Tableaux Vivants

As a child, our art teacher Mrs Montgomery, was ahead of her time. She took risks and dared to be creative whilst her colleagues tutted and ‘got on with the real business of educating’.

That was unfair. Mrs Montgomery was paid to be creative and take risks – it went with the territory.

One thing she had us doing was dramatic art and hunting through books for suitable paintings to copy with living figures – ourselves!

These tableaux vivants soon became a class favourite because you had to keep very still and silent. Some might suggest Mrs M did this on purpose to keep us all in order and yes, it did teach us some self-discipline.

But it did so much more than that because it gave us a real appreciation of works of art and taught us artistic movement and direction. It taught us about staging, pose, costume, body awareness, facial expressions and the importance of lighting.

Creating tableaux vivants allowed us to see authentic pieces of artwork in museums with fresh eyes.

We were able to gain a deeper appreciation, expand our vocabulary through observations, develop our critical thinking skills, connect the past and present, appreciate similarities and differences and create a narrative and our own work of art.

In Victorian times,  people used tableaux vivants as a playful pastime and parlour game to amuse guests and engage them in a deeper appreciation of art.

Today, social media has changed how we do things and they have become somewhat popular again and there are prizes to be had with competitions for the best.

Actors from the Italian theatre company Ludovica Rambelli Teatro recreate paintings by Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio:

There are some brilliant tableaux vivants out there and well worth researching further. Take a look at the tableaux vivant by art history student Yocasta Olivo featuring her mother as Frida Kahlo.

They can be complicated or they can be simple. Most will require costumes and props and for those wishing to go further than they can be recreated using scenery and lighting too.

Why not try something ambitious such as Joseph Wright of Derby’s ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ (1768).

Choice of subject is absolutely vital (head to the National Gallery website for inspiration) and the secret to a good tableaux vivant is not to wobble.

Tableaux vivants offer a playful, interactive way to spark dynamic discussions and be living piece of art.

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