Vincent and Beyond. The National Gallery of Victoria for Kids

In the digital age, where many children have instant access to famous art images from worldwide galleries, a visit to a national gallery may produce two completely opposite responses: they will either be enthralled, eager and stimulated or bored, indifferent and restless. Fortunately for me, I visited the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) with a young art sponge: the day was a huge success for both of us. Oliver was keen to visit Van Gogh and the Seasons, an exhibition of 50 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, which is now showing at the NGV until July 12. Like many other 8 year olds, he had some previous knowledge of the works of Vincent, mostly through art programmes at his school. He had also spent time with me leafing through large glossy art books and discussing these images, something that the curious love doing with an older person, unlike the image trawling, swipe, reject, like, swipe attention span deficient pastimes of today, where discussion, reading, and dialogue are sadly missing.

Vincent Van Gogh. I didn’t record the title and dates of each piece, thanks to our animated conversation at the time. Apologies.

Our visit was planned a few weeks beforehand, with a discussion of Vincent’s works and a look at a couple of other art movements in history. Oliver was also keen to see the work of Picasso, his current favourite artist, and fortunately, the NGV holds one small painting. He was also keen to see the Michelangelo’s Pietà and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa! I think this boy may need to travel to Italy and France one day.

My favourite Van Gogh from Seasons, NGV, Melbourne

Before embarking on a trip to the Gallery with young children, consider the following:

  • The age of the child. Kids’ attention spans differ greatly from age to age.
  • The interests of the child. Not everyone travels with an ‘art sponge’ but a trip to the gallery can be tailored to meet the interests of the child.
  • Pre- planning. Go through the collections online and choose a few pieces from one or two areas that are appealing rather than wandering aimlessly.
  • Limit the visit to one or two sections so that they are keen to return.
  • Be informed about the works you have decided to visit. Kids ask a lot of curly questions.
  • They probably won’t read the plaques alongside each painting. Kids will find stories in the works that will surprise you. I usually ask them to read the date and the artist of each piece.
  • Don’t be surprised if they move along faster than you would like.
  • Factor in a few breaks. There are lots of chairs and couches about the gallery. Have a break here and there.
  • Buy them a few postcards of famous artworks at the end as mementos of their visit.
  • If visiting a temporary exhibition, such as Van Gogh and the Seasons, book the tickets online before you go and arrive at opening time. There is nothing worse than trying to appreciate art through a sea of heads and iPhones.
  • The NGV is free of charge- only temporary exhibitions have entrance fees –  and is surprisingly empty on a Saturday morning.
Oliver contemplates Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman.’

A few surprises for Oliver included Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, held in the 17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery, Level 2, NGV International. I am saving a few edited stories about this one for our next visit. He loved the grandeur of it, the dog, and the costumes. Other surprises included the Egyptian Sarcophagus, 700 BC, which led to an endless array of questions about dates, maths, AD versus BC, and the promise that we would return to visit the Egyptian and Ancient Art Collection next time.

Detail from Tiepolo’s, ‘Cleopatra’s Banquet’ NGV Melbourne.
A teaser for next time. Oliver with Sacophagus, 700 BC. NGV, Melbourne

I also discovered a few gems and am looking forward to returning to immerse myself in the Art of the Sublime, an English art movement that I find intriguing, and a concept where the word ‘sublime’ ( like other tainted words such as awesome, terrible, amazing, horrible) held far more meaning that it does today. Two works from this movement caught my eye. Mount St Michael, Cornwall by Clarkson Stanfield, 1830 and After the Massacre of Glencoe, by Peter Graham 1889, might need a solo visit, with the stories and the history of Glencoe stored until the young ‘art sponge’ is 14 or so. Let’s hope he’s still keen.

Detail from Mount St Michael, Cornwall, 1830. Clarkson Stanfield. NGV, Melbourne.
Detail from ‘After the Massacre of Glencoe’, by Peter Graham 1889

Oliver was impressed that there were no fakes in the gallery, something that I just took for granted but that many kids don’t. The geekish acronym IRL, or In Real Life, resonates loudly here. He is keen to return and I can’t think of a lovelier person to accompany me.

https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/van-gogh-and-the-seasons/

11 thoughts on “Vincent and Beyond. The National Gallery of Victoria for Kids”

  1. Thank you for a fantastic post to which I so relate! Wonderful teaching !!! I was hugely lucky to be one of the senior volunteer guides at the Gold Coast Art Gallery some years back. Worked during the week, so oft took the unpopular ‘Sunday Shift’. At the time so many separated and divorced fathers had ‘their time’ with their mixed-up kids: little money and oft no imagination . . . It was absolutely fabulous getting them together in groups, promising an ‘adventure’, sitting on the carpets in the various galleries [no one seemed to mind and oft clapped the scene] and letting them talk!! Oh my: the unparalleled imagination – the wonderful stories I heard about the horses and drovers and wild bushland scenes . The laughter of the fathers ‘hidin’ at the back also seemed to enjoy! Hope some of them are now visiting the galleries of the world . . .

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    1. What a great contribution Eha, inspiring the youngsters of the Gold Coast and letting them all make a little noise and hear some great stories associated with art. Art stories go in every direction and cover so many fields of learning, an endless source of inspiration.
      Volunteer work is so rewarding too. I can just picture the scene with the Dads up the back.

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  2. Such lovely photos which seem to capture the rich colours so well. How lovely to be with Oliver and witness his engagement with the paintings. As you say, it must be a relief from the view, like, swipe, flick online ‘life’. What were his thoughts on the dog – did he think it looked cowed? Great tips, too, for an outing to a Gallery.

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    1. Hello Jan, Olly didn’t mention this and I haven’t thought about it either, but will certainly ask him when we visit it again next time. He said the dog looked like a whippet and wondered about the nature of the banquet. Naturally, kids are impressed with something so large and detailed. The stories about the dissolving of the pearl earrings await our next visit. and the notion of art bequests.
      Intteresting article here: https://dailyreview.com.au/a-tale-of-two-queens-the-ngvs-cleopatra-by-tiepolo/8340/

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  3. It’s interesting the affect that visiting art galleries has on kids. I was studying Fine Arts when my kids were young and we visited NGV frequently. Of my 3 kids, only one absorbed any interest, the other 2 reckon those times were torture. I cried he first time I stood before a Van Gogh work, the emotions imbued in his painting is palpable and how I wish I could share my admiration for him “in the flesh” with my grandkids. The quality of the special exhibitions at NGV is unsurpasable, I give QGA 3/10. My arty grand daughter’s currently obsessed with Manga, hope she can get something from the Marvel exhibition at GOMA when we trot along next week. I believe the whippet-like dog in the Tiepolo is an Italian greyhound, bred specifically for cleaning up under tables during banquets.

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    1. The little bloke talked about art all the way home, and returned to his family, placed his postcards on the wall, and knocked up a quick Picasso’s’weeping woman’ for his fam. He is a treasure.
      The whippet is an English Greyhound. Those Italian greyhounds feature in many works, The works of Mantegna come to mind. Love dogs that wait secretly under the table for scraps.

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  4. I exposed my kids to the arts at a very early age. I think it is important! My younger son was so happy to tell me, a few years ago, that his girlfriend had never been to the opera before and he was taking her for the very first time. He was my ‘date’ to the opera many years ago and it was such a thrill for him. I am so happy to hear Oliver enjoyed the art gallery.

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  5. The children in your life and the commenters’ lives have such varied reactions to seeing art — that’s fascinating. I sometimes think the smaller children have more openness than the ones nearing adolescence.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  6. I have known many children who really enjoy going to museums. This includes my own son when he was younger, and as an adult he still enjoys them. Very glad you and Oliver has an enjoyable and educational time with Vincent!

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