Home entertainment for children

As the population of the UK stays at home in order to protect the NHS and to save lives during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Alice Strang, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, finds ways to entertain children in works in the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection.

Cecile Walton The Fairy Story About 1908 © The Family of the Artist

Reading and telling stories to children allows them and their carers to go beyond the walls of their home to other places and times.

This is something that Glasgow-born, Edinburgh College of Art trained Cecile Walton captures in her The Fairy Story of about 1908.

A small fairy, whose delicate left-hand wing is visible over her shoulder, nestles into a young woman. On her lap lies an opened book in which they are both absorbed. They are seen outside, surrounded by dainty plants and flowers, whilst their intricate outfits are carefully rendered.

Walton was 18-years old when she created this tender moment of mutual enjoyment. She was to go on to illustrate a 1911 edition of Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales and the 1920 publication Polish Fairy Tales.

Mabel Pryde Harlequin with Chair About 1908

Dressing-up, whether in costumes or other people’s clothes, is often amusing and usually sparks off imaginative play. It might even result in your mother painting you, as Nancy Nicholson found in Mabel Pryde’s Harlequin with Chair of about 1908.

Born in Edinburgh, Pryde met her future husband, the artist William Nicholson, when they were studying at Hubert von Kerkomer’s art school in Bushey, Hertfordshire. Nancy was their third child and went on to become a painter and designer in her own right. She is seen here aged about nine years old, dressed as a harlequin and standing in front of a window, with one hand on a hip and the other on a chair.

Pryde frequently painted all four of her children and was scrupulous about paying them a modelling fee. 

Gwendolen Raverat Andersen Cutting out Pictures 1935 © Estate of Gwen Raverat. All rights reserved. DACS, London 2023

Many children enjoy being artists themselves and with help from grown-ups can create enough works of art to make a fridge door exhibition. Cambridge-born and Slade School of Fine Art trained Gwen Raverat shows this shared activity in Andersen Cutting Out Pictures of 1935.

A young girl watches expectantly as a man carefully uses scissors to release images with which she can play and make further works. They are observed by an older man, in a formal setting signalled by the gentlemen’s discarded top hats.

Nonetheless, the scene is affectionate, symbolised by the girl’s hand tenderly resting on her collaborator’s knee, as her other hand is held in eager readiness to receive the result of his efforts on her behalf.

Cecil Collins Two Fools Dancing 1942 © The Artist's Estate, courtesy private collection on long term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland

Children and grown-ups alike can enjoy the freedom of dancing, as expressed in Fools Dancing of 1942 by Plymouth-born, Royal College of Art trained Cecil Collins.

This drawing verges between whimsy and surrealism, as the two figures move with differing levels of energy. Their rippling bodies and fantastical outfits contrast with their expressions of concentration.

Details such as the bows of their shoes, their distinct hair-styles and the sprouting fluffs of their costumes make the image as lively as their unself-conscious movements. Dancing can release emotions and pent-up physical energy, whilst also being fun.

Hopefully, by taking these works as our inspiration, we can entertain our children whilst we stay at home.

Why not create your own art together, inspired by our fun weekly #HomeArt activity ideas?

Every Monday, we post 5 new creative activities that have been designed for children of all ages to explore at their own pace.

By Alice Strang, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, 22 April 2020