Light in the Garden

Impressionistic painting of a couple sitting on a bench in a garden.
The Lesson in the Garden
Berthe Morisot

Inspired by The Lesson in the Garden by Berthe Morisot, this activity will involve a scientific exploration of the effects of dark and light and its impact on color and shadows. Children will explore a variety of light sources and materials, and will have the opportunity to document their observations. The children will then return to The Lesson in the Garden painting to discuss their conclusions and comparisons based on their experiments and their examination of the piece.

Intended Age Group
Early childhood (ages 3-5)
Standards Area
Lesson Length
One 20–30 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • Make connections between the painting and their own experiences
  • Use scientific inquiry to explore the effects of dark and light and its impact on color and shadows


  1. Display The Lesson in the Garden by Berthe Morisot. Explain to students that this artist was inspired to create vibrant colors as she observed how the light filtered through the trees into the garden. Invite the children to share any observations they make about the painting and record them. Use a close looking game like Zoom In or Ten Times Two to get them to notice detail.
  2. Introduce the materials (Magna-Tiles, tissue paper, fabrics, etc.) and tools (various light sources) that will be available to explore. Invite children to experiment with the materials; scaffolding their learning by using prompts such as “What happens when we use the brightest light to shine through the material?”, “What happens to the color when there is no light?”, “What happens if we layer the materials together?”, “Which materials creates the brightest color when you shine light through it?” As the children provide their responses, introduce vocabulary words to provoke their thinking (shadow, shade) Document children’s responses using a class list or offer art materials for them to draw a picture of their findings.
  3. Make the recommended materials available for as long as children remain interested in experimentation (it may be one day, or could extend a week or longer). Once the lesson comes to a close, have a discussion with the children about their experiments and observations. In reflection, have children observe The Lesson in the Garden once again and discuss conclusions about what the artist might have observed based on their own exploration of materials and light.
  4. As an extension, provide art materials for children to utilize outdoors to create their own nature and light inspired works (example: allow for open-ended art experiences, as children experiment with materials than can be layered such as tissue paper and glue, or watercolors or colored pencils, and blank paper). Incorporate books into the library or group time that support the core concepts of this lesson such as: Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood, Color and Light by David Evans and Claudette Williams, and/or Pantone: Colors by Pantone


  • A printed copy from the website of The Lesson in the Garden by Berthe Morisot, or display it on a screen from the website
  • Light table (or a homemade version of a light table)
  • Windows
  • Flashlight, lamp, or other portable light sources
  • Transparent blocks or tiles (ie: Magna-Tiles), colored tissue paper, colored cellophane, sheer fabrics, leaves, etc.
  • Paper and writing utensils to document observation


CO Standards
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
  • Physical Science
    • Students know and understand common properties, forms, and changes in matter and energy
21st Century Skills
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
Impressionistic painting of a couple sitting on a bench in a garden.

Berthe Morisot, The Lesson in the Garden (La leçon dans le jardin), 1886. Oil paint on canvas; 23 9/16 x 28 ¾ in. Collection of Frederic C. Hamilton, bequeathed to the Denver Art Museum.

The Lesson in the Garden


Berthe Morisot, The Lesson in the Garden (La leçon dans le jardin), 1886. Oil paint on canvas; 23 9/16 x 28 ¾ in. Collection of Frederic C. Hamilton, bequeathed to the Denver Art Museum, on generous loan from Jane M. Hamilton. Photograph courtesy Denver Art Museum.

Object ID: 34.2017

About the Artist

Berthe Morisot was born in 1841 in Bourges, France to a wealthy aristocratic family. At the time, women of her class were expected to have basic skills and knowledge in the arts, so Berthe and her sister Edma took lessons in drawing and painting. The sisters were quite talented, and their teacher claimed that they both could become real painters, a potentially scandalous notion for women of their station. Supported by their parents, the sisters continued their training. Berthe exhibited in the Salons (formal exhibitions organized by the French government) from 1864 to 1868 and was very well received. She met Édouard Manet, a fellow French artist, who then changed her fate by introducing her to not only a new direction in painting, but also to his brother Eugène in 1874, whom she would marry.

Even though Berthe found success in the Salons, she began changing her approach to painting and decided to join the Impressionists in their very first exhibition in 1874. Her style has been described as “quintessentially impressionist” and she has been called the “most natural painter.” She enjoyed friendships with many artists throughout her life, but due to her being a woman of her class, she could not participate in much of Parisian artist culture, including drinking, café-sitting, and public appearances without an escort. Despite these challenges, Berthe became one of the central figures in the Impressionist movement. Berthe died in Paris in 1895, at the age of 54.

What Inspired It

Although Berthe’s early style was more traditional due to her formal training, she became heavily influenced by the unconventional and modern approach to art espoused by Édouard Manet and of the later Impressionists. For this painting, Berthe may have completed part of it en plein air, or outside and onsite. Here, In this painting, Berthe’s loose brushwork and vibrant color palette work together as she attempted to capture the effect of dappled light filtering through the trees into the garden. The focus here is not on the two figures, but on the surrounding landscape, lush and slightly wild.



Berthe used painterly brushstrokes, in which oil paint is applied so thickly, the brushstrokes are able to be seen, as well as impasto, in which layers of paint cause globs to be almost three dimensional. The artist is often called “quintessentially impressionist” partly because she used both of these brushstrokes so well and frequently.


The figures are given no distinct features, common for many impressionist artists who were more interested in capturing a fleeting moment in time.


A sense of movement permeates this painting due to the quality of the brushstrokes. The trees seem to sway, the grass seems to blow in the wind, and the hands and feet of the figures seem blurry as they gesture.

Bright Colors

Berthe embraced a vibrant, colorful palette with countless shades of green, yellows, blues, and pops of orange in the flowers and cattails.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.