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Activity 1: Art en plein air

Renoir often painted landscapes outdoors, or in plein air, in order to directly observe effects of light and air. Unlike their predecessors, painters of the Impressionist generation were able to paint outdoors with relative ease because of the invention of manufactured paint in metal tubes. Try it for yourself. Make the experience even more authentic by asking students to carry their own art materials like the Impressionists!

Materials: Materials for painting or drawing.

Activity Description: Take students somewhere outdoors where they can observe the world in natural light. As a group, discuss the way the light appears. What colors do they see? How bright is it? What things specifically do they see that suggest what time of day or time of year it is? Next have students paint or sketch what they see, focusing on the way light, shadow and wind affect what they are seeing.

Activity 2: Travel Journal

Renoir traveled to many places, both around his native country of France and abroad to cities in Italy and Algeria. During his travels Renoir often painted the famous tourist sites he visited. In some ways these landscapes are like a journal of his travels, recording the places he saw.

Activity Description: Write a travel journal entry based on one of Renoir’s landscapes. Have students look carefully at their selected landscape and imagine what it would be like to travel there. What is the weather like? What might they see, hear or smell? What would they do? Who would they meet? Alternately, ask students to make a postcard with a short message to a friend about their trip on one side and a picture on the other.

Activity 3: Picture Your World

The first photographic processes were developed in the 1820s and '30s. By 1888, Kodak began producing the first hand-held camera. Many of the Impressionist artists found inspiration from photography because of the way the medium could be used to capture impressions of the activity of everyday life. Though the Impressionists did not use photography directly as an art medium, the aesthetic characteristics of photography such as cropped imagery and the way the camera captures motion and unexpected points of view were very influential.

Suggested Images: Les Grands Boulevards, La Grenouillère, Garden in the rue Cortot, Montmartre

Materials: Camera, prints or digital images of photos taken, materials for painting or drawing.

Activity Description: Individually, or in small groups, have students use a camera to capture impressions of their everyday world. Experiment with different ways of taking pictures: crop the subject at the edge of the picture, photograph a moving subject (or move the camera while taking a picture), change perspective (shoot subject from above or below) or take snapshots of people doing everyday activities (but don’t have them pose for the picture). If you do not have a camera to use, have students look through newspapers and magazines for photographs that demonstrate these techniques. Talk together about the different effects each technique creates, then have each student select one image to use as a "model" to make a drawing or painting. Add a writing element to this project by asking students to write a caption or short paragraph describing the moment captured in their impression.

Activity 4: Philadelphia Then and Now

The 1850s and '60s was a time of great change in Paris as the city underwent major renovations transforming it from a medieval city to the most modern city in all of Europe. New buildings were constructed along wide boulevards lined with sidewalk cafés and gas lamps and dotted with open park spaces.

Suggested Images: Les Grands Boulevards, La Grenouillère, Atelier in the Batignolles

Materials: Find old ("then") photographs of your area then find or make recent ("now") photographs of the same area. You may wish to have students focus on their city of town, or you can do research to find old photos of their school. Try to locate at least one image that is 100 years old or more. Good sources for information might be your school or community library, city records or a local historical society. For photos of well-known Philadelphia landmarks, see Philadelphia Then and Now: 60 Sites Photographed in the Past and Present by Kenneth Finkel and Susan Oyama (Dover Publications 1988). Many copies of this title are available through the Philadelphia Free Library system.

Activity Description: Have students research their school or hometown and learn about its history and the many ways it has changed over the years. Then have students devise a way to present the information, such as a classroom poster, newspaper or school web page. Students may also choose include interviews with parents or older family members or friends who have lived in the community for a long time and have them share a story about something that has changed.

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