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A Wall in the Middle Ground

For Grades 3–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Discussing the Painting
Discussion: Additional Explorations
Activity: Creative Writing Exercise
Art Activity: Foreground, Middle Ground, Background
Suggested Reading
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Paul Gauguin
(French, 1848–1903)
The Yellow Christ, 1889
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 28 7/8 inches (92.1 x 73.3 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
General Purchase Funds, 1946
Background Information for Educators


  • Learn about the art terms foreground, middle ground, and background
  • Use the above terms to analyze a work of art
  • Write a narrative to develop an imagined experience using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences
  • Develop and strengthen writing as needed (optional)
  • Learn to mix and match colors in pigment (optional)
  • Create artwork using the concepts of foreground, middle ground, and background


Paper, pencil, and crayons


For the purposes of this discussion, please keep in mind that children will have different responses to the questions you ask, and that to most of these questions there is no right or wrong answer. The children will interpret what they see through the filter of their own experiences and backgrounds.

In this painting, we see three women dressed in the traditional peasant clothes of their time at the foot of a cross upon which Jesus Christ is nailed. Look at the painting and have the students explore and describe what they see. Prompt them with questions if they have not noticed certain things.

What is going on in the foreground of the painting?

  • What kinds of clothes are the women wearing?
  • What do you think they are doing? What might they be thinking?
  • Who is hanging on the cross? Do you know the story of Jesus? (Make sure they all do.)
  • Why is he on the cross? What might he be thinking?

What is in the middle ground of the painting?

  • Can you find three figures?
  • Who are the figures? What might they be doing?
  • Can you find a wall and a path? Or do you think they are two walls? Why?
  • Can you find the wall in this painting?
  • What kind of wall is it? What do you think it is made of, and how might it have been built? What might it be used for?

What is in the background of the painting?

  • Is this the country or the city? How can you tell?
  • What season is depicted? How can you tell?
  • Look at the different tree shapes. Can you describe them? Can you draw them on your own paper?
  • Can you find the houses? How would the people climbing over the wall get to those houses?
  • Look at the sky. What time of day do you think it is?


Look at the whole painting.

How many different yellows can you find? Oranges? Blues?

Can you make the colors with your crayons? Mix colors if you need to.

Once you have made the colors with your crayons, can you (or the class) make a chart of the colors you see in this painting? Look very carefully at the painting when you see it in the Gallery and decide if you missed some colors!


Tell the students to pretend they are the person climbing the wall. Ask them to write a story from the point of view of that person. You can ask them to answer these questions in their story:

Who are you? Are you a man or a woman? Where are you going?

What does it feel like to climb the wall? What do you see, what do you smell, what do you touch, and what do you hear as you climb the wall?

Who are the other people in the painting? How do you know them?

What happened right before the moment depicted in the painting? What will happen after you cross the wall?

Have the students read their compositions out loud so they can hear the variety of ideas and interpretations inspired by the artwork.


With crayons, draw a picture of the main character in your story—the person crossing the wall. Draw the character’s family or friends. They are in the foreground!

Now with pencil, draw a line across the middle of your crayon drawing that will be a wall, or a path, if you prefer. This is your middle ground. Where the wall can be seen, draw it in with crayon, remembering that it is BEHIND your character.

Now you have a background! In the background, smaller than your character and his/her family and friends, draw something that happened to the character or something he/she is thinking about.

Talk about your drawing – what is going on in the foreground? The middle ground? The background?


Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal
(Fine Art Series)

By Paul Gauguin, Chronicle Books, 2005
Gauguin's personal journal
Reading Level: High School

Paul Gauguin (The Life and Work of)
By Paul Flux, Heinemann Library, 2002
Reading Level: Ages 4–8


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 2, 4, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 (if you also teach the similar biblical story), 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 4
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 3, 4, 10, 11 (New York only); 5, 6 if drafts and presentations are developed from the writing


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description