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Powerful Portraits

Focus on clothing, body language, and expression as you portray people in the realistic style of American portraitist John Singer Sargent.

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. John Singer Sargent was an American artist considered to be the leading portrait painter of his generation. He used a minimal background to showcase his model. Invite student groups to research information about his artistic life, professional career, travel, and powerful painting style. Organize a variety of resources for students to engage with during this research.
    2. When research is complete, suggest students collect magazine pictures of people in the uniform of their profession or favorite activity, such as a doctor, politician, or skateboarder. Look closely at the clothing these people wear. Discuss how does their body language relate to their career or activity. Have each student select one person as the subject of his painting.
    3. On construction paper, use Crayola® Construction Paper™ Crayons to begin your portrait, including details such as hair and facial features. Include visual hints about the model in their clothing, pose, and gestures.
    4. Students cover a work area with recycled newspaper. Use Crayola Washable Paint to finish portraits. In Sargent's style, include a simple, color field background to highlight the portrait. Dry on a flat surface.
    5. Provide time in the school day for individual students to present their portrait paintings to small groups of classmates. During the presentations, encourage students to describe how they incorporated Sargent's style into their artwork.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Participate in shared research and writing projects.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    SS: Identify and describe ways family, groups, and community influence the individual's daily life and personal choices.

    VA: Use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

    VA: Use visual structures of art to communicate ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Rather than working from a magazine photo, students create a portrait using a live model. Ask a student from another class to pose for the group, wearing a favorite outfit while being drawn. Students paint the model against a simple background.

    John Sargent is best known for his portraits of presidents, the aristocracy, and tycoons, as well as portraits of gypsies, tramps, and street people. Encourage students to paint two portraits of one person, changing the clothes and gestures to reflect different circumstances.

    Students investigate self-selected famous people in one of Sargent's portraits. Research the life and career of the famous person and organize research into an electronic format for presentation to classmates. Consider why Sargent painted this person. Also investigate the individual's reaction to Sargent's painting.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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