Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Reality or Artist's Imagination?

Resource created by Leeds Museums and Galleries | Leeds Art Gallery.

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.

This artwork by John Selby Bigge is about the size of laptop screen and is made from oil paint brushed onto canvas. Finding out about the art materials oil paint and canvas could help you understand how the artist made it.

Look closely, what can you see?

Composition, painting (1940, oil on canvas) by John Selby Bigge
Composition by John Selby Bigge

'Composition' is the name the artist has given to his painting. It gives a clue to what it might be about. Arranged on sand near water and cliffs, are a shell and green leaves which could be sea cabbage. These are things that could be found near the sea. Did the artist come across these things on a beach, or are they from his imagination?

Looking really closely, the scale of the shell and the leaves seems odd, as is the angle from which they are pictured. The texture of the things is emphasised. They float in the world of the seashore but don't seem to really belong to it. Some might say it is like a dream where everything is exaggerated.

Activity Ideas

  • Use magazines or the internet to gather pictures of things connected to the sea. Look closely at their scale and texture, and the way they have been pictured. Now make a collage that focuses on these qualities, add a sea-linked background that plays with scale.
  • Find out more about Surrealism in art using the website links provided (see Resources)