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Art theme: landscapes

The term 'landscape' is broad and encompasses seascapes, cityscapes and townscapes too. Historically, landscape painting has been associated with scenes of the natural world. Sometimes the landscape depicted contains no figures or shows human activity as secondary to the environment. The category has become looser over time and representation can range from accurate depictions of the area to much more abstracted depictions of the land and sea.

Contextual background for teachers

Surprised! (1891)
Henri Rousseau (1844–1910)

Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: H 129.8 x W 161.9 cm

Despite being a famous artist, Henri Rousseau had never had any professional training. Although there is no evidence that he ever left France, he developed his own vision of the world and became famous for his 'jungle paintings'.

Rousseau took inspiration for this work, and others like it, from visits to the Botanical Gardens and the Natural History Museum in Paris. In fact, many of the plants featured in Surprised! are super-sized house plants. The imaginative use of common native plants to create an 'exotic' landscape gives a dream-like quality which is typical of his work.

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 description of the painting is available to listen to during this stage. It is accompanied by a full written transcript which can also be used to describe the painting. There is also an audio and tactile book of the painting which can be borrowed from Living Paintings.

Nudge questions

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

  • How has the artist created the feel of a jungle?
  • How would you feel if you were transported into this scene? Would it matter where you landed? What sounds would you hear?
  • What or who do you think has caught the tiger's attention?
  • What's the weather like in this scene? Does the weather help you work out what's going on?
  • What does the lightning strike suggest that the tiger is about to do?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

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

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 can introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers while asking these bespoke questions with helpful responses which can be found in the teachers' notes.

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.


  • Continue the painting outside the picture frame. In sketchbooks, draw around the original picture. Will students expand the jungle or will they draw something for the tiger to be looking at?
  • Make a Rousseau-inspired collage with this video from the National Gallery.



  • Listen to the sounds of the jungle in this video.

  • Listen to the audio description of the painting.



  • Make cardboard cut-outs of tiger claws and jungle leaves for the students to feel.
  • Use houseplants, long grasses, or a furry tail or chunky rope in a curvy line to recreate the feeling of the plants and tiger's tail.



  • Explore moving like a tiger, stalking, running and pouncing!
  • Tigers were once found all over Asia, and particularly Bengal, a region in the modern day countries of India and Bangladesh. Listen and move along to traditional music from Bengal.



  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'tiger'.

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.

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