Some books have it all, and author Mary Richard’s latest picture book — Splat! The Most Exciting Artists of All Time — is one of them. Part art book, part history book, and part mystery and intrigue, it targets the middle grades (ages 10 to 13), but actually has something for everyone.
Readers learn about wedding crashers like Pieter Bruegel, who disguised himself as a peasant (P. 16), crashed a wedding, and painted his famous portrait, The Peasant Wedding (c. 1567). Readers also learn how genius Michelangelo worked on his Sistene Chapel masterpiece by candlelight and ended up with aching feet, a face full of paint, and a body half-frozen from the chill in the building (P. 12). They read the story of Michelangelo Carvaggio, a bar room brawler whose paintings “took Rome by storm” (P. 21), and who eventually killed a man in a bar fight. While on the lam, Carvaggio produced one of his most famous paintings: David With the Head of Goliath (c. 1610).
Ms. Richards tells the backstory of James Whistler’s painting of his mother (Whistler’s Mother). She shares the truth behind mentally unstable Vincent van Gogh, who sold only one painting in his lifetime (P. 52) and eventually ended his own life at the age of 37, and she divulges how artist Marcel Duchamp entered an actual urinal into an art show (P. 68) and launched the “readymade” or “anti-art” method. There are discussions about surrealism, Pablo Picasso’s “cube” paintings (P. 60), and artist Wassily Kandinsky’s medical condition (“synthesia”) which may have been the inspiration behind his abstract paintings (P. 64).
There are details about each artist’s techniques, inspirations, and their biggest challenges, including working too slowly, preferring expensive paints, or possessing a fiery temperament. There are eye-popping reproductions of their most famous paintings, and a detailed time line to help readers quickly locate the artist and artistic method they are searching for at a glance.
Although author Mary Richards uses an advanced vocabulary that is best suited for the middle grades, the book’s many paintings are wonderful for budding artists of any age. The book should fare well in middle and high school art classes, history classes, social studies or citizenship classes, or in the personal libraries of aspiring artists of all ages.