Try a Free Charlotte Mason Picture Study

Picture study makes art appreciation simple!

Try a Charlotte Mason art appreciation lesson with your students and see how this simple yet powerful method brings art study to life! This free Charlotte Mason picture study is taken from Picture Study Portfolios: Tanner.

How to Do a Charlotte Mason Picture Study

Present the picture below for your children without sharing the title. Instruct them to look at it silently until they can close their eyes and see it in their mind’s eye. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes. Once each child can imagine the picture, hide the picture and ask your children to tell as much as they can about the painting. After the children have finished narrating, show the picture again. You can now share the title and the leading thoughts below.

Try a Picture Study!

Follow the instructions above to present this picture to your students.

Show picture

Leading Thoughts

Tanner painted The Banjo Lesson—his most famous work—on one of his brief visits back to the United States from France. A doctor recommended he spend time in the mountain air to bolster his health. In the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, he witnessed the poverty and quiet dignity of African Americans living in the region. This painting grew out of photographs and illustrations he created to accompany a short story published in Harper’s Young People magazine. Following the footsteps of Jean-François Millet, a French artist whom Tanner greatly admired, he humanized his subjects rather than reducing them to a caricature. The tender relationship between grandfather and grandson is evident in the posture of the two as they focus on the task at hand—the young boy intent to learn a skill and the old man patiently sharing his knowledge.

The musical instrument at the center of the painting is one of great significance for African American culture. The banjo developed from instruments commonly used in West Africa, made from gourds with skin stretched taut across them. Integral to music produced by enslaved people in America’s south, by Tanner’s time the banjo sadly had come to be associated with negative stereotypes of black people due to the popular minstrel shows that featured white performers donning “blackface” attire. Tanner’s masterful painting restores dignity and grace to his subjects and their instrument, showing the true creative, intelligent, and competent musical mastery being passed on to a younger generation.

What light sources can you identify in this picture? What time of day do you think it is? What season of the year? Notice the difference in color temperature between the cooler light coming from the window—which we imagine to be to the left of the frame—compared to the warm glow of firelight coming from the right-hand side. Do you think there is significance in which figure is illuminated by which light source? 

We hope you enjoyed this free Charlotte Mason picture study of Tanner’s painting The Banjo Lesson. You can see how it only takes a few minutes to form life-long connections with art. If you want to add the beauty of art appreciation to your home school, our Picture Study Portfolios make it simple! We recommend one lesson per week, covering a single artist and his work over 12 weeks.

These beautiful kits are available for more than 20 artists. Each kit includes eight high-quality art prints, a living artist biography for all ages, and leading thoughts for discussing each picture. With Picture Study Portfolios, everything you need to bring the beauty of picture study to your home school is gathered in one place for you!