Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
2-3 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Staff

For the Classroom

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About Impressionism

Lesson Overview

Students will work in groups to visually analyze a work of art and then research what was happening in the time period when the work was made. Students will then discuss what impact their research had on their original perceptions. Students will finally be given background information about the work of art and will discuss how their ideas are different or similar to what they read.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• examine a work of art and write a descriptive analysis about it.
• explore the differences between objective and subjective writing about an art object.
• consider the context in which a work of art was created, and develop opinions about a work of art.
• discuss and reflect upon the process through which their first impressions of a work of art changed, after acquiring contextual knowledge about it.


Postcards or poster prints of the following works of art, or of other works by Impressionist artists:
Forest of Fontainebleau, Cluster of Tall Trees Overlooking the Plain of Clair-Bois at the Edge of Bas-Bréau, Théodore Rousseau, 1842
La Promenade, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1872
The Convalescent, Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas, about 1872–January 1887
Sunrise (Marine), Claude Monet, March or April 1873
• Paper and pens or pencils
• A timeline of history in Europe in the late 19th century, such as:

  • Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975.
  • The Timeline of Art History on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Web site.

• Biographies of featured artists

Lesson Steps

1. Divide students into groups of four or five. Give each group a postcard or printed image of one of the works of art. Be sure to cover up any information about the work of art that may be on the postcard or print.

2. Instruct students to work individually and write down their first impressions of the painting. They should just write down their initial reactions, what they see or notice first about the work of art.

3. Next, have students carefully observe the painting and begin by writing objectively about what they see—create a list of details only, just observable facts about the work of art.

4. Once students have finished their objective observation list, have each group photocopy a 10-year range of history around their work of art from a timeline. We suggest the timeline from the book The Timetables of History, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online Timeline of Art History. Each timetable should cover a range of 10 years—five years before and five years after the painting was made. Have students determine what was happening in history within the 10-year period surrounding the year their works of art were made. Tell students to work in teams of four or five. They will then discuss with their group their findings.

5. After they have looked at the timetables, have students re-examine the work of art, but this time speculate subjectively as a group about what they think the artist might have wanted to communicate when making this painting and what this work is about.

6. Once students have speculated subjectively about what they think the artist wanted to communicate about this work of art, pass out the background information about their work of art from the Image Bank in this curriculum, or on from the Getty Museum's online collections.

7. Groups should discuss how their initial perceptions changed after writing objectively, and then subjectively, about the work.
• Did people in the group interpret the work differently?
• How did your interpretation compare to what is written about the piece?
• How do you think other events in history affected the subject or style of the work of art you examined?

8. Finally, have each group present to the class their initial perceptions and findings about their assigned work of art. Discuss as a class where there was overlap in historical events or issues. How did their examination of the work through the lens of historical events affect the way each group viewed the work of art?

La Promenade / Renoir
La Promenade, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1870


Students will be assessed on their participation in the group discussions, their role in the class presentation, and their participation in the class discussion.


Ask students to write a research paper on their favorite works of art exploring the impact that historical events had on the artist and his or her work.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9-12 Proficient
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
1.3 Research and analyze the work of an artist and write about the artist's distinctive style and its contribution to the meaning of the work.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.

Grades 9-12 Advanced
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Discuss a series of their original works of art, using the appropriate vocabulary of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and message of a work of art.

History—Social Science Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 10
10.2 Students compare and contrast the Glorious Revolution of England, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution and their enduring effects worldwide on the political expectations for self-government and individual liberty.
5. Discuss how nationalism spread across Europe with Napoleon but was repressed for a generation under the Congress of Vienna and Concert of Europe until the Revolutions of 1848.

10.3 Students analyze the effects of the Industrial Revolution in England, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States.
2. Examine how scientific and technological changes and new forms of energy brought about massive social, economic, and cultural change (e.g., the inventions and discoveries of James Watt, Eli Whitney, Henry Bessemer, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison).
3. Describe the growth of population, rural to urban migration, and growth of cities associated with the Industrial Revolution.