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Year 1 Visual Arts

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Looking at Pictures—Really Looking!

carnation lily lily rose painting

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

This painting was made by the American painter John Singer Sargent and it took him more than one year! He worked on it from the end of the summer of 1885 until the winter of 1886. One reason it took him so long was because he would paint only at dusk—he wanted to capture a real light effect. Another reason could be that John worked with real children and they found it hard keeping still for him. On the left is Polly Barnard, who was 11, and on the right is her seven-year-old sister Dolly. They were the daughters of one of John's artist friends. John got the idea for his painting when he saw children lighting Chinese lanterns from a boat trip along the river Thames. He recreated the scene in a garden almost every evening afterwards, until his painting was done. The painting's title Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose comes from a song that John and his friends enjoyed. One singer asks, 'Have you seen my Flora pass this way?' The others reply, 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.' What do you think this exchange means? Can you imagine how the song sounded? Judging by the painting, do you think it was a cheery or a melancholy tune?'

Talk and Think


This activity is adapted from pages 162 and 163 of What Your Year 1 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

Click below to see a related activity.

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