Collection Connection: Portraits!

Collection Connection: Portraits!

Discover portraits in VMFA's galleries and then create your own!

Grade Level:
Early Childhood
American Art, Modern and Contemporary Art
America, Europe
Subject Area:
Fine Arts, Music, Visual Arts
Activity Type:
Gallery Guides & Hunts, Hands-On Activity, Lesson Concept

Collection Connection: Portraits!

Use this guide to explore VMFA’s galleries and engage with the art. Then create a work of art at home inspired by what you saw! A printer friendly PDF of this resource can be found here: Early Childhood Lesson Concept: Portraits (PDF).


When an artist creates a representation of a person, it is called a portrait. Portraits usually focus on a person’s face, but can include the whole body. A portrait can be a painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, or any other type of art. When an artist creates a portrait of himself or herself, it is called a self-portrait.

Today, photography is the most common form of portraiture. Before we had cameras, painting and drawing were often used to document how someone looked. Many important people, like kings and queens, had artists paint their portraits in the hopes of being remembered forever.

You can learn a lot about people by observing their portrait– where they are from, how they feel, even what they like to do! We invite you to use this self-guided lesson to learn more about some of the portraits here at VMFA!

To begin, ask your child what they know about portraits:

  • What is a portrait? (a painting, photograph, or sculpture of a person)
  • What are your facial features? (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, eyebrows, hair, etc.)
  • Ask if they have seen themselves in a portrait (a picture of themselves framed at home or seen digitally).
  • Explain how every person is unique. Discuss how diverse facial features and shades of skin can be.
  • Talk about emotions and facial expressions. Experiment together making different emotions with your faces (happy, sad, surprised, mad, etc.).


Did you know that phrasing your questions a certain way can make children think and strengthen their cognitive development and observational skills? Try asking open-ended questions that spark creative responses rather than questions that result in Yes or No answers.

Gallery Guidelines

One of the tools we use to engage our students is enrichment activities – songs, games and materials that invite children to explore the objects in a deeper capacity. We invite your family to do the same! Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Only bring soft, dry, materials with you, and something to easily contain them (a small bag or basket).
  • Do not bring wet, hard, or sticky objects like rocks, markers or stickers.
  • Suggested materials – pipe cleaners, feathers, silk leaves, pom poms, etc.
  • We usually incorporate items that connect with the objects we are looking at or with the songs we sing (silk leaves for jungle animal songs, large doll straw hats that resemble a hat in a portrait).
  • Remember to keep the art work safe by using museum hands (holding hands together like they’re giving each other a hug) and walking like slow moving turtles while in the galleries.

Object 1

Marian Anderson

Enter the museum through the main entrance and travel up the glass elevator to the second floor. Turn right out of the elevator and then left into the American Gallery. As you enter, look immediately to your left and you will find the bright yellow painting of Marian Anderson.

This is a portrait of Marian Anderson who was a well-renowned singer and performer of her time. The artist, Beauford Delaney, wanted to represent Marian’s beautiful voice and grace.  He used the color yellow because he felt it symbolized perfection and transcendence. Listen to her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939.

At the museum, we enjoy pointing out Marian’s “museum hands.” We encourage our young audience to mimic Marian by hugging their own hands together as they observe works of art around museum.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you notice about this painting? Is it a portrait?
  • Can you find the woman’s facial features (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.)?
  • This woman’s name is Marian Anderson and she was a famous singer. Does she look like she is singing in the painting? Can you stand like her?
  • What songs do you think she liked to sing? What is your favorite song?
  • What colors do you see? Can you find the primary colors (blue, yellow, and red)?
  • Do you notice anything in the background? (There is a piano player painted in blue.)

Gallery Action Rhyme and Song:

Hand-held mirrors are excellent tools for children to closely observe their facial features. As your child is looking in a mirror, say the following rhyme:

I have a little face

that belongs to me.

I have two ears to hear with

and two eyes to see.

I have a nose for smelling.

I have a mouth to eat.

I always like to smile

at everyone I meet.


You can also sing this fun Peek-a-Boo song together.


Interesting Fact!

Did you know that sounds are made by vibrations? When you sing, your vocal cords move quickly back and forth, creating vibrations.  Gently place your hand on your throat and sing a song.  Can you feel the vibrations? Try this simple experiment about sound and vibrations at home!

Object 2

A Likeness of Francis B.

When you are ready to continue your tour, turn right, and cross over the bridge above the atrium and main entrance. From there, you will take a left and walk onto a second bridge overlooking the Best Café, Rotating Sphere, and windows viewing the Sculpture Garden. Continue straight through into the Mid to Late 20th Century Gallery. You will pass Landscape with Wing by Anselm Kiefer on your left and Io, a circular bench, on your right (children love to climb over and under this bench- feel free to play here for a moment if your child so desires). After passing these works of art, you will see object number two– A Likeness of Francis B.

Robert Arneson was a ceramicist from California who made large clay sculptures of himself (self-portraits) and other people (portraits). In this work, he chose to represent Francis Bacon, who was also an artist. Here is a picture of the real Francis Bacon. Do you think the sculpture looks like him?

Arneson chose to combine three portraits into one sculpture to represent the different sides of Francis Bacon– his actual likeness, a shadowy profile, and a distorted face that references the art Francis Bacon created. Can you find all three?

Discussion Questions

  • What do you notice about this work of art? Is it a portrait?
  • How is this work different than the painting of Marian Anderson? (It is a sculpture not a painting. Remember: “A painting is flat, a sculpture is fat.”)
  • Can you walk around the sculpture? What do you notice as you walk around it?
  • Can you spot the man’s facial features (eyes, ears, nose, and mouth)? Can you find his teeth? How many ears does he have?
  • How do you think the man is feeling? Does he look sad, happy, confused? Why do you think he’s feeling that way?
  • What colors do you notice? (This sculpture contains bright orange and blue because they were Francis Bacon’s favorite colors to paint with.)
  • What do you think this sculpture is made out of? (White earthenware clay)

Gallery Activity:

This facial feature activity is one of our favorites here at VMFA. Here’s a link to download and print these facial features.  You can also simply cut out facial features from a magazine.  Bring them with you to the museum and let your child have fun creating faces in the galleries by placing the features on a paper face shape.

Interesting Fact:

Humans began creating objects from clay over 25,000 years ago, including images of people. Here is an easy portrait activity that combines clay and other materials found in nature.

Did you know?

Social emotional growth is an important part of healthy child development. Take this opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions with your child. This article has some wonderful tips for fostering emotional intelligence in children.

Object 3


Retrace your steps, making your way down to the atrium and back to the main entrance. Once outside, take a left and walk over the bridge until you see our final object- Chloe!

Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist who makes very large outdoor sculptures. Chloe is part of a series of sculptural heads that feature young women, with closed eyes, whose dream-like qualities transform their surroundings. The marble dust that coats the sculpture’s surface reflects light, adding a sparkling effect.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you notice about this work of art? Is it a portrait?
  • This sculpture is named Chloe. Can you spot her facial features (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, chin, and hair)?
  • How do you think Chloe is feeling (excited, tired, sad, happy, etc.)?
  • What do you notice about her eyes? Do you think she’s asleep?
  • The artist wanted Chloe to look like she was dreaming. What do you think she’s dreaming about?
  • Can you imitate her expression (close eyes and mouth)?
  • When you walk around the sculpture what do you see? Does the sculpture change?
  • The shape of the sculpture is an ellipse – it is not round like our faces. Can you feel the roundness of your head?

Gallery Action Song:

Here is a song we sing at VMFA that helps us move our whole bodies.

Two Little Hands

(Tune: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)

Two little hands go clap clap clap

Two little Feet go tap tap tap

Two little hands go thump thump thump

Two little feet go jump jump jump

One little body turns around

One little child sits quietly down


Here is another song you can use with this work: Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Interesting Fact!

Did you know that regular practice of meditation has several beneficial effects on children’s emotional, mental, and intellectual development? Meditation can help children focus, handle stress, have positive social interactions with peers, and sleep better. Use this meditation prompt to meditate in the Sculpture Garden or other outdoor location.

Art Project

After your visit to the museum, create your own self-portrait! Remember that the process is more important than the outcome. Allowing children to create their art with the freedom to make their own choices builds confidence and independence. We encourage this and hope that you will too! Learn more about the benefits of process based art here.



  • 9 x12 piece of paper
  • Photo of the artist, printed to 8.5 x11 size
  • Glue
  • Black or dark colored marker
  • Paint (various colors of your child’s choosing) – tempera, homemade, or food grade depending on the age of your child
  • Shape stickers, gems, etc. (optional)


  • Begin by taking a photo of your child’s face. Print the photo to 8.5 x 11 size (the photo can be black and white or color).
  • Glue the photo in the center of the paper (let your child to do this, if able.)
  • Allow your child to trace his/her face with a black marker. Remember it is okay to draw outside of the lines!
  • Encourage your child to identify the facial features seen in the photo.
  • Ask your child what expression he/she is making in the photo (happy, sad, silly, etc.).
  • Next, your child can paint on the paper border around the photo or even on the photo itself – anything goes!
  • Finally, let your child embellish the self-portrait with stickers, gems, or anything else you have around your house. When using stickers, allow your child, if possible, to unpeel the stickers to help develop fine motor skills!

Book List

Here are some suggested books that relate to this resource:

Baby Faces by Margaret Miller

I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Pretty Brown Face by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Find a Face by Francoise Robert

My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss

The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle