Post-Impressionists Exhibit and Charlotte Mason

With eager anticipation, two of my children and I set out on the road to San Francisco last week to view the Post-Impressionist Exhibit at the De Young Museum. The day was gray and the Bay Bridge was enclosed in fog so there was no great view of “The City” but it didn’t dampen our spirits.

We were on our way to see some of Van Gogh’s famous paintings and that was enough to cheer us up.

That was ten days ago and I have purposefully left off writing about my experience because I have been really mulling over the experience I shared with my children that day. It deeply impressed on me the value of introducing art in our homeschooling. What a joy it was to have shared the journey with my own children!

Art is such a big part of our lives and we spend probably spend more than your average family talking about artists and composers. Stepping into a museum like the De Young for us is like attending the World Series or the Super Bowl for sports fans. We don’t often get to visit art museums and I know for myself that being in the presence of so much great art  makes me a little giddy and light-headed.

California Spring Albert Bierstadt
We were early for our exhibit reservations so while we waited we were able to visit the American Art gallery upstairs which was filled with many familiar artists and paintings. It was like visiting old friends as we stepped quietly from room to room. We saw one of my favorite paintings, California Spring by Albert Bierstadt. The colors in this painting in real life, up close are stunningly beautiful. It is like seeing the image in technicolor…..I wanted to pull up a park bench and just sit and look at this one for a long time or better yet, jump on a horse and ride off down into that valley to explore the riverbanks you see there in the distance. Amazing.

Modern American Sculpture
I must admit that not all of the artwork thrilled me but it did make for great discussion with Mr. A as he viewed the more modern pieces of American art. It reminded me of something I read recently about what defines great art. The person said that great art is art that you think about after you leave the gallery. It effects you in some way either positively or negatively. That definition explains why there is so much art that sort of leaves me scratching my head….it does make you think even if you don’t think it is beautiful. I think this concrete slab sculpture sort of fits that category….or maybe it is just a hunk of concrete….it is all perspective I guess.

De Young Cafe
We had time after the American Art gallery to grab a bite in the museum cafe. By this time the fog had burned off and the sun was out so we sat in the outdoor seating area to enjoy our sandwiches and salads. We chatted about our favorite paintings from the morning, what we hoped to see in the Post-Impressionists exhibit, and how great it was to have the opportunity to view so many paintings from the Musee d’Orsay here in San Francisco.

Finally the anticipation was over and we entered the first gallery of the Post-Impressionists exhibit. Since we were not allowed to take photos I have to work from memory but I will share some of the highlights and then a few of my rambling thoughts.

Starry Night Over the Rhone

I have a friend that visited this exhibit some time ago and he fell in love with this painting. I was eager to see it up close and see the brushstrokes and the amazing colors. Funny thing is that when I got up to it…standing where Van Gogh would have stood to paint it with an outstretched brush….it made me sad. I don’t mind that it made me sad but I was a little surprised that it did.

VanGogh_Bedroom_Arles wikipedia
Bedroom in Arles
As Robert Browning said,
“Keep in mind, we’re designed so that we only come to appreciate and love something we’ve passed by a hundred times, only after we see its beauty in a painting.”

I stood in front of this painting and said to myself, “I could paint that.” But after standing and studying it a bit, I realized that I couldn’t paint it…..the colors, the very simplicity of his space…it was beautiful. I wanted to throw open those shuttered windows and see the view. I wanted to sit in the chair and have a chat with Vincent the Painter. It was so alive.

My favorite painting of the whole exhibit is probably this one.
Entrance to the Port at Marseilles Paul Signac

The colors in this one are amazing! The water and reflections are a myriad of colors. The painting is also quite large and is impressive that way too. It shimmered with color and life. It is not pointillism but is divisionism– where the paint is applied in parallel splotches. The paints are not mixed on the canvas but the colors are side by side which when viewed up close is quite striking.

As the afternoon progressed, rounding coming after corner, I would see another artist friend from our studies. They were all there….Renoir, Gauguin, Seurat, Cezanne, and so many others. My children and I each spent time standing in front of some artwork we loved and some we hated. We experienced art and felt some sort of connection. While our bodies physically were in San Francisco, in the De Young Museum, in an art gallery, we were some how connected with each of the painters….time travelers. 

I realize now that I could share dozens of paintings from our day with you but it is not the same as seeing them for yourself.  I encourage you to make some opportunities for you family this year to view art up close. We are looking forward to this summer when there will be another exhibit to visit….Picasso!

De Young Museum and Golden Gate Park
It was a really long day but we stepped outdoors at the end and were revived by the peacefulness of Golden Gate Park. We sat on the bench watching people, listening to the water in the fountain, and again we chatted about our experiences. What did we like? What didn’t we like? What surprised us? It was after all just paint on canvas…how could we be so emotionally attached? We were inspired. I was inspired to keep on doing what I do with Harmony Fine Arts so that some other homeschooling mom can someday have the same sort of experience with her own children in their local art museum. It makes my efforts with Harmony Fine Arts seem valuable and worthwhile.

I was inspired by Charlotte Mason to offer exposure to great artists and their artwork many years ago. The simple process she outlines in Volume Six of her writings really works. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet….I urge you….don’t hesitate. If my Harmony Fine Arts plans can be of a help to you in getting started, please put a year plan on your schedule for next year.

De Young Museum 12 2010
That is one happy Harmony Art Mom who loves sharing this sort of experience with her sweet smiling daughter….now that she is twenty-five years old I am no longer the teacher but the fellow art enthusiast.

“The six reproductions are studied one at a time so that the students learn to not just see a picture, but to look carefully at it, absorbing every detail. After looking at the picture, it’s turned over and the children narrate, telling what they saw, perhaps, ‘a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road all by himself. No, wait, there’s a boy, too. He’s lying at the river, getting a drink. You can tell by the light that it’s morning, so the sheep must be going out to graze in the pasture,’ and so on. The children don’t miss any details–the discarded plow, the crooked birch tree, the beautifully formed clouds that look like it might rain. There’s enough to talk about to keep the children busy for half an hour, and afterwards, the picture will have formed such a memory that the children will recognize it wherever they see it, whether it’s a signed proof, an oil reproduction, or the original itself in a museum.”

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