Claude-Joseph VernetA Shipwreck in Stormy Seas1773Oil on canvas, 114.5 x 163.5 cmAcquired with a donation from the American Friends of the National Gallery, London, made possible by a gift from David H. Koch, 2004NG6601

Primary school children create art inspired by Vernet’s Stormy Seas, in Take One Picture’s 28th year. The National Gallery. London

Take One Picture: Children inspired by Claude-Joseph Vernet’s A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas 13 July – 8 October 2023 Sunley Room Admission free

This summer, the National Gallery will showcase children’s artworks in the 28th annual Take One Picture exhibition, with students across the country taking inspiration from Claude-Joseph Vernet’s A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas.

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Each year the Gallery invites primary schools nationwide to focus on one of its paintings and respond creatively, following the children’s questions and ideas. The programme aims to put art at the centre of children’s learning across  the curriculum, inspiring a lifelong connection with artists’ work and with museums and galleries. By exhibiting a selection of the work produced, the programme also provides a platform for celebrating children’s work and for fostering a sense of belonging in the Gallery.

This year the National Gallery consulted with teachers to choose the focus painting, and  selected A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas (1773) by Claude-Joseph Vernet.  Originally known as ‘Tempête’ (Storm), this painting is one of a pair of seascapes. It shows a rocky shoreline buffeted by a violent sea storm. Two ships roll in the giant swell, sails tied down, or tattered by the turbulent winds and lashing rain. Bolts of lightning streak from the dark thunder clouds that cover the sun, and huge waves crash over the shore, pouring like waterfalls back down from the cliffs. The remains of a ship lie shattered against the rocks in the lower right foreground. Figures carry salvaged goods up the beach, while an unconscious woman is laid out on a rock. Further down the coast there is a break in the clouds and sunlight bathes the mountainous landscape. It appears that the storm has arrived suddenly and without warning, leaving no time for the lighthouse lamp to be lit. Perhaps the distant sunlit landscape is to give us hope that the storm will soon abate.

This year’s exhibition space has been designed in collaboration with children, and will include creative projects from 40 primary schools across the country, ranging fromtea-stained diaries to dramatic dance performances. Their projects make links between art and subjects across the curriculum such as history, science, geography and literacy.  

Year 3 students at Icknield Primary School, Luton, wondered why the captain of the ship had not checked the forecast before they set sail. After learning that the weather was difficult to predict in the 1700s, they discussed how and why we check the forecast today, and how weather can be measured. The class then designed their own weather station and recorded the weather over the next week, including levels of wind and rain. One student said, ‘The picture was amazing. I could see the weather was dangerous. I didn’t realise how powerful the weather could be.’

After working on their project, one Year 6 student at Mab’s Cross Community Primary School, Wigan, said, ‘All you have to do is open your eyes and the whole world is around you. Now I know all the features of a coast when I next see them. I’ve learned that no matter your art skill, you can still make a masterpiece.’ The class had wanted to know where the painting was set, but they learned that it was actually made up from many places Vernet had visited. They discussed the features of coastal places they had been, before designing and making maps for their own imaginary islands.

Many projects addressed the dangers of travelling by sea, thinking about what could cause a shipwreck and the terrifying experience of the people on board. This led one school to learn about water safety with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The project also encouraged many children to visit their own local beaches, collecting objects and taking photographs to include in their artworks. These visits highlighted the problem of plastic pollution in our seas and inspired children to use recycled materials.

Karen Eslea, Head of Learning and National Programmes at the National Gallery, said ‘These children are young artists who explore the world, and their own learning, through looking very carefully at one painting. Asking questions and investigating with others in their own community and beyond helps them to develop creative ways in which to respond. This exhibition illustrates the power of children’s ideas and creativity, and how they can help us all to think more deeply about the paintings in the collection, but also about our lives and the lives of others. Thank you to all the inspiring children and teachers who have taken part this year.’

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