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Melancholy, Edgar Degas.

Instructions: The monthly Art Print is meant to be removed from the center of the magazine, laminated or matted, and used as a resource in your art room.-Editor


Some primary-aged children may be familiar with the work of Edgar Degas from his many pictures of the ballet. Show students a selection of Degas' work of ballerinas in performance and rehearsal, as well as pictures of the circus. Next, share the Art Print with students and ask how this image differs from the others. Guide students to describe the mood of this picture in contrast to the ballet paintings.

Next, point out that the artist only used a few colors in this painting. Challenge students to identify the most predominant colors (red, orange, yellow). Inform them that they will be making a "feelings" picture with a few of these same colors, as well as black and white, just as Degas did in Melancholy.

Pass out drawing paper and pencils. Give the children time to draw a picture of a person with a facial expression that shows a feeling. When they have completed their sketches, instruct them to lay in color with crayon, using only the warm colors that they see in the Art Print. Finally, show students how they can use black and white to create areas of shadow and highlights.


Introduce the color wheel and the concept of warm and cool colors. Present the Art Print and lead a discussion of how the artist used warm colors, black, and white to compose his picture and how this limited palette contributes to the picture's overall mood. Follow directions for the activity in Primary, only give students chalk pastels instead of crayons to lay in color. Display all completed work alongside the Art Print.


The actual painting of Melancholy is considered a small work, measuring a mere 7.5" x 9.75". The emotional impact of the work belies its diminutive dimensions. Lead students in a discussion on the work's composition and the choices that the artist made in arranging the piece as he did: breaking the space in half using a diagonal; placing the woman into the left half of the space and leaving the right (or upper) space empty. Ask students how these decisions contribute to the emotional effect (mood) of the painting.

Give each student pieces of drawing paper cut to the exact dimensions of the Degas painting. Provide them with time to make a number of sketches that use a diagonal line to break the picture into two spaces. Students must choose one of the spaces to place their subject, leaving the other one empty of representational content (Degas chose to use this space to depict the colors of the firelight and natural light on a white wall). After students have completed the sketching phase, instruct them to choose one sketch on which to base an original painting.


The word "melancholy" means a feeling of deep and thoughtful sadness. The term "melancholia" is an ancient one, and refers to what was once believed to be an illness of the mind brought on by an excess of black bile in the blood. Before showing students the Art Print, visit the following Web pages to learn more about melancholy and how it has been depicted in art over the centuries:


* 2/114-privileged-piety

Introduce the subject of melancholy and the four humours. Show students a pre-selected series of art images that depict the malady. (The most well known is Melencholia 1, 1514, by Albrecht Durer). Finally, share the Art Print. Give students time to do historical research into the four humours and their depiction in art. After students have completed the research phase, they will create an original work of art that incorporates their understanding of the tradition.

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Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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