Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
2–4 class periods
Author: This lesson was adapted by J. Paul Getty Museum Education staff from a curriculum originally published on the Getty's first education website, ArtsEdNet.

For the Classroom

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Lesson Overview

Students learn the stories of two ambitious and courageous women artists in European history—Luisa Roldán (also known as La Roldána) and Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun—and examine works by both. Students then research and write a short report on a female artist working today.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• define and understand the meaning of the words ambition (noun) and ambitious (adjective).
• read, comprehend, and discuss the stories of two ambitious women artists from European history.
• compare and contrast the lives and works of two artists.
• research and write a short report about a female artist working in the 20th or 21st century.


• Reproduction of Saint Ginés de La Jara by Luisa Roldán
• Reproduction of The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
• Dry-erase board, blackboard, or chart paper
• Paper and pencils
• Worksheet: Ambitious Women Artists Venn Diagram
• Stories from SRA's Open Court Reading units (optional):
"Risks & Consequences" (2000, 2002, 2005)
"Dreams to Jobs" (2000)
"Dollars and Sense" (2000, 2005)
• Handouts stating requirements and resources for research assignment (optional)
• Resources on female artists (optional), such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts Web site
• Resources related to the stories of Luisa Roldán and Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (optional):

Lesson Steps

1. Instruct students to look closely at the image of the sculpture Saint Ginés de La Jara by Luisa Roldán. Do not reveal any facts about the sculpture, such as the artist's name. Use the following questions to begin a discussion about this work.
• What do you notice first about this sculpture? What else?
• How large do you think this sculpture is? (It is 69 ½ in. tall, or about 5 ft. 9 in.)
• What do you think this sculpture is made out of? (polychromed pine and cedar wood with glass eyes)
• This sculpture is of a saint named Ginés. What can you learn about Saint Ginés by looking at this sculpture of him?
• Does Saint Ginés look lifelike to you? What do you see that makes you say that? What has the artist done to make him look lifelike?
• What does this artwork tell you about the artist who made it? Why do you think an artist would make a sculpture like this? If you had to guess, would you think this artist was a man or a woman? Why? Take a vote among students and chart totals. Ask students why they made their choice. Ask students to explain their reason for voting they way they did.

2. Now, show students the image of the painting The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Again, do not reveal any facts about the painting or the artist's name. Use the following questions to begin a discussion about this painting.
• What do you notice first about this work of art? What else?
• What materials do you think the artist used to make this work of art? (oil paint in different colors, paint brushes, and a wood panel)
• What can you tell about this woman by looking at this portrait of her? (The woman in this portrait was a vicomtesse—a French noble woman.)
• What is the Vicomtesse doing in this painting? What do you see that makes you say this? Where you do think she is? What do you see that makes you say this?
• What does this artwork tell you about the artist who made it? Ask the students to try and guess if this portrait was painted by a man or a woman, and take a vote. Ask students to explain their reasoning and discuss the male and female associations that come up.

3. Share the following information about both artworks with students.
• The two artworks we have been looking at were both made by women artists working hundreds of years ago. The sculpture is by an artist named Luisa Roldán, also called La Roldána, who lived and worked in Spain over 300 years ago. The portrait painting is by a French artist named Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who lived and worked nearly 100 years after Luisa Roldán (about 200 years ago). These two women were incredibly talented. But in order to be successful as artists in their time, they had to have extra ambition in what was a male-dominated field (and it still is today).

Next, explain to students that they will learn the inspirational stories of these two "talented, courageous, and ambitious" women artists.

4. Repeat the list of adjectives used to describe the women artists above: talented, courageous, and ambitious. Make sure students understand and can paraphrase the definitions of all three words. It may be necessary to define the word ambition if this is a new word in students' vocabulary.
• AMBITION: a strong desire for rank, fame, power, etc.; a strong desire to achieve a particular end (synonyms: drive, aspiration)
• AMBITIOUS: having a strong desire to achieve a particular goal; having ambition (synonyms: driven, aspiring)

5. Divide students into small groups of three or four students. Pass out a few paragraphs of biographical information about one of the two artists to the members of each group, along with information about the artworks. Use the links above to find information about the artists. (Note: You may want to adapt biographical material to your students' reading level, or explain advanced vocabulary terms.)

Give students approximately 15 minutes to read and discuss the information. Ask student groups to make a list of interesting details about the artist's life to share with the class. Instruct them to look for examples of each artist's talent and of how the woman was courageous and/or ambitious.

6. Have each group share some information about their artist with the class. Chart students' observations in two lists, one for each artist. Begin by having all groups with La Roldána's information share their information. Then move onto the groups who read about Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Use the following questions as prompts, if necessarily, to illicit more information.
• Where was the artist's family from? What kind of a family did the artist have? Wealthy or poor? Workers or nobility? A big family or a small one?
• How did the artist first start making art?
• What type of art did the artist make? (e.g. paintings, sculptures, architecture, furniture, photographs, books; art made for churches, for individuals, for cities; art that is very large, or very small)
• What medium did the artist work with primarily? (e.g. wood, stone, marble, watercolor, oil paint, pastels, paper, clay)
• What ideas or other artists influenced the artist?
• What types of subjects did the artist represent?
• What types of people paid the artist to create artworks? (the church, wealthy families, governments)
• What obstacles did the artist have to face during her career?
• What major achievements did the artist have throughout her career?
• How was the artist courageous in her career as an artist? How was she ambitious?

7. Pass out the Venn diagram worksheets. Instruct students to use the worksheet to compare and contrast the information in the lists they just created as a class. (This task could also be completed in pairs or small groups.)

Model the task. Examples: Both artists' fathers were artists (similarity). Roldán lived and worked Spain her entire life. Vigée Le Brun lived and worked in many countries of Europe since she had to flee France during the French Revolution (difference).
After they complete their diagrams, go over the similarities and differences students found as a class.

8. Look again at the two artists' artworks and use the following questions to discuss them in light of the new information learned about the artists.
• How does the information we have learned about the artist affect your opinion or impressions of this sculpture/painting?
• What are some ways you think the artist's life may have affected the choices she made while making this artwork? What do you see in the artwork that makes you think this?
• What questions would you ask the artist if she were here today?

9. Inform students that they will be researching and writing a one-page paper on a female artist who lived and worked in the 20th century, or is living and working today. A handout can be used to list the specific requirements of the assignment and to offer resources, such as books or Web sites, for guidance. Students should use at least two different sources (e.g. the Internet, encyclopedias, magazines, interviews) in their reports and emphasize the "talent, courage, and ambition" of their artist with biographical details, and include at least one image of the artist's work.

Suggestions for 20th- and 21st-century female artists (artists selected using the Getty and NMWA Web sites):
• Elizabeth Catlett
• Dorothy Norman
• Lee Krasner
• Frida Kahlo
• Georgia O'Keeffe
• Rhea Garen
• Dorothea Lange
• Eva Hesse
• Lola Alvarez Bravo
• Hollis Sigler

Vicomtesse / Vigee Le Brun
The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil, Elisabeth Louise Vigeée Le Brun, 1785


Students will be assessed on their participation in class discussions and activities. Students will also be assessed based upon their completion of the research report according to grade-appropriate California Content Standards for English—language arts.

Standards Addressed

English—Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 4

Writing Strategies
1.2 Create multiple-paragraph compositions:
1.2.a Provide an introductory paragraph.
1.2.b Establish and support a central idea with a topic sentence at or near the beginning of the first paragraph.
1.2.c Include supporting paragraphs with simple facts, details, and explanations.
1.2.d. Conclude with a paragraph that summarizes the points.
1.2.e Use correct indention.
1.5 Quote or paraphrase information sources, citing them appropriately.
1.6 Locate information in reference texts by using organizational features (e.g., prefaces, appendixes).
1.7 Use various reference materials (e.g., dictionary, thesaurus, card catalog, encyclopedia, online information) as an aid to writing.

Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports:
2.3.a Frame a central question about an issue or situation.
2.3.b Include facts and details for focus.
2.3.c Draw from more than one source of information (e.g., speakers, books, newspapers, other media sources).

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 4

Aesthetic Valuing
4.5 Describe how the individual experiences of an artist may influence the development of specific works of art.

Connections, Relationships, Applications
5.4 Read biographies and stories about artists and summarize the readings in short reports, telling how the artists mirrored or affected their time period or culture.

National Standards for Visual Arts Education
Grades K–4

Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
Students understand there are various purposes for creating works of visual art.
Students understand there are different responses to specific artworks.

Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
Students demonstrate how history, culture, and the visual arts can influence each other in making and studying works of art.

National Standards for Language Arts, English
Grades K–12

Communication Strategies
Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.