Art State of Mind

School and Learning in the Eyes of Artists

Europeana 24 January 2024 min Read

A lot has changed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: not just the way we approach our health and safety, but also the way children and students attend school and university. While most students worldwide have returned to school a while ago, some continue taking at least some of their classes online. Art is a great way to put things into historical perspective, so let’s see how painters from various countries and periods in history depicted the theme of the school.

1. Home Schooling

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many children and their families experienced education at home for the first time. Yet, before the introduction of compulsory school attendance (in the majority of countries in the 19th and 20th centuries), learning at home or within the local community was a common practice. Of course, the amount and quality of learning were related to wealth and status.

Back to School in Art: Adriaen van Gaesbeeck, Young Man in a Study,
Back to School in Art: Adriaen van Gaesbeeck, Young Man in a Study, 1640, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The young boy in this painting, Adriaen van Gaesbeeck, was initially incorrectly identified as Hugo de Groot, a Dutch humanist, diplomat, and lawyer. He is standing in front of a work table in the interior of a study. An open book, map, lute, ink set, globe, and a statue of Venus sit on the table. Shelves against the wall contain books and a map in rolls. In the foreground are another book, a map, and a plaster head on the floor. On the right is a staircase to the upper floor and on the stairs is a girl with a book under her arm. In the middle stands a column with a painting of a child’s portrait.

2. A Village School

This work by Oscar Björck depicts the classroom in a small school in Skagen, a village popular among Scandinavian painters because of its picturesque landscapes and the warm local community.

Back to School in Art: Oscar Björck, In the Village School,
Back to School in Art: Oscar Björck, In the Village School, 1884, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden.

The teacher, dressed in black, resembles Madame Henriksen who can be seen in several paintings with motifs from Skagen by Björck and other artists. She is spinning wool, while the students concentrate on their reading.

3. The First Day of School

The first day of school is an important milestone for both children and their parents. On the left, we see a group of schoolboys. Behind them walks a servant carrying an embroidery frame (needlework was a favorite pastime of women in affluent Turkish circles). Following them all is a mother, accompanied by a group of women, bringing her daughter to school for the first time.

Jean Baptiste Vanmour, The First Day of School,
Back to School in Art: Jean Baptiste Vanmour, The First Day of School, 1720-1737, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Jean Baptiste Vanmour specialized in depicting life in the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. His works illustrated both official events as well as daily life in and around Istanbul.

4. Evening School

Evening or night schools for children were established in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 19th century. This type of school served children who could not attend school during the day or who wanted to continue their education.

Back to School in Art: George Gillis Haanen, The Evening School,
Back to School in Art: George Gillis Haanen, The Evening School, 1835, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

In this painting by George Gillis Haanen, we see the interior of an evening school. A mother with a lantern brings in her son. In the middle, we see the master behind his desk. On the right students are reading by candlelight while on the left, two boys are standing by a stove.

5. Open-Air School

Outdoor lessons are being discussed mainly in the context of children’s health. The schools set up during the tuberculosis outbreak in the period leading up to World War II are another example. However open-air teaching in many parts of the world has been taking place for various reasons: from socio-economic issues to lifestyle or climate-related.

Leopold Carl Müller, Schule in Oberägypten
Back to School in Art: Leopold Carl Müller, Schule in Oberägypten, 1881, Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria.

This painting by Leopold Carl Müller presents an open-air school in Upper Egypt in 1881. The students sit on the ground and concentrate on reading and writing. Meanwhile, a serious-looking teacher is observing them. In the background, we see more groups of children with their teachers. Leopold Carl Müller spent a lot of time in Egypt, painting the local life and landscape and is renowned as the most important Austrian painter of the Orient.

Get your daily dose of art

Click and follow us on Google News to stay updated all the time


Art State of Mind

10 Gift Ideas from 10 Museums Around the World

If you are struggling with inspiration for great gifts, do not fret! DailyArt Magazine is here to help. Today, we will go around the world looking...

Joanna Kaszubowska 11 January 2024

Art State of Mind

Christmas Cards Made by Artists

One of the most cherished Christmas traditions is the exchange of cards, a practice rooted in the early 19th century when John Callcott Horsley made...

Andreea Iancu 7 February 2024

john singer sargent capri Art State of Mind

We Love Museums! Discover the Best Spots Local to Our Staff and Contributors

Can you believe it? DailyArt Magazine is turning seven! To celebrate this exciting milestone, we asked our incredible staff and talented contributors...

Ania Kaczynska 12 July 2023

art for crawling babies Art State of Mind

Art for Babies – What Crawlers Could Do in the Art World

In the previous article, Artworks Your Infant Will Enjoy, we encouraged you to turn gallery trips into sensory classes for your newborn. While these...

Isla Phillips-Ewen 1 June 2023