12 Feb 2009

Raising an art critic...

Shearing the rams 1888-90 Tom Roberts

We don't do school on days when Jemimah's Daddy has a day off work. It happens so rarely that we always like to take advantage of the occasion to have some quality family time together.

Today was one such day. We travelled down to Bendigo and did a few chores before having lunch at the excellent Gallery Cafe. We were only able to waddle out again, full of their delicious caramelised onion and leek tart, topped with hot smoked Tasmanian salmon, wasabi mayonnaise, & baby herb salad, followed by a lemon tart to die for, and the ubiquitous espresso to end. We made our way slowly into the Bendigo Art Gallery. It was only next door - and it was the closest way back to the car!

Jemimah: Let's see if we can find all the Tom Roberts paintings!

Daddy: Why?

Jemimah: Because he's my favourite all time painter! I love his pictures!!

Daddy: But you're not old enough!

I felt smugly pleased that she had impressed her father - but more pleased that she would want to spend time looking at art on an all too rare day off. Bendigo Art Gallery has an impressive collection of 19th Century Australian Art for a Regional Art Gallery, including a number of works by Roberts along with his Heidelburg School contemporaries, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin. They're all great artists and I love them all but Jemimah has always had a soft spot for Tom Roberts in particular.

I began to wonder about her appreciation of this artist. She has liked him for a long time. Certainly she has been exposed to more of his art than many: Roberts was the Australian artist she had studied last year in AO1, and we went to Melbourne to see his paintings back in September of last year. You can read about that here. We also travelled to Melbourne to see the Australian Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria back in 12007. She saw plenty of Robert's work there, too. The thing is, though, Roberts was her favourite artist before the exhibition as well!

No, I think Jemimah's appreciation of the art of Tom Roberts dates back to about her third birthday when we gave her a copy of Roy and Matilda: The Gallery Mice by Susan Venn as a present.

I don't know what Charlotte Mason would have thought about art appreciation books like this one with one or two pictures by each of a number of artists. I suspect that she may have put it in the same category as school readers, which have one or two selections by each author - and we know what she thought of those!! I suspect she would have felt that we were getting in the way of the picture talking to the child directly, and that, she would have thought, was a bad thing. On the other hand, she says this:

We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education p309

While she may not necessarily approve of the book, she certainly would have approved of Jemimah's love of art, telling an almost identical story in her sixth volume: Towards A Philosophy Of Education:
We hear of a small boy with his parents in the National Gallery; the boy, who had wandered off on his own account, came running back with the news, - "Oh, Mummy, there's one of our Constables on that wall." In this way children become acquainted with a hundred, or hundreds, of great artists during their school-life and it is an intimacy which never forsakes them. A group of children are going up to London for a treat. "Where would you like to go?" "Oh, Mummy, to the National Gallery to see the Rembrandt's." Young people go to tea in a room strange to them and are delighted to recognise two or three reproductions of De Hooch's pictures. In the course of school-life children get an Open Sesame to many art galleries, and to many a cultivated home; and life itself is illustrated for them at many points.

Charlotte Mason Towards A Philosophy Of Education p 215

So, with those caveats, I'm going to recommend this book, along with its companion volumes, for teaching your AO0 child about our very own Australian Art.

The series focuses on Australian galleries.

Roy and Matlda: The Gallery Mice introduces Roy the Mouse, who lives in the Australian collection of the Victorian National Gallery. (My copy still has the collection housed in the St Kilda Road Gallery; of course they're now located in the fantastic Ian Potter Gallery at Federation Square.)

Roy doesn't look at the paintings during the day - there are too many people about then; but during the night, Roy comes out and looks at all of his favourite pictures...because it is at night that a wonderful thing happens:

Roy can actually hop through the frame and into the world of the painting!

Roy first discovers this by falling onto the sand while sitting near the seascape, Slumbering Sea, Mentone by Tom Roberts. Later he visits his Shearing of the Rams pictured above as well. Roy has a lovely time in the Gallery, but one thing is wrong - Roy is lonely. Then one night, Roy goes for a walk in the fields of a landscape called Moonrise, by David Davies. He meets, and falls in love with a field mouse called Matilda. Roy and Matilda marry and create a home in the walls of the gallery...

The book has wonderful reproductions of the pieces of art - certainly they're good enough quality for a CM stype picture study. The story is fun for pre-schoolers as well as younger school-aged kids. It is not an incredibly well written book - the story is certainly woven around the paintings, but that, afterall, is why I'm recommending the book - to learn about the art - not as fine literature. It is certainly worth reading prior to a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria's Australian Collection!

Thanks to the success of this first book, Susan Venn has gone onto publish books with some of Roy and Matilda’s family for the NSW and Queensland museums. In Roy and Matilda: The Golden Locket, the couple have three children and are off to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Further adventures unfold in the paintings of Australian artists Rupert Bunny, Nicholas Chevalier, Emmanuel Phillips Fox, Elioth Gruner, George Lambert, Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton.

In the third book, Roy and Matilda: The Mysterious Music, they visit the Queensland Art Gallery where they see art by Julian Ashton, Vida Lahey, Frederick McCubbin, Emanuel Phillips Fox, R. Godfrey Rivers and Walter Withers.

With charm and skill, Susan Venn brings to life 10 Australian paintings for young people. They'll never forget these ten. Charlotte Mason would certainly have approved of that.


  1. You had me at carmelised. :D

    This is exactly what I love about a CM education.

  2. Great Post!
    1. Imagine how I felt sucking down generic Ramen noodels while ready about your super yummy lunch! lol
    2. The painting of the sherers is amazing!
    3. Glad you daughter knows what's worth the time so young in life! A good art gallery is always on that list!
    4. I'm reminded of something I read about the late Princess Margaret in which she [or Lord Snowdon] mentioned that she took her kids to see only one or two paintings at a time--not the whole gallery like Queen Mary had dragged her to! She wanted them to absorb the painting and be left wanting more--to ask for "just one more, please." Considering both her children are artists I'd say she did it right!


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