First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 30 - Paintings of Diego Rivera


Observe closely some paintings by Diego Rivera.

Identify Rivera as Mexican painter.


Reproductions of murals and other art works of Diego Rivera from books or magazines

Classroom size world map or globe

Suggested Books

Winter, Jeanette and Jonah. Diego. New York: Knopf, 1991.

A wonderfully age-appropriate biography to be read aloud, with Diego-style illustrations by Jeanette and bilingual Spanish-English text by Jonah Winter. Introduces children to the practices of Mexican Indian healers through the one who nursed Rivera through a life-threatening illness in his infancy.

Chertok, Bobbi, Goody Hirshfeld and Marilyn Rosh. Month-By-Month Masterpieces. New York: Scholastic, 1996.

Wonderful, poster-sized reproductions of masterpieces suitable for hanging in the classroom are included as part of this presentation. The mural of Rivera's is called Allegory of California from 1931 and--although the subject is not Mexico--the mural is typical of the kind of powerful statement that Rivera's work makes.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr., ed. What Your First Grader Needs to Know (revised edition). New York: Doubleday, 1997.

A good reproduction of Diego Rivera's painting Piñata on p. 189 and a reproduction of his mural called The History of Medicine in Mexico on p. 198 could both be used to show the children representative work of the Mexican artist for this lesson.

Background for the Teacher

The Mexican painter Diego Rivera lived from 1886 to 1957. He studied art for many years in Europe before returning to his native Mexico to create a kind of 'art for the people' that would be in keeping with the way he believed political and social ideals for Mexico should be upheld. In the 1920s and 30s he was commisioned by many government agencies in his country to paint murals that would be conspicuously placed as part of public buildings. In the 1930s he also created murals in the United States. In the last decade, we have perhaps seen more and heard more about the work of Rivera's wife, Freida Kahlo, than Rivera's. Reproductions of any of his murals will convey to the children the power of his style.


If you have been able to obtain a copy of the Winters' biography Diego, read it to the children. Have someone come and locate Mexico on the world map or globe and take the opportunity to review some of the geographical material the children have learned about Mexico in this month's History/Geography lessons.


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 30 - Paintings of Diego Rivera

Using reproductions of Rivera's art work or the two paintings reproduced in Hirsch's What Your First Grader Needs to Know, ask the children questions about the paintings such as:

What do you notice about the colors in Rivera's paintings?

Can you identify the globe-shaped object (in Piñata painting) the child is hitting with a stick? (piñata--have children tell the class about the use of the piñata for Mexican fiestas, see History/Geography Lesson 45)

What color skin do most of his people have? (brown)

What kind of clothing do the people wear? (ponchos, bare feet, skirts in bright, primary colors, any other characteristics of the particular paintings you use as examples)

What kinds of lines and shapes do you see? (lots of curved lines, circular shapes, shapes that suggest strong movement, strong bodies)

Do Rivera's paintings show us mostly the landscape or the people of Mexico? (people)

What are the people doing? (playing, working hard at all different kinds of tasks)


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 31 - Make a Mural


Review kinds of wall painting studied this year.

Compare paintings framed on walls with murals of Diego Rivera.

Make a class mural in the style of Diego Rivera.


Reproduction(s) of murals by Diego Rivera (poster-size or in books)

Roll of brown or white paper to accommodate class mural

Discarded glossy magazines and newspapers with many ads and photographs

Scissors, glue

Crayons, markers, tempera paints and brushes (optional)


Review with the children the different kinds of wall paintings they have studied this year and write their names and subject matter on the board. Encourage the students to recall as much as they can about each of the three kinds. There should be:

Cave paintings (from Ice Age) animals, stick figures, weapons

Egyptian tomb paintings gods, goddesses, symbols, royalty, hieroglyphics

Mexican murals working people, plants and trees, Aztec and/or Mayan gods, goddesses, symbols

Be sure that the students know the time frame for each of these; they should at least be aware that Ice Age cave paintings are the oldest, Egyptian tomb paintings next, and the Mexican murals are from the twentieth century.

Show the children the reproduction of Diego Rivera's mural The History of Medicine in Mexico in Hirsch's What Your First Grader...p. 198 as a good example of the third kind of murals you have discussed. Tell the students to look carefully and ask:

What is the difference between what you see on the left and right sides of this mural? If they have trouble identifying the traditional Aztec practices of medicine on the one side, remind them of what they learned about Aztec history, symbols, gods, and goddesses. Point out to the children that the indigenous people of Mexico were those Aztec and Mayan Indians who lived on the land before the Spanish explorers and settlers arrived from Europe. (You could relate that to the use of indigenous in their study of Australia, when they saw pictures and heard the names of the indigenous animals of Australia.)

How are the modern people in the mural dressed? (some in nurses' clothing, doctors' clothing; business suits, some farmers' clothing)

How are the indigenous people dressed? (scant, simple clothing, mostly white because white does not absorb the heat and they live in a very hot climate)

What do you think about those two trees at the extreme left and right of the mural? (Accept any reasonable answers.)

Finally, ask: What do you think the difference is between framed paintings that people hang in their houses and murals? (Framed paintings must be bought, paid for, and can only be seen by the people who own them, their friends and families. Murals can be seen without cost by anyone who passes by or cares to look at them.) Have you seen any murals painted on buildings in Baltimore? (Allow the children to tell the class what and where they are.)


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 31 - Make a Mural

Tell the children you will create a class mural in the style of Diego Rivera, and they will need to brainstorm about what the subject of the mural will be. Remind them that it should involve people actively working and/or playing. Add First Grade Mural to the list on the board and its subject adjacent to it.

Allow the children to go through the magazines and newspapers, cut out figures they think are appropriate for the subject of the mural; have them experiment with placement before gluing them to the mural paper. When they have finished gluing, suggest that they may want to add their own art work to the class mural. They might want to add trees, sun, stars, anything they think would contribute to the mural. Provide them with crayons, markers, and tempera paints of several colors.


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 32 - Gauguin Painting


Recall a Gauguin painting that combines portrait and self-portrait.

Observe carefully another painting by Paul Gauguin.

Discuss light and color in Mexico and other tropical climates.

Observe how Gauguin renders light and color.


Slide of Gauguin's The Player Schneklud (#17 in plastic sleeve)

Slide of Gauguin's Woman with Mango

Classroom size world map

Suggested Books

Aukerman, Ruth. Move Over, Picasso! A Young Painter's Primer. New Windsor, MD: Pat Depke Books (in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), 1994.

Good color reproductions of paintings and suggested activities in the style of each. See pp. 32-35 for material on Gauguin.

Raboff, Ernest. Paul Gauguin. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Part of the "Art for Children" series, this book on Gauguin's art presents fifteen full-color reproductions of the artist's paintings and gives a brief bit of biographical information. Although Woman with Mango is not one of the paintings Raboff shows, the majority of the paintings are from Tahiti and so share the same important characteristics with today's painting.

Background For the Teacher

Paul Gauguin, whose The Player Schneklud the children studied in February when they were looking at portraits, had an incredibly wandering life. It might be interesting for the children to follow the geographical journey of Gauguin's life if you were to point out the various points on a world map, reminding them that there were no airplanes on which to travel quickly from place to place in Gauguin's lifetime.

The geographical route would be as follows:

1. Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848 to a French journalist and a Peruvian Creole mother.

2. In 1851, when Gauguin was only 3, the family went to Peru to live, where Paul's mother had relatives. His father died on the way, and the rest of the family remained in Peru until 1855.

3. In 11865, when Paul was 17, he joined the merchant marine, which took him on trips to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Valparaiso, Chile. He then served in the French navy until 1871.

4. In 1871, he returned to Paris and began working as a stockbroker. He married a Danish woman of good family named Mette Gad.

5. By 1883, Gauguin had resigned his job as stockbroker and made up his mind to become a painter.

6. In 1886, Gauguin lived in Brittany, on the northern coast of France.

7. The following year, 1887, Gauguin worked on the Panama Canal and also went to Martinique.

8. From 1888 to 91 he was in Paris and Brittany, but from 1890 on, he dreamed of going to the French colony of Tahiti.

9. In 1891 Gauguin went to Tahiti, leaving his wife and children behind in Europe; from that time on until 1901, he lived for long periods of time in Tahiti, then some in France, and then back to Tahiti.


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 32 - Gauguin Painting

10. In 1901, Gauguin went to the Marquesa Islands, where he thought he could live even more cheaply than in Tahiti, and he lived there until he died in 1903.


Show the children the slide of Woman with Mango and tell the students it was painted by a French painter named Paul Gauguin (go-GAN) whose work they have seen before. Show them the slide of The Player Schneklud and remind them that when they looked carefully at it in February, they learned that the face in the painting resembled that of the painter himself. Ask: What kind of a portrait do we call it when a painter puts himself in the painting? (self-portrait)

Have them look carefully at each of the two slides, go back and forth between the two slowly and ask: What about these two paintings is similar? Is it Gauguin's use of line, shape, texture, or color? (color most of all--very strong, not necessarily realistic)

If you have showed the students the many places on the map (or on a globe) where Paul Gauguin lived during his lifetime, ask them why they think he traveled so much. (Accept any reasonable answer.) Then say: Gaugin was looking for a very, very special place where he could find the beauty and peace he felt he needed in order to do his best painting. Do you think he ever found it? If so, where? (yes, Tahiti) Have the students look at Tahiti on the map again and ask: If I were to ask you to tell me something about the geography of Tahiti, what could you tell me just by looking at the map? (an island, small island in the Pacific Ocean, far away from the U.S. and from Europe, widely separated from most large countries and land masses)

Say: Where is Tahiti in relation to the equator? (very close) What does that geographical information tell us about the island of Tahiti? (very hot, very sunny, warm all the time) What do you think of when the climate is very warm or hot all the time? (lots of sunshine) What about the painting Woman with Mango makes you think of strong sunshine? (background is yellow-gold, like sunshine itself) What about the face of the woman? (brown with a lot of gold in her face as well) Are the colors strong or pale? (strong) What about the size of the woman in relation to the size of the whole painting? (figure fills the whole painting, seems to be stepping right out of the painting, coming towards us)

Ask: What is the woman holding in her hand? (a mango) Have you ever tasted a mango? Do you know where mangoes grow? (warm, tropical climates) What color are mangoes? (red, yellow, golden, green ripening to deep peach) What color is Gaugin's mango? (deep peach with gold in it) Now I want you to close your eyes and picture the warmest place with the most beautiful green trees and grasses near some warm, blue water. I want you to be able to smell bananas and oranges and lemons and mangoes growing on the trees around you. Imagine you can hear the waves of the water and the birds calling all around you. Now open your eyes and look again at Gauguin's painting and finish these four sentences for me.

The woman in the painting is looking at ____________________________.

She is hearing _________________________________________________.

She is smelling ________________________________________________.

She is thinking about ___________________________________________.