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The power of paintings

The paintings in the National Gallery Collection provide windows into other times and other places. They are rich and accessible contexts for talking and writing

National Gallery paintings are a powerful starting point for English and drama projects: they ignite discussion and spark the imagination.

The power of paintings

See how a single painting can capture children's imagination and ignite discussion.
Developing language and literacy – 3 mins
How a painting can capture a child's imagination


See how a painting can capture a child's imagination in this introduction to Out of Art into Storytelling


Many of the paintings in the National Gallery collection depict stories from, for example, mythology, the Christian faith or history.

In a significant number of the pictures this narrative is not a known narrative but is simply suggested – offering the viewer a story seed for them to nurture by drawing on the clues in the painting as well as their own memories and imagination. In this way any possible number of narratives can be created from the same painting.

The National Gallery’s paintings provide windows into other times and other places, transporting the viewer to worlds that are different from our own and yet surprisingly similar, connected through common themes such as conflict, identity and love.

Although the richness of these stories makes the Gallery’s collection a powerful resource, this is not the only crucial factor. The immediacy of a visual stimulus cannot be underestimated. With the potential barrier of text removed, the narratives are quite literally transformed from black and white to multicolour and then presented, frozen, in one specific moment of high drama.

It is the concentration of story into a single, accessible image that captures and engages all children, inviting their curiosity, igniting their discussion and, in turn, instilling confidence and passion. This confidence and passion reaches well beyond the confines of a given project or classroom.

This premise is the basis of the National Gallery's programme for schools. The quality of the children’s work and the testimonies from pupils, teachers and parents reflect the level of engagement, inspiration and transformation that is enabled as a result.

As well as online resources, the National Gallery provides the opportunity for teachers to engage in an extended period of training. This is significant as they explore for themselves as learners, discovering for themselves the confidence and skill of working with and from paintings, through talk and drama into storytelling and writing.

It is by having the opportunity to reflect and develop their own understanding of the underlying thinking and processes behind the techniques they are experiencing, that the teachers are able to take ownership, which translates into innovation and creative risk-taking in the classroom, to the benefit of their pupils.

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Get involved

Book a pupil visit or take advantage of the events on offer for secondary and primary teachers and pupils.


 A child's drawing, inspired by a painting

'Framed' – Bringing teachers, the book, the author, the paintings and the pupils together Out of Art into Storytelling – Enabling teachers to transform their pupils' storytelling in response to paintings Articulate – Master classes of professional writers working with children aged 11 to 14

What the teachers say

The Sherington Primary School, London, took part in Out of Art into Storytelling. Monica Lanata, a Year 6 teacher, said:

"The impact of using visual stimuli such as paintings to grab the children's attention and improve the quality of their writing is just amazing! The children's imagination came alive with the paintings – they lived and breathed the scenes that were shown, and this enthusiasm showed when it came to writing."

See full case study of Sherington Primary School

Find out more about teaching English and drama through paintings