King Edward's School BATH

Junior School artists enter the 'take one picture' initiative organised by the National Gallery

Junior School artists enter the 'take one picture' initiative organised by the National Gallery

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16 November 2018

A series of batiks, relief prints, self-portraits, ceramic birds and acrylic paintings have been created by artists at King Edward’s Junior School, inspired by the 18th century painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, by Joseph Wright of Derby, and in response to the National Gallery’s Take One Picture initiative. 

Take One Picture is the National Gallery’s flagship scheme for primary schools.  Each year the Gallery focuses on one painting from its collection to inspire cross-curricular work in classrooms. Hoping to see their artwork displayed in the Gallery for the fourth time, KES artists from Years 4 and 5 set about responding to Wright’s famous painting.

At the start of the project all the children were introduced to Wright’s oil painting.  Some were interested in the fate of the bird (would it die?), whilst others were drawn to the dramatic night time nature of the scene.  Pupils were also interested to learn that Wright spent two years in Bath, where he lived just outside the Royal Crescent and made a living as a portrait painter.  Exploring other works by the artist, pupils also loved Wright’s series of paintings showing Vesuvius erupting.

When it came deciding how they would respond to the painting, everyone was involved in the decision-making process, and voted on what they wanted to do.  Cross-curriculum links (a criteria of the competition) were made possible, particularly with Science, where birds are studied as part of the curriculum, as well as light.  Children electing to make batiks also drew on their knowledge of Roman history.  Bath is also studied as a local history topic, so aligned itself with Wright’s two-year spell in the City.

And so to their artwork.  Some of Year 5 collaborated on large-scale batik using Indonesian techniques.  One batik shows Vesuvius erupting in 79 AD, the other is a contemporary underwater volcano.  “I liked making my picture feel explosive” said Alex, whilst Jack felt proud "of what we did as a team and as an individual.”


Another team of Year 5 artists focused on Wright’s time spent in Bath, electing to focus on his Brock Street address.  The class photographed every house on the north side of Brock Street then made relief prints of each building using ‘reduction printing’.  Each print was then assembled to create a long townscape.

A third set of Year 5 artists concentrated on self-portraits, mirroring Wright’s career as a portrait artist.  Enjoying the night-time nature of Wright’s painting, the class set up their own lighting in a darkened room and took photographs of themselves in black and white, subsequently producing tonal self-portraits using 4B pencil.  “It was a challenge to get the right amount of light and how to draw a mouth,” commented Luke.

The remaining three groups of artists, from Year 4, concentrated their efforts on the bird featured in the original painting.  Pupils were fascinated with the flying cockatiel and were keen to make their own flying birds out of clay.  Each model was pierced underneath so it could be supported on a stick and displayed 'flying.’  Another group explored birds further through printing.  The children made drawings which were then placed on inked acetate sheets and drawn through to creae monoprints.  Keeping it scientific, pupils explored ‘cyanotypes’, where sunlight is used to expose photo sensitive paper.  They then worked together to create a large sheet with repeated bird, feather and egg motifs.  The final group discussed whether it was right to keep birds in captivity and painted birds depicted both inside and near cages.  These acrylic paintings were made using just three primary colours, plus white, with pupils learning to mix secondary colours and use complementaries.

Commenting on the Junior School’s ongoing involvement with the Take One Initiative, Head of Art, Mr Roberts-Wray said:  “We have participated in Take One Picture for a number of years, and have found it an excellent way of keeping the curriculum fresh and involving something challenging and new.”


About Take One Picture

Launched in 1995, Take One Picture is the National Gallery’s countrywide scheme for primary schools which aims to inspire a lifelong love of art and learning by promoting the role of visual arts within education

Each year the National Gallery encourages primary school teachers and children to focus on one painting from the collection and respond creatively to its themes and subject matter, historical context, or composition. The resulting artwork by children must link to subjects across the curriculum and involve the wider community. A shortlist of entries are then exhibited at the Gallery, showcasing the children’s responses to focus paintings.


About this year’s Take One Picture Focus Painting - Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768)

A travelling scientist is shown demonstrating the formation of a vacuum by withdrawing air from a flask containing a white cockatoo, though common birds like sparrows would normally have been used. Air pumps were developed in the 17th century and were relatively familiar by Wright's day. The artist's subject is not scientific invention, but a human drama in a night-time setting.

The bird will die if the demonstrator continues to deprive it of oxygen, and Wright leaves us in doubt as to whether or not the cockatoo will be reprieved. The painting reveals a wide range of individual reactions, from the frightened children, through the reflective philosopher, the excited interest of the youth on the left, to the indifferent young lovers concerned only with each other.

The figures are dramatically lit by a single candle, while in the window the moon appears. On the table in front of the candle is a glass containing a skull.


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