Catherine The Great: An Art Book For Kids
National Gallery of Victoria RRP: $14.99
Miss 7 has been studying some of the great artists at school this year. She surprises me constantly by finding ways to relate to famous works: Andy Warhol is currently her favourite, because she’s a big fan of soup, Elvis Presley and bright colours. We can leave unpacking the deeper meaning of Warhol’s art for later. At this stage, I’m just excited that she’s excited, because the history of art has so much to teach us.
In this spirit, I was thrilled when the National Gallery of Victoria invited me to take a look at Catherine The Great, a kids’ art book connected to their current blockbuster exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage. If you’re in Melbourne (or visiting there before the 8th November) this is a must-see glimpse at the opulent collections of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, with a particular focus on Catherine – a German-born woman who later ruled Russia and was ‘the eighteenth century’s most visionary art collector‘.
Catherine The Great is a substantial, hardcover, interactive art appreciation guide for kids. It would, of course, make a perfect souvenir if you’re attending the exhibition. But even if you’re not, it provides enough exciting historical tidbits and opportunities to create your own artworks for any young reader to enjoy.
The reader is lead through Catherine’s life and legacy by a dog named Zemira, based on Catherine’s actual pet Italian greyhound. Using bright illustrations by Kat Chadwick, reproductions of original works and straightforward language, the book informs us that Catherine was named Sophia at birth, changing her name when she married into Russian royalty (at the ripe old age of 15). Eventually becoming Empress of Russia, she reigned for 34 years and was responsible for many significant innovations, including amassing an art collection that’s now a national treasure.
Thanks to the eclectic nature of the Hermitage collection, and Catherine’s long years in power, the book is able to touch on a range of art styles including jewellery, fine china and period paintings from across Europe. At each stage, the book helps children relate to Catherine’s world via the aspects of life kids know best: food, daily routines, pets and education. For example, children can examine some portraits, then read facts about beauty routines of the 1700s – like covering one’s face in white paint and sprinkling ivory powder in the hair to keep it clean! After that, there is space to draw your own self portrait – and make it as wildly 18th century as you like.
Art is also a window into the histories and cultures of countries, people and their leaders. Though Catherine was progressive, she was still a product of her time, so the book opens up discussions about privilege and poverty, war and peace, and even changing fashion trends like wearing fur. This would be a great teaching tool for primary art classes or families keen to include art history in their home learning ‘curriculum’.
Catherine The Great is available instore or online from the National Gallery of Victoria. I thank them for my review copy (which Miss 7 has fully drawn ALL OVER now…in a good way.)