Master Collection activity 16: from sketch to painting
Pupils investigate how artists often make quick sketches of details (such as Sir David Wilkie’s Studies of men reading) to use or adapt later in larger works of art.
They discover similarities (and differences) between the soldiers depicted in these sketches and ones included in one of Wilkie’s most famous paintings - Chelsea Pensioners reading The Waterloo Despatch.
They learn about the career of Sir David Wilkie, his untimely death, and how it was memorialised in another famous painting by his friend and fellow artist J M W Turner.
Understanding of how artists create sketches of details such as Sir David Wilkie’s Studies of men reading, to use later in larger works of art.
Understanding how artists often create several sketch versions of a picture before deciding on the final composition.
KS1-2 Art (book illustration)
Start by investigating Sir David Wilkie’s Studies of men reading at Learn with Objects Master Collection 16: studies of men reading with the class on the interactive whiteboard. Ask the following questions:
- What are these men doing?
- Who do you think they are?
Mention that these sketches probably gave the artist an idea for what became his most famous picture - Chelsea Pensioners reading the Waterloo Despatch.
Chelsea Pensioners reading the Waterloo Despatch:
- Compare the Master Collection drawing to one of the oil sketches Wilkie made, in the collection of the Royal Hospital Chelsea:
- Compare the oil sketch to the finished painting now in Apsley House:
- Now look at interim pen-and-ink and oil sketches closer to the finished painting (Yale Center for British Art):
- How have Wilkie’s compositional ideas developed?
- As well as compositional sketches, Wilkie made detailed studies of figures:
(pen and ink study of seated woman and standing piper)
(pencil study of men’s heads)
Wilkie and cholera:
In 1840 Wilkie travelled to Egypt and the Holy Land. He thought that it would be a novel and interesting idea to create religious art based on first-hand experience of actual conditions, customs and people in the Middle East. After making many studies he was on his way back in 1841 when he fell ill.
He contracted cholera, probably from consumption of fruit and iced lemonade made with contaminated water, purchased at a stop in Malta. On 1 June 1841 he died in Gibraltar Bay. The authorities refused to allow his body to be brought ashore, for fear of contamination. Wilkie was therefore buried at sea. Artist friends back home in England were appalled and J. M. W. Turner painted Peace, Burial at Sea (Tate Gallery) in commemoration of Wilkie.
Cholera is caused by a virus, which multiplies in stagnant water contaminated with sewage. Like coronavirus it spreads rapidly, in the case of cholera through drinking contaminated water. Since it first spread across the globe through international trade routes two centuries ago, cholera has killed about 50 million people. Large parts of the population in Africa, India and elsewhere have no access to clean water.
- Explore cholera in comparison to our experiences of coronavirus.
- Look at the map of Malta harbour with areas for quarantine of ships (Learn with Objects Master Collection 1: Thomas Man Bridge’s journeys).
- Look at the experience of artist William Collins on his visit to Italy, which was continually hampered by outbreaks of cholera.
- Look closely with pupils at Turner’s painting commemorating Wilkie, Peace, Burial at Sea, exhibited 1842:
- How does the painting make you feel?
- What do you think Turner was feeling when he painted it?
- Compare Peace to the companion work Turner painted, The Exile and the Rock Limpet, showing Napoleon Bonaparte in exile on the island of St Helena, painted the year his ashes were returned to France:
Quick on the draw!
Children sketch one or more members of the class in pencil.
The models can have a prop and pose for the artists to make it easier. They might be reading, writing, holding a ball, pretending to play a musical instrument.
Ask the artists to sketch quickly and boldly to get a good overall impression of the models’ shape, character, and what they are doing. Don’t worry about detail, or making mistakes. Just keep going.
Remember, these are quick preliminary sketches like Sir David Wilkie’s, to be worked up later. You could even set a time limit say of 1 minute per sketch to encourage speed and fluidity.
Swap the models and artists regularly so everyone gets a go at being both. Pupils may like to include their best sketch(es) in a larger composition later, and work it up into a finished picture.
Learn with Objects links
Learn with Objects Master 16: Studies of Men Reading and Master Collection 1: Thomas Man Bridge’s journeys.