Portraits through time

A picture paints a thousand words. So what can a portrait tell us about the person and the time they lived in?

Join us on a journey around the Walker Art Gallery as we discover how portraits developed over time, learn to decode the messaging within them and ask the question, ‘in the modern world do we still need artists to create pictures of people?’ 

Workshop details

This workshop will give students the opportunity to discuss and observe some of the greatest portrait artists in history and will inspire them to create their own perfect-for-them portraits back in the class. 

Students will: 

  • Learn what a portrait is.
  • Learn what a self -portrait is.
  • Explore  how portraiture has changed over time.
  • Develop skills in how to read paintings to find clues about the subject.
  • Learn that artists manipulate different materials and mediums to create portrait artworks. 
  • Take part in a practise-a-portrait drawing activity. 


Curriculum links

Art and design

  • Evaluate and analyse creative works using the language of art, craft and design.
  • Know about great artists, craft makers and designers, and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms.
  • To improve their mastery of art and design techniques, including drawing, painting and sculpture with a range of materials (for example, pencil, charcoal, paint, clay).


  • Consider and evaluate different viewpoints, attending to and building on the contributions of others.
  • Using standard English confidently in a range of formal and informal contexts, including classroom discussion.
  • Giving short speeches and presentations, expressing their own ideas and keeping to the point.


  • Should note connections, contrasts and trends over time and develop the appropriate use of historical terms. 
  • Should regularly address and sometimes devise historically valid questions about change, cause, similarity and difference, and significance. 
  • Should construct informed responses that involve thoughtful selection and organisation of relevant historical information. 

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • Learn about great artists and understand the historical and cultural developments of portraiture.
  • Understand the difference between a portrait and a self-portrait.
  • Understand how artists use visual symbols to communicate information.


  • Develop visual literacy skills by learning how to look for clues in portraits and decipherer what these clues may mean.
  • Learn to look for and describe differences and similarities in works of art.
  • Improve their speaking and listening skills in a group discussion context.
  • Develop drawing skills to sketch a portrait.


  • Feel confident in their own ability at interpreting artworks for themselves.
  • Have an awareness and appreciation that the Walker Art Gallery is part of a public organisation that looks after a national collection.
  • Students feel welcomed, respected and supported in their learning.
  • Perceive the gallery as a creative space that is there to inspire.

Enjoyment, inspiration, creativity

  • Students enjoy themselves and are enriched and inspired by their experience.
  • Students feel a sense of achievement and wellbeing by participating in creative activities. 
  • Students feel inspired to create art.

Activity, behaviour, progression

  • Students feel motivated to progress their creative practice both at school and at home.
  • Students will return with their family and friends  to visit the Walker Art Gallery outside of school and attend events held at the gallery.
  • Students want to learn more about the gallery’s collection, using it as a resource for their school work but also as part of having a culturally rich life.