A Soundtrack for Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party

Gallery Educator Donna Jonte leads a school tour with Pierre-August Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Photo: Britta Galanis

One of my favorite things about working at the Phillips is catching a group of young kids on a school tour. Just the other day, as I was taking notes in the galleries, a small stampede of children all donning the same bright yellow t-shirt came in and sat down in front of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

As they discussed this work, I was taken to places I had never been with it before. First they spent some time talking about the subjects of the work. The children noticed the people, the setting, and different elements such as what food was on the table. But then they went “inside” the painting. Each child demonstrated what sounds they thought they would hear if they were actually in the painting. One said a bee buzzing; another mentioned the dog and how it might be barking, while the woman holding it made “kissy” noises. Others suggested whooshing of the wind, rustling leaves, and the trickling of the water far in the distance. Then, when directed, they all together made these sounds, creating a soundtrack for the work.

Before this encounter, I looked at Luncheon of the Boating Party in a totally different way. I spent time noticing the artist’s talent in making the glass and liquid in the foreground shimmer. I noticed the composition, or the painterly style so common with the impressionists of this time. These kids (and Gallery Educator Donna Jonte, who led the exercise) helped me take a step back and stop obsessing over the pictorial. They helped me to appreciate this work for what it is: a captured moment in time.

Britta Galanis, Marketing & Communications Intern

Phillips-at-Home Series: Ossorio Experiments

Today’s activity looks at Alfonso Ossorio’s Five Brothers as we dive into the curious world of science using the scientific method. The scientific method is a process of six steps scientists use to help them gain knowledge, solve problems, and understand why things work the way they do. We’ll use it to conduct experiments exploring the various reactions materials such as wax, salt, and glue have with watercolors. After conducting our experiments we will use our findings to create our own Ossorio-inspired masterpiece. Let’s get started!

Alfonso bottom of staircase

Hans Namuth, Alfonso Ossorio at the Creeks, 1952. Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. 1991 Hans Namuth Estate

About the Artist: Alfonso Ossorio was one of the first members of the Abstract Expressionist movement, which rejected naturalistic images and stressed spontaneous expression. An artist, collector, and patron of both American and European artists, he is one of the most colorful figures of postwar America. Ossorio was born in the Philippines in 1916, and spent the majority of his childhood attending Catholic Preparatory School in England. Ossorio moved to the US to attend boarding school, and became a citizen in 1933. He attended Harvard where, against his father’s wishes, he majored in Fine Art.

In 1940, Ossorio was offered his first solo exhibition when Betty Parsons, a prominent New York art dealer, discovered his work. Through his connection with Parsons, Ossorio was introduced to Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet. Throughout his career, Ossorio experimented with different mediums, both conventional and unconventional. This enabled him to create a style that was informed by the works of Pollock and Dubuffet, yet remained fiercely independent due to his interest in surrealism and belief in free and spontaneous gestures.


Alfonso Ossorio, Five Brothers, 1950. Watercolor, ink, and wax on illustration board, 18 3/8 x 30 1/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1951

Look Closely: Five Brothers was painted in 1950. Ossorio’s return to the Philippines in the 1950s, at the age of 34, was the first time he had returned in 26 years. The works he created during this time are thought to be some of his most personal images. Though the title of this work recalls a specific image, Ossorio replaces any representational forms with complete abstraction. He focuses on the complexity of the surface and interactions between materials as he layers ink on top of dense layers of wax and watercolor using a wax-resistant technique.

Thinking Moment: When you look at this painting, what jumps out to you? Try to identify the different mediums you see. What are you curious about?

In this art project, we will be scientists as well as artists. Keep in mind Ossorio’s unique technique and style during our watercolor experiment. After we investigate the properties of watercolors and collect our results, we’ll use what we know to create an Ossorio-inspired work of art!

The six steps of the scientific method are: observe/ask a question, research, hypothesis, experiment,analysis, and conclusion. Click here to download a worksheet we’ve created to help you keep track of your data and results.

Age Suggestion: 5+
Time Estimate: 1-2 Hours
What You’ll Need:
Watercolor paint
Paint brushes
Wax crayons
Glue (liquid glue is best)
Two sheets of paper
Water cup
Sharpie marker and/or pencil
Scientific method worksheet

Step 1: Gather your materials. Print the worksheet and have something to write with.


Step 1: gather your supplies

Step 2: Now we will walk through the 6 steps of the scientific method:

Observe/ Ask a question: The scientific method starts when you ask a question about something that you observe. Examine the watercolor paints, salt, glue, and wax crayons. For example, put a dab of glue on your fingers. Observe how it glides across your fingers. Now ask a question. Does the consistency change? What do you think the glue is made out of? Think about what questions come to mind as you examine the glue.

Research: Look for information on the internet or at the library about what it is you’re questioning and gather background information. We did this by reading the ingredients on the packaging, and looking for information about watercolors, wax, salt, and glue on the internet.

Hypothesis: Form an educated guess based on your research. This is called a hypothesis. It’s a prediction of what will happen during the experiment. A common way to form a hypothesis is by using the “If, then” format: “If I do ________ then _________ will happen.” Using what you’ve learned so far; what do you think will happen when you mix the different materials with watercolors?

Here is an example of one of ours: “If salt is sprinkled on top of watercolor paint, then the salt will absorb the water in the paints leaving a change in color pigment.”

Experiment: Organize a plan to test your hypothesis.

A) Fold and cut a sheet of paper into four smaller pieces and label them as follows: “Control”, “Glue”, “Salt”, and “Wax”. These squares will represent the four tests you’ll conduct.
You may be wondering what the paper labeled “Control” is for. When scientists conduct experiments, they have what is known as a control variable. The control variable is when the matter being tested is unchanged and constant. In our experiment the control variable is watercolor.


Divide your sheet of paper into four and label each square


Label the four squares

B) Take the piece of paper labeled “Control” and begin painting using the watercolors. In this test you’re observing how watercolor behaves on paper without any of the other materials.


Paint with watercolor onto the control square

Jot down something you notice happening. In our control experiment, we observed the way watercolors interact with each other and on the paper. If you put two watercolors closely together, the paints bleed into each other, as you can see where the purple splashed into the red.

C) Let’s set up the glue test next. With your glue bottle in hand, gently squeeze a design onto the piece of paper labeled “Glue”. Put this piece of paper to the side. We’ll come back to this test when the glue has had time to dry.


Use glue on the square labeled “glue”

D) For the third test, grab the piece of paper labeled “Salt” and have your salt ready. Start painting on this piece of paper with your watercolors. With the paint still wet, sprinkle salt over the paper.


The salt experiment

Remember to record your results! How is the salt reacting with the watercolor? We noticed that the places where we sprinkled salt showed a change in color pigment as the salt absorbed the water in the paints. Depending on how much salt was used, it created either lighter or more concentrated areas of paint and left a unique texture.

E) In your wax test, create a drawing using crayons. Draw whatever you’d like! Use the watercolors to paint over the areas of the paper where there’s crayon. What happens to the watercolor and the wax?


The wax test

Record what you see in your worksheet. In our wax experiment we noticed that the crayon repelled the watercolors. Therefore, when we painted over our crayon drawing the spots where we had used white crayons appeared extremely vibrant.

F) Lastly, return to your glue test. Check if the glue has dried. Paint over the paper with watercolor to see what happens.


The glue experiment

Record your observations. We observed that the places where the glue had dried fully repelled the watercolor, similar to how the crayons did. However, in places where the glue hadn’t fully dried the watercolor bled into the glue.

Analysis: Review your findings. The information collected is called “data”. What happened to the watercolor in each test? Read your notes and record anything you might have missed.
Here are our results from the experiment


All four experiments

Conclusion: From your results, review your hypothesis with the data. Check to see if your data supports your guess and report what you’ve learned from the experiment . Were your predictions correct? Write down the outcome and what you’ve learned from this experiment.

For example, our hypothesis for salt was, “If salt is sprinkled on top of watercolor paint, then the salt will absorb the water in the paints leaving a change in color pigment.”

Our analysis of the salt experiment supported our hypothesis. We learned from our research that salt absorbs water, just as we predicted.There were some instances where the salt formed concentrated areas of pigment depending on the ratio of salt and paint used. Furthermore, we predicted that the wax and dried glue would repel the watercolor, while wet glue would mix with the watercolor. The results from the experiments proved our predictions to be correct.

Step 3: Create your masterpiece. Now it’s time to create your own painting. Use the conclusions you drew from experimenting to brainstorm how you want to design your final piece. Maybe you want to build layers, mix all of the different materials together, or only use one. Have fun and see what happens!

Here are our finished artworks:


(left) painting by Betty Q. Le, K12 Intern (right) painting by Marin Williams, K12 Intern

We each used all three materials building upon different layers.

We first drew with crayon, then added the glue, followed by painting with our watercolors and finishing our works by sprinkling salt on them. What do you think?

Ossorio is known for his use of organic lines, geometric forms, and bold colors. We manipulated the wax, salt, and glue in an attempt to imitate a natural, uncontrolled gesture similar to Ossorio’s.


Get a closer look of Betty’s painting. Can you tell where the salt, glue, and wax is used in the painting?


What about in Marin’s?

Step 4: Reflection. Look at what you’ve created! Isn’t it cool that you got to be both an artist and a scientist?

Ossorio was always concerned with displaying expressive gestures in his art. What kind of gestures did you make?

We hope you enjoyed experimenting with us today, and that you continue to question the world around you using the scientific method to guide your experiments. We would love to see where your experiments led you! Take a picture of your work and share it in the comments below.

Marin Williams and Betty Q. Le, K12 Education Interns

Phillips-at-Home Series: Changing Seasons with Van Gogh

Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.

Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.

As we say farewell to summer and welcome the yellow leaves of autumn, we’re excited to explore the world of colors and its connection to our emotions.

For this activity, we’re taking elements of Vincent van Gogh’s creative process in his works The Road Menders (from the Phillips’s permanent collection) and The Large Plane Trees (part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s permanent collection) by guiding you through a series of thinking moments as you create two of your own van Gogh-inspired paintings. These paintings were the focal point of an exhibition at the Phillips, Van Gogh Repetitions, in 2013.

About the Artist
Vincent van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853. The son of a pastor, van Gogh pursued a religious life as a preacher before deciding to devote his life to painting. He was influenced by the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Japanese prints, which were very popular at the time. In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris to join his brother Theo, where he was introduced to the Impressionist style of painting. Two years after arriving in Paris, van Gogh moved to the south of France in the town of Arles. Throughout his life, van Gogh struggled with his mental health and spent many years in and out of asylums.

Look Closely:
Both The Road Menders and The Large Plane Trees appear to be of the same street scene. As a result of x-ray technology, it was discovered that The Large Plane Trees was painted before The Road Menders. It’s believed that van Gogh painted The Large Plane Trees outside and very quickly before painting The Road Menders indoors. Since he couldn’t afford canvas at the time, van Gogh painted The Large Plane Trees on a piece of cloth fabric. He wrote to his brother Theo telling him of the beautiful scene and how he needed canvas to paint it. Theo sent him canvas, which he then used to paint The Road Menders.

Thinking Moment
Take a few moments to examine each painting. As seasons change, so do the colors we see in nature. Compare and contrast as you think about these questions:

  • What’s different? What’s similar?
  • What season do you think each painting takes place in? What do you see that makes you think that?
  • How do these paintings make you feel? How do you think van Gogh felt when he was painting these works?

Art Project
Age suggestions: Suitable for all ages

Time Estimate: 15 minutes prep time
Total paint time varies by individual preference
(2-4 hours estimate)

What you’ll need:
Painting Palette (paper plates will work too)
Flat surface or clip board
Apron (or clothes you feel comfortable getting paint on)
2 Sheets of plain paper
Paint (we used tempera, but any will do)

“Gogh” outside and get inspired!

For this art project you will create two paintings. Like van Gogh, head outside to paint your first work, then head back inside to paint your second. Here is an actual photo of the scene where van Gogh painted The Large Plane Trees.


The Boulevard Mirabeau, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence © Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Steps for Painting


Step 1

Step 1: Gather your materials. You will be taking these outside, so make sure you also have a bag or box to place your materials in.


Step 2

Step 2: Pick a location where you are going to paint. We chose Dupont Circle in DC.


Step 3

Step 3: Head to your location and set up your materials. As you can see here, we found a n outdoor chess table to use.


Step 4

Step 4: Sketch an outline of your scene using a pencil. Here, the clipboard was very handy!


Step 5

Step 5: Paint your outdoor scene over your sketch.


Step 6

Step 6: Let your beautiful masterpiece dry!

Step 7: When you’re finished, pack up your materials and head back inside to begin your second painting.

Van Gogh is often thought to have worked quickly, working with speed. However, he also often painted carefully and deliberately, painting the same scene repeatedly, rethinking and revising figural placement and color. In his second painting The Road Menders, he’s not depicting the exact colors he sees in nature. It’s possible his color palette instead reflected his feelings and emotions.

Thinking Moment
As you begin your second painting, think about the colors you’re using.

  • What emotions do you want to convey?
  • Are your color choices vibrant, cool, warm, muted, etc.?
  • Are your colors a good match with the emotions you want to convey?

Steps for Painting 2


Step 1

Step 1: Choose your colors. For our second painting, we chose a warmer palette, using mostly yellow, red, orange, and pink. We wanted to express a warm, happy feeling which we felt these colors did well. What do you think?


Step 2

Step 2: Replicate the scene from your first painting by drawing a light outline with a pencil to a new sheet of paper.


Step 3

Step 3: Start painting with your new color palette!


Step 4

Step 4: When you’re finished, clean up your materials while your painting is drying. Now that you’re done, set both of your works side-by-side.


Take a moment to admire and be proud of what you’ve created! Wrapping up this activity, ask yourself these final questions (remember, there are no right or wrong answers):

  1. When you compare your paintings, what’s different; what’s similar?
  2. Do your paintings and their colors resemble certain seasons? If so, which season and why?
  3. How do you feel about one painting versus the other? Do you see different emotions?

Share your work with the Phillips, we’d love to see your project! Take a picture of your paintings together and send us a comment below. Check back soon for the next project of the Phillips-At-Home Series. See you next time!

Marin Williams and Betty Q. Le, K12 Education Interns