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Gauguin, Self-portrait with Yellow Christ

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Self-Portrait with Yellow Christ, 1890-1891. Oil on canvas, 15 x 18-1/8 inches. © RMN (Musée d’Orsay)/René-Gabriel Ojéda

Getting to Know Post-Impressionist Artists through Color, Genre, and Texture


This unit focuses on artistic processes of composition. In this unit students apply their experiences with artistic materials and processes to observing Post-Impressionist artworks and learning about Post-Impressionist artists. Each component could be taught in a single lesson, or components can be strung together to create a larger unit.


Students will:

  1. create a composition using texture and colors;
  2. orally describe their work using one target word per sentence;
  3. listen to the biography of an impressionist painter; and
  4. write one sentence about a painting seen in the exhibit.


  • Gel medium (to mix with tempera paints and other thickeners)
  • Tempera paints (red, yellow and blue for color wheel)
  • Sand
  • Brushes
  • Plastic spatulas (see Resources for diagram of how to make plastic spatulas from plastic knives)
  • Thick paper (for painting)
  • Drawing paper (for sketching)
  • Pencils
  • Picture book biography of one Post-Impressionist artist
  • Small printouts or postcards of Post-Impressionist paintings from the exhibition; you can also find used books or calendars of Impressionism and cut out the images.
  • Sentence strips and pocket chart

Vocabulary: painting, texture, shape, color (primary, complementary, secondary), brush, canvas, paint, landscape, portrait, still life, biography

  1. The Color Wheel
    To review colors, students can color or paint a simple color wheel template, with just the primary and secondary colors. Focus on placing the colors correctly and knowing their names. Introduce the terms: primary colors, secondary colors (made by mixing two primary colors) and complementary colors (those opposite on the color wheel).
  2. Genre: Drawing from observation, two ways
    Using the technique of focused observation students can draw a portrait, still life, or landscape from observation and from memory. Introduce the genres: portrait, still life, and landscape, showing examples from the Post-Impressionists Image Bank available online.

    Ask students to choose a genre and then to observe their still life, landscape, or portrait subject for a few minutes. Then, turning away from the subject, students draw from memory in their visual journal. After a few minutes ask students to turn back to their subject: What was hard about drawing from memory? Did students leave anything out of their drawing? Did they add anything new? Ask students to start a new drawing, this time drawing from direct observation. After a few minutes, ask students to compare their experiences.
  3. Exploring Texture
    Set up painting stations where students can explore texture. Thicken tempera paint with sand or acrylic gel and model the use a plastic spatula to make a composition that has texture. Students can then choose to use their sketches as a base for their own compositions or work with another genre.


Read a biography of the life of a Post-Impressionist painter to your students (see Resources for a list of books on Post-Impressionist artists). Using the paintings in the book, emphasize target vocabulary words, relating, for example to texture (bumpy, smooth, rough), colors (primary, secondary) or genre (portrait, still life, landscape).

Building Vocabulary

Choose three paintings that showcase some of your target vocabulary (for suggestions, see Post-Impressionism Concepts and Images in Resources). Practice using Visual Thinking Strategies to study your selection of paintings, reinforcing target vocabulary and concepts by paraphrasing student observations. Create a word wall of art words or an art vocabulary chart during discussion.

Discussing student work

Tell students they are going to an exhibit of their artworks. Place all student artworks together on the wall, taking care to label each one with a title and the student’s name. Bring the students as a group to see the exhibit, and talk about the group of paintings as a whole.

Orally model sentences students can use to talk about each other’s artworks and display them on sentence strips. Extend the language they need to describe what they made. Have students tell each other about their creation, using the target words. For example:

  • Marcel used _________ to create __________.
  • His painting has a lot of _________.
  • It has very little _________.
  • I like Marcel's painting because it is ___________.

Students can use these same structures to make observations about the paintings they see during their museum visit.

After the Museum visit:

In their visual journals, students write short sentences about their favorite painting at the museum using model sentences. For example: Paul Gauguin made my favorite painting. It has ____________. Paul Gauguin used ________ to create _________. Students may paste an example or their own sketch of this work above their sentence. Students read their sentences in a small group setting.


  1. Illustrated books about Post-Impressionist painters:
    Georges Seurat (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists) by Mike Venezia
    Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew
    Touch the Art: Make Van Gogh's Bed by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo
    Visiting Vincent van Gogh (Adventures in Art) by Caroline Breunesse
    What Makes a Degas a Degas? by Richard Mühlberger
  2. How to make a spatula out of a plastic knife.
  3. Post-Impressionism Concepts and Images
  4. Visual Thinking Strategies: Understanding the Basics,

Language Arts
K: WS 1.1, SA 2.1
1st Grade: WS 1.2, 2.2, SA 2.4
2nd Grade: WS 2.0, SA 2.2
3rd Grade: WA 2.2, SAs 2.3

Visual Arts
K: 1.2, 2.3, 2.2, 4.1, 4.4
1st grade: 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.6, 2.7, 2.8
2nd grade: 1.3, 2.2, 4.1, 5.2
3rd grade: 1.2, 1.5, 2.2, 2.4, 4.3, 5.3