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Capturing the Light and Color of a Moment in Time

For Grades 3–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Practice Mixing Colors by Optical Blending
Part I: Taking Impressions
Part II: Talking Impressions
Part III: Talking About Monet
Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Claude Monet
(French, 1840–1926)
Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Tow-Path at Argenteuil), ca. 1875
Oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 39 3/8 inches (60 x 100 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Gift of Charles Clifton, 1919
Background Information for Educators


  • Students will learn about the theory of optical color mixing that Monet and the Impressionists used to create their paintings
  • Students will use the theory of optical mixing to mix colors and determine if it is effective
  • Students will learn that Monet was attempting to capture the colors, light, and atmosphere of a particular moment in time
  • Students will learn, through observation and by creating works of art, how colors in nature change with time and weather
  • Students will compare Monet’s work to a painting by another nineteenth- century artist, Eugène Delacroix
  • Students will compare Monet’s paintings with those of other painters in France during the same time period  (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12)
  • Students will compare nineteenth-century French art to art from the same time period  in a variety of other cultures (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12)
  • Students will learn about music of this time period (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12)
  • Students will compare the ideas of color mixing with the way colors are produced in more recent technologies, such as television and video (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12)


  • Watercolors, tempera, or markers
  • Images for class display
  • Paper


  • Fold a piece of paper into four sections.
  • Using watercolor, markers, or tempera, fill one section with blue dots and dabs. Let dry. Apply dots of yellow to the same section.
  • Use the other three sections to optically mix orange (red and yellow), purple (blue and red), and brown (red, yellow, blue).
  • Experiment by adding white dots to half of each section.
  • Let the students experiment on another sheet of paper. See what kinds of unique combinations they can discover.
  • Look at the paintings close up and far away to see if the students can make optical mixing work. How far away do they need to be in order not to see any brushstrokes at all? Are there a variety of sizes of marks? Does that make a difference? (e.g. do small dots mix better optically than larger ones, etc.).


  • Give your students four large sheets of paper.
  • At four different times during the day (or at four times throughout a week), have them use markers or watercolors to QUICKLY (no more than 4-5 minutes) paint what they see outside, using what they have learned about painting through the optical mixing exercises. They should paint the SAME EXACT SCENE each time, sitting in the exact same place:
    • Ask them to sit for a full minute without talking before they begin, and urge them to concentrate on the light, the shadows, and the colors of what they see.
    • Tell them not to use black — if possible, don’t give them any.
    • If you have time, let them go outside and paint their five-minute compositions, sitting each time in the same spot.


Display each student’s four impressionist paintings.

Questions for discussion:

  • What is different about the images?
  • Did they have any difficulties in the process?
  • Did they notice anything that surprised them (e.g. that shadows are not actually black, but a combination of many colors)?
  • How did it feel to work within a time limit?
  • Are colors and light different at different times of the day?
  • Do they notice differences in the style that is used by each student, even when they are all working with similar brushstrokes?
  • Ask each student to choose which of their own four works was, in their opinion, the most successful and why.

If students are intrigued by these exercises:

  • Have them repeat them with different media (e.g. collage, tempera paint, colored pencils, etc.) or different subject matter.
  • Try to get them to do a painting when they wake up, right before the sun goes down, or at night.


Look at the painting by Monet. IT IS CRUCIAL to remember that all responses are subjective and need to be accepted, but urge the students to support their answers with details in the painting — colors, textures, the way space is portrayed, etc. With their own impressionist experiences in mind, have them discuss:

  • What time of year is Monet representing? What time of day?
  • Which part of the composition did he paint first? The sky? The mountains? The trees? The people? The path? The water?
  • Which colors do they think he put down first? Second? Third? Last?
  • Can you find areas where he used optical mixing? What colors did he use? What colors was he trying to have your eyes see?
  • How did he paint the figures? How many figures are there in the painting? Who is closest? Farthest away? How do you know?
  • Try to imitate the body position of the closest figure. How does that figure feel? Is the figure male or female?
  • What is the mood of the painting? What contributes to that mood? Color? Texture? Subject matter?
  • Can you find the smokestacks in the painting? Why did Monet put those in? (Note: They were there, so he included them. The knowledge that they would create pollution would not develop for some years.)
  • If you like, compare this to the painting by Eugène Delacroix, which was done in the studio from sketches. What is different about the paintings? What is the same? You can compare subject matter, colors, brushstroke, composition, and mood. Which one is more "realistic?" Why? Which painter do your students prefer? Why?


  • Have students research other impressionist painters in France and elsewhere, such as the United States or Britain.
  • Have them research what kind of art was being produced in non-Western countries during this same time period: e.g., Africa, Japan, China.
  • Have them listen to impressionist music of the time (e.g. the work of Claude Debussy) and discuss similarities with impressionist painting.
  • The idea of optical mixing in impressionism actually foreshadows the way that color is used in television and video monitors. Have the students research how the image is produced in these technological media and compare it to the use of color in impressionism.


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Mathematics, Science and Technology 4 (theory of optical mixing), 5 (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12 about connections to modern technologies)
  • New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies, 1, 2, 3 (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 2, 3 (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 (see Additional Suggestions for Grades 6–12), 10, 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing 7, 8, 9, 11


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description