Triptych Portraits

MonaSubmitted by: Judy Sassano,
George Washington Elementary School, Camden, NJ
UNIT: Styles of Painting - Portrait - Renaissance and Impressionist Art
Lesson: Art Styles - Portrait Triptych
Grade Level: 4 - 12



Five 45-minute sessions (may go longer for middle school and high school)



Each student selects a photo and creates portraits of the photo in three different styles (Realism, Impressionism, and Abstraction). Students place their finished products on a triptych for viewing.



  1. Students will learn how to make portraits.

  2. Students will experience various media for a single theme.

  3. Students will see and understand changing styles of art.


  1. Students will encompass portraiture in three styles of art and be able to distinguish the differences between them.

  2. Students will refine perceptual, physical, and technical skills through creating visual art. (NJ Standard 1.2)

  3. Students will acquire knowledge and skills that increase aesthetic awareness. (NJ Standard 1.1)



Van Gogh Self Portrait Print. - This print by Van Gogh can be shown as an example of Impressionism.

Mona Lisa Print. - This print by Leonardo Da Vinci can be shown as an example of realism.

Girl with Red Beret by Picasso. - This portrait by Picasso can be shown as an example of abstract art.



  1. Realism - Art style which attempts to show the subject matter as it actually looks, details, etc.

  2. Impressionism - Art style which uses light and color and dabs of paint to create an impression of a particular subject (looks more realistic from a distance; up close view shows dabs or brush strokes of color).

  3. Abstraction - Art style where subject matter is created by using shapes or abstracting the subject into shapes and colors with almost no detail.

  4. Triptych - A work of art that is done on three connected panels.

  5. Brush strokes - The actual strokes of the paint brush which are visible on the work of art.


Background: "Styles in your life change and repeat themselves. Look at old photographs and check out hairstyles and clothes. Listen to music of your parents' generation and listen to the music you enjoy. The same is true in art. Different periods in history are portrayed in different styles of art; some are more popular than others. Portraits, in painting, have changed styles over the centuries. During the Renaissance in the fifteenth century, art exploded with creative genius. Many paintings dealt with religion, while portraits were sometime idealized like that of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. In the sixteenth century, portraits became very important, especially to the nobility who had court painters working for them. Hans Holbein’s Edward VI as a Child (1539) is a good example. The king was so impressed with the painting of his son, depicting the royalty of the boy, that he presented the artist with a silver cup. Diego Velásquez, a court painter in Spain, spent most of his career portraying the royal family and its entourage. Princess Margarita Maria, painted around 1640, shows his grand style depicting the royalty. Velásquez was so popular with the king that he was appointed Grand Marshal of the Palace. In 1770 Thomas Gainsborough painted Blue Boy. Gainsborough painted portraits of the country gentry and nobility for his livelihood. He was one of the first British painters to incorporate landscapes with his portraits. Auguste Renoir began his career when he was thirteen, decorating china in a pottery factory. His Impressionist portrait, Madame Charpentier and Her Children, painted in 1878, shows a softness in colors and form that is still different than artists before him.


The Expressionist Self-Portrait painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1887 shows another style of art that was also evolving in the 1800’s -- a kind of painting where the color and brush strokes become more important than just the portrait itself. In the 1920’s Frida Kahlo painted her Self-Portrait with Monkey. Although the painting was relatively realistic in looking like the artist, a more modern surrealism within the painting grew. From Van Gogh and the Impressionists began a modern movement in art. It continued with the artist Paul Klee in his 1922 Head. Color and shape have now replaced any form of reality. Pablo Picasso’s Girl with a Ponytail, continues to depict more abstractions in modern art. As art styles and creative ideas change, so does the portrait. The more modern the art world becomes, the more outrageous the portraits may be. The creative energies of the artists encourage all kinds of expressions through portraits."



Show samples of portraits, explaining the historical background. Discuss, compare, and contrast the portraits. Explain what a triptych is and show an example of today's lesson (a triptych containing three portraits). Discuss the differences in the three portraits. Distribute oak tag and scissors. Demonstrate how to fold and cut the oak tag to shape a triptych. Have students set their triptychs aside. Model the activity (this takes place over a few days) -- choose a photograph from a magazine. On a piece of white paper, demonstrate how to use colored pencils to draw and color a realistic copy of the photo. (You may want to give a review lesson in facial division and how to draw facial parts.) Complete and set aside. Using the same photo, demonstrate how to make it look impressionistic with the use of tempera Palettes. and brushes. Emphasize the importance of color and brush strokes -- less importance on details. Demonstrate and review how to use a brush to dab on colors. Complete and set aside. The third portrait will be an abstraction of the photo, using shapes and flat areas of color with markers and rulers. Look for geometric shapes in facial details. All three portraits will be glued appropriately onto the triptych. Triptych panel borders will be decorated with a style that will bring all three portrait styles together.



Students will show their work and explain the differences in each portrait -- these will be displayed along with a written class explanation of the works.


Useful Internet Resource:
Artcyclopedia - The Fine Art Search Engine
Search artists by name, artworks by title, and art museums by name/place.


Special Comments:

My fourth graders loved this lesson. I cut and measured oak tag and folded it for students to glue in their portraits -- this made the final part a bit easier for them.

Copyright April 16, 2001



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