke enthusiastically and with delight. I too was delighted. We'd been learning and having fun to boot. It was great.

Our jigsaw was a gorgeous wooden (yes Lisa - not only the Queen does wooden puzzles) Liberty puzzle. We love the puzzles from this company, as well as those from Wentworth in the UK.

This spring Liberty are featuring puzzles of stolen paintings and other related works as part of what they're calling the Stolen Art Project. Their new Spring 2010 puzzle offerings feature paintings that have at one time been stolen, and a few that narrowly escaped. Some remain missing to this day. In each case a brief history relating to the art theft is included alongside the image. Have a look at the pieces here. One day when Jemimah is older we will do a unit of Art History on Stolen Art. I wonder whether my beloved will take that as reason enough for me to purchase the entire collection of these works in jigsaw form right now.


Anyone else like jigsaws? Anybody else like these wonderful wooden ones with their whimsy pieces? They're much harder than your bog standard cardboard ones, aren't they? What is the best number of pieces in a jigsaw puzzle in your opinion?

I read on the 'net somewhere yesterday that jigsaw puzzles are unique in the way they exercise both the left brain and right brain simultaneously. Apparently working on a jigsaw puzzle actually creates “connections” between our left and right brain. The analytical left brain sees all of the individual pieces and tries to fit them together based on logic; the right creative side sees the “big picture”. They say that jigsaw puzzles require us to use both sides of our brain which results in a balanced mind and an increased ability to learn. Makes sense, sorta.

Regardless of the health and learning benefits, jigsaws calm me down. There is something peaceful and relaxing about piecing one together.

I wish I were walking through a plum garden in Kamata right now, but doing a jigsaw puzzle is pretty fun too. Especially if it is as beautiful as this one of Hiroshige's.


  1. Thank you so much for the details of how you do your picture study!

    I was wondering where you find prints to use in your studies? I can find prints off of the internet or in one of my art books, but do you know of someplace that offers nice-quality prints of fine art?

  2. Good post! Would love to see Jemimahs masterpiece book! just the front of it anyway....please!!! xxxx

  3. I love the idea of puzzles for Art! I have read about the right brain/ left brain positives of puzzles in places re learning disabilities. It is osmething my boys can't do, other than very siple ones. Might concernatrate of a bigger one and see how we go!Fancy having that very print at home! It is lovely.

  4. Love this post, would love to get my hands on some of those paintings and jigsaws they are fabulous! Carter and I like this style of artwork but I have never sourced any for our home or jigsaw collection, any ideas? Take care lovely Jeanne hope your are all well. Blessings, Renelle

  5. I love jigsaws and quite good at doing them - I always do one during the summer holidays. The one you are featuring are beautiful.

    As most people don't see the detail in art, turning them into jigsaws is an excellent idea.

  6. I adore jigsaws, I have one which was my grandmothers an old wooden one, so beautiful.

    The picture a your jigsaw is amazing, my daughter actual pulled out some to do today!

  7. I will have to walk away from the screen as you've given me so much to consider.

    Jemimah's Own Book of Masterpieces - Is it something like a large portfolio? I really like this idea.

    Art theft, ooh, that is such an interesting subject!! Have you read "What's Bred in the Bone" by Robertson Davies? Now I digress.

    Those puzzles! Definitely going to work some of those into the old homeschool budget. I have a feeling your beloved can't say no to a school purchase such as that.

    You are brilliant.

  8. Awesome jigsaw. Didn't know they could come like that.

  9. Thank you for showing us how you do picture study at home. I'm going to try it here when we start up again in September. I will definitely be starting our own "Masterpiece Book".

  10. Loved your post...puzzles and stolen art got me thinking.

    Thanks so much for sharing your artist study.


  11. I will be 'borrowing' many of your ideas for our girls! I didn't think of the jigsaw idea either so I will have to look around for that as we love to do those together. I found you through the carnival! Thanks for sharing!

  12. I need to get back to our picture and artist studies- thanks for the inspiration!

    And that jigsaw puzzle is amazing!! My mother and sisters and I put together a large jigsaw puzzle every year at the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas, whichever one has the most of us home at the same time :-)

  13. I can't agree more with you about wooden jigsaws and their value in studying art - I think this is why I love jigsaws too.

    I would like to link this page to a group I've recently set up on flickr to collect images of wooden jigsaws, called 'Traditional Wooden Jigsaws'.


    Please stop by and have a look.

    Most of my wooden jigsaws are Wentworths, because I live in the UK. I discovered Liberty puzzles through a flickr contact in Taiwan and Vintage puzzles through a flickr contact in Switzerland. We would love to see photos of more of your puzzles,and you would be very welcome in the group if you ever joined flickr with a free or pro-account.
    Best Wishes, Jackie. (aka Dajavous, on flickr)


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