A stunning visual exploration of Henri Rousseau’s acclaimed artwork Surprised! Is the basis of a major exhibition by creative youngsters at Ramsgate Arts Primary.
It forms the school’s entry to the Take One Picture 2024 competition run by The National Gallery that aims to inspire a lifelong love of art and learning.
In the painting a tiger crouches low in thick jungle foliage, its back arched and teeth bared. It is not entirely clear what is happening: is the tiger cowering from the flash of lightning, or is it stalking prey?
Art teacher Kelly-Ann Smith said: “This is one of my favourite paintings so it was exciting to really dive into the art work to see what ideas our children could explore.
“Their perceptive output made me look at the artwork from completely different viewpoints, which is one of the aims of Take One Picture. They have explored themes from the weather, to the jungle environment and the tiger and questioned what may have frightened it.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed guiding the children thorough the project and exploring a variety of interesting techniques from painting and lining paper to working with clay, embroidery hoops and collaborating with a 3D sculpture artist to create our tiger.”
Each year group contributed and here is what some of them said about their work.
Both groups were drawn to the vast vegetation in the jungle and decided to construct a tree to be a real focal point in the exhibition with a focus on creating leaves in different shades of green to represent the colours in the painting.
The class discussed tropical thunderstorms and the cosmic and dynamic colours that these create. They designed their own lightening wallpaper, and embellished it using metallic pens and stencils to create the various shapes.
This group were intrigued about what had surprised the tiger and thought it might be scared of the stormy weather. Using geometric shapes they fashioned a collage of a tiger and a cave using sharp angles and mirrors to represent that it is often your own fears facing you in the mirror.
The class were fascinated by what would be lurking in the layers of the grass and plants that grow below the surface in the picture. They created a range of cyanotypes using jungle leaf templates and real life flowers to create the prints in the images.
Children investigated jungle birds such as the colourful and striking toucan, drawing them using Posca pens on acetate and embellishing them with further mark-making and feathers to add shape and texture. The birds are shown in profile as though they are sitting in a glasshouse.
The class decided they would like to focus on the interesting and bizarre succulents and cacti that the jungle has to offer, making clay plants that were fired and glazed and placed in pots.
This group created a vast sculpture of the tiger that would act as a real focal point in the exhibition. Working collectively, with artist guidance and technical support, the project explored 3D techniques using card, paper and collage.
Children were drawn to what the tiger was surprised about and why he was crouching, maybe hiding from something ferocious. Discussions led to the creation of a jungle serpent with lavish scales on its snake-like body, gigantic wings and a striking mermaid tail.
Intrigued by the sounds of the jungle, these pupils designed and made their own instruments such as drums, rainmakers, shakers and kazoos, to recreate the symphony of sounds of the painting. They recorded their instruments that could then be layered, switched on and muted to represent the different sounds.
Pupils created close-up digital photography of plants, to recreate the depth and layers of background and foreground in the painting. They arranged the plants to create the most interesting, dynamic shots possible.
Team Beraet- Williams
Using an embroidery ring, pupils created individual pieces using t techniques like batik, lino printing, embroidery and illustration to explore themes such as the weather, the vegetation, the tiger and jungle flowers.
In recent years Ramsgate Arts Primary has been praised by the competition organisers for the quality and breadth of its submissions. As a result, RAPS entries have been displayed by the National Gallery and also featured on digital billboards in major cities across the UK.
Head of School Nick Budge added: “All our year groups found interesting aspects of the painting to focus on and have created a diverse and thought-provoking exhibition. It is an amazing installation of pure creativity from our pupils – they worked very hard with their teachers and the result is a fabulous showcase of their skills.”
Submissions for the 2023 competition for primary schools close on October 31 and selected entries will form part of an exhibition at the gallery.
*About Rousseau: Surprised! was the first of around 20 ‘jungle’ paintings he produced. These jungles are entirely imaginary – Rousseau never left France and the foliage is a mix of domestic house plants and tropical varieties which he had seen at the Botanical Gardens in Paris.
A self-taught amateur artist who took up painting as a hobby, he is now seen as a pioneer of ‘naïve art’.
To explore the Take One Picture programme, go online to www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/take-one-picture.