Jean Geoffroy - Primary School In Brittany
( Originally Published 1918 )
Questions to arouse interest. Where are these children? Why do you think so? What are they doing? How do their clothes and shoes differ from ours? How many classes are there? What is the teacher doing? How is she dressed? Why do you think the little girl leaning against the teacher is just learning to read? What makes you think she has come to a word she does not know? Which child looks as if she knew? Which little girl is looking out of the window? What are the two little children sitting next to the teacher doing?
Why are they not in class? How are they dressed? Why do they not wear bonnets like the older girls? What are the children at the desks doing? Which one in class is not listening? How many windows can you see? What makes you think there must be other windows? What can you see on the walls?
Artist: Jean Geoffroy (zhô'frwâ ).
Birthplace: Marennes, France. Dates:
Born, 1853; still living, 1918.
The story of the picture. In a little village in Brittany, France, there is just such a school as the one we see in this picture. We know this is true because the artist, Mr. Jean Geoffroy, lives near it and has told us all about it with his brush and paints. We are told, too, that he visits this school very often and has made friends with all the boys and girls. He is a very rich, generous man and besides painting their pictures as large as life, he gives them flowers, cakes, and candy. Although he is naturally a very shy, quiet man, the children never find him so when he is entertaining them.
If we could open the door very quietly and go into this schoolhouse to-day, we should see a scene just like that in our picture. In that part of Brittany the children still wear those queer bonnets, wide collars, and wooden shoes.
Many of the children have come a long way to school, for the houses are scattered. In some parts of Brittany we should see built on the low hills many an old castle, with its towers and walls in ruin. Narrow little bridges cross the streams which dash over the rocks on their way to the ocean. Then there are the great forests of oak trees where, long ago, the Druid priests used to live and hold their mysterious meetings, and about whose magic all kinds of weird tales are told.
But this was all so long ago that no doubt the children think now only of the beautiful fairies who live in the oak trees and go about doing good. They may even steal quietly in among the great trees, listening, and hoping to hear the low knock of some fairy who will tell them where to find the key which will unlock the door and let her out—for that is the only way one could hope to see a fairy in the daytime.
When the school bell rings in the morning the children come carrying their books and their lunches-a gay little procession from far and near, each wearing a quaint bonnet, dress, and shoes like those you see in the picture.
In our picture, school has begun, the opening exercises are over, and the first class of beginners is reciting. The little girl leaning against the teacher is just learning to read, and points to each word as she pronounces it. She seems to have come to a word she does not know. How do you think she will learn it? Will she sound it, or spell it and let some one in the class tell her, or will the teacher tell her? The little girl at this end holding her apron so tightly wants to tell her—at least she looks as if she knew, and so does the little girl looking at the book over the child's shoulder. But the girl looking out of the window does not seem to be thinking of her school work and we fear she will not know her lesson.
The tallest girl is probably reading in another book and is farther advanced, for in country schools they do not try to keep together, but each one goes ahead as fast as he or she is able. Perhaps that is one reason why the older girls seated at the desks are studying so hard. No doubt their lessons are much longer than ours, for the school year is shorter. They must work very hard if they would keep up with the rest of the class.
The two little children sitting beside the teacher are too young to wear the queer bonnets the others wear, or to sit on the high benches, but they are content to be close to the teacher and to listen to the older children with wonder and admiration. They certainly do not look as if they were six years old.
What a pleasant face the teacher has! Look at any part of the picture you wish and your eyes will soon be drawn back to her face as she sits in the bright light with the group of children about her. This is what the artist must have intended. It also explains why he left so indistinct the faces and figures of the pupils at their seats, and made the maps and charts on the wall so vague. If we were to stand in the doorway and look at the teacher and her class, we should see the pupils in their seats only as a blurred mass until we turned to look directly at them.
Suppose the bell for recess should ring. Then all would be commotion; but not confusion we are sure, for it is easy to see that the pupils in this school have been taught to be orderly. We wonder if the two little ones will be too shy to run and play with the other children. Probably there is some older sister to look after them.
And what will the children play? They probably do not have toboggan slides, seesaws, swings, or basket-balls on their playgrounds, but no doubt they play games like our " Follow the Leader," " London Bridge," " Crack the Whip," and other games we like to play. It does not seem as if they could run very fast in such clumsy wooden shoes. If you have ever tried to wear a pair of Dutch wooden shoes you will wonder how they could be worn in school, for they are very likely to make a great deal of noise on the wooden floor. But you can tell by looking at this picture that all is very quiet in the schoolroom.
It will soon be time for the older girls to recite, and then this beginners' class can study. Probably there are some smaller benches for them on the other side of the room. We hope the little girl who is looking out of the window will work and not bother her neighbor, as that big girl at the right-hand side of the picture is doing. However, her neighbor keeps her eyes on her book and pays no attention to her.
We should like to visit this school, and, best of all, we should like to go with these children on their homeward journey across the narrow little bridge, up the hill; past the great oak forest, and across the fields.
Questions to help the pupil understand the picture. How many have ever visited a country school? a city school?. In what ways do they differ? How are they alike? Which does this picture represent? Why do you think so? Where is this school? Who lives near it? What does he like to do? What does he do for the children? How do the children dress in Brittany? Why do most of them come a long distance to school? Tell about the old castles; the forests and the Druids. Which class is reciting now? Tell what each one of the pupils is doing. Tell about the children at the desks. Why must they study so hard? What do you think they will all do at recess? What makes you think this is a quiet, orderly schoolroom? Look at the picture, then close your eyes, and then open them slowly. Whom do you see first? Whom do you think the artist intended us to see first? Why did he paint the children in the background so indistinct?
To the Teacher :
SUBJECTS FOR COMPOSITIONS
What I See in This Picture.
A Visit to the Schoolroom.
Why I Should Like to Go to This School.
Why I Like Our Own School Best.
An Imaginary Painting of Our School.
The story of the artist. Mr. Jean Geoffroy is still living in this little village called Marennes, near the school of which he has painted so many pictures. He is very fond of children, and counts them among his best friends. A large number of the pictures Geoffroy has painted are of children. He does not often paint the children of wealth and fashion, preferring in-stead to paint the little sons and daughters of the poorer, hard-working people.
His pictures always tell a story, and tell it so plainly that they do not need titles. They have brought him great praise and many honors, but he is a modest man and we know very little about his life.
He signs his Paintings Geo."
Questions about the artist. Who painted this picture? Where does he live? What other pictures has he painted? Why do his pictures not need titles?