Art UK has updated its cookies policy. By using this website you are agreeing to the use of cookies. To find out more read our updated Use of Cookies policy and our updated Privacy policy.

Art theme: scenes of everyday life

Scenes of everyday life are known by art historians as 'genre' paintings. They usually focus on ordinary and unidentifiable people doing normal everday things. This is the opposite of what art historians call 'history' paintings where the artist shows a specific scene from history or myth.

Contextual background for teachers

The Scullery Maid (1738)
Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699–1779)

Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: H 45.7 x W 36.9 cm

At the time this was painted, images of everyday people were not very popular. However, the French artist Chardin was known for finding beauty in the commonplace, and his elevation of this humble domestic scene is no exception. The maid washes utensils in a drab interior dominated by a large wooden barrel that competes with an exquisitely rendered copper pot. Chardin shows off his artistic skill in bringing lots of different textures to life.

How many different textures can you find? How does the artist convey different materials so convincingly? The maid's bent pose and scrubbing arm gesture suggests intense labour but is this an image of work or a break from it? Who is she thinking about, and what clues can we spot to suggest she is thinking about anyone? The discreet use of blue in an otherwise drab palette is interesting, isn't it?

Look, describe and discuss

Open a full-screen version of the zoomable image in a new window.

Ask your students to describe the artwork, encouraging them to simply say what they can see.

You can start by showing the whole image, and then use the zoom feature to explore details of the painting. Or you might like to start by using the zoom feature to show a detail from the image, and then zoom out to see more.

Encourage your students to look carefully – this is their superpower! It's best to not give too much background information about the artwork at this stage, so students can develop their own ideas and opinions.

An audio and tactile book of the painting can be borrowed from Living Paintings.

Nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • What is the maid doing at this particular moment in time? If we entered the room, would we be interrupting her? Would she notice?
  • What do you notice about her clothes and facial expression? Do they tell us anything about her character or how she is feeling?
  • Important elements often feature in the middle of a painting. Can you spot anything small enough to miss if it was anywhere else in the composition?
  • If you were transported into this painting, what might you be able to smell and hear?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting.

Use The Superpower of Looking Kit to ask questions about the artwork.

For this artwork, you will focus on:

Ask your students to evidence their points:

  • where exactly are they looking when they make a statement?
  • can everybody see what they see?
  • slow down, take time to really look closely

You may like to introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers at this point.

Everyone learning

You can find out more about The Superpower of Looking® SEND/ASD/ALN approach on the Superpower homepage.

Now it's time to explore the artwork in different ways. This list of sensory activities encourages students to apply their learning and can suit a variety of learning needs.


  • Invite students to think of an everyday task they do all the time. How will they draw or paint it to make the everyday seem special?



  • Feel the different textures in the painting: copper and clay pots, the wood of the barrel, a small key.
  • Students could put their hands in soapy water. How do they think their hands would feel after scrubbing pots and pans?



  • Listen to an excerpt from an opera called Castor et Pollux by the French composer Rameau. This was first performed in Paris at the same time Chardin painted The Scullery Maid. Do you think the maid would have had an opportunity to hear it? If she had, would she have liked it?



  • Look at the key around the girl's neck. Talking with a partner: what do students imagine it might open?
  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'to clean'.

Final stage: review

Ask your students to:

  • share their sketchbooks in groups and discuss the 'elements' they have identified
  • choose an element/aspect they find most interesting about the artwork and record it in their sketchbooks
  • choose their own name/s for the title of the artwork
  • think of a question they would like to ask the artist



You have now completed this lesson resource on The Superpower of Looking.

There are more resources in this theme to try – have a look at the 'next lessons' section below.

Do you know someone who would love this resource?
Tell them about it...

More The Superpower of Looking resources

See all