The Creole Origins of the Chemise de la Reine

Written by: Phoebe Clayton

If you’ve spent enough time around me, you will have heard about the infamous 18th century dress, the so called ‘Chemise de la Reine’. To explain, a ‘chemise’ was a women’s undergarment, worn directly against the skin under a set of stays or as a nightgown, and usually made of fine white material. In 1783, Marie Antoinette (the ‘reine’ at that time) was painted wearing a dress which loosely resembled a ‘chemise’, displayed at the Salon de Paris in the Louvre. The gown sparked outrage due to its perceived informality and nonconformity with the highly structured aesthetic of traditional court gowns. It was unlike anything worn by French aristocracy before. But although named after the queen, the ‘Chemise de la Reine’ was not invented by Marie Antoinette. So, where did it come from?

 Marie Antoinette en gaulle, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1783

The dress itself was made by her tailor, Rose Bertin, who adapted it based on clothes of white women in the West Indies, who had themselves appropriated the style from women of colour. The gown first came Paris in the form of a fashion plate published in 1779 depicting a women dressed ‘in the Creole style’. In fact, Antoinette herself refers to the gown as ‘Le Robe a la Creole’ in her diaries, suggesting a direct awareness of the colonial cultural origins of the dress.

The term ‘creole’ refers to ‘a person of mixed European and black descent, especially in the Caribbean’, implying the inherently multi-racial context of the dress’ origins. Thus, the dress was likely first worn by women of colour, made of undyed madras material – which already widely imported to both West Africa and the Caribbean at this time, as it was light and well-suited to hot or tropical climates. Two black women wearing similar white, flouncy gowns strikingly reminiscent of Antoinette’s ‘chemise’ are featured in a Brunias painting from 1770, and two other women of colour wearing the style are featured in similar painting of his from c.1780. Agostino Brunias, who was active in documenting colonial life in the Caribbean in his art, later depicts white, black and creole women all wearing similar loose, white, chemise-type dresses in his ‘Linen Market’, 1780.

Free West Indian Dominicans, Agostino Brunias, c.1770

It is clear from this series of visual evidence the gradual appropriation of ‘chemise’ style dresses by white women – likely for reasons of practicality as well as a more hostile jealousy towards black beauty and style. One can ascertain the latter from the increasing sumptuary laws (legislation controlling what certain demographics can or can’t wear) that enslaved and formerly enslaved people were subject to during this period in the Caribbean, suggesting that white colonist elites felt threatened by the fashion and expression of black communities and thus restricted it to the best of their ability.

However, while the adoption of ‘chemise’-type gowns by white women in the West Indies is a clear appropriation and attempt at mimicry of black fashion, Marie Antoinette’s motivations in donning the style are harder to discern. Although she shows clear awareness of the apparent ‘creole’ origins of the dress, general contemporary and modern census is that the queen was instead imitating a romanticised, pastoral, ‘shepherdess’ style, trying to emulate the perceived idyllic simplicity of a rural lifestyle. For reasons obvious to anyone with a passing awareness of 18th century France (think: economic crisis, famine and widespread destitution), such an imitation was met with decidedly ill reception and offence caused at the queen’s ignorant naiveté and apathy to the struggles of her own subjects.

After Antoinette was painted in her controversial rendition of the gown, it immediately became known as the ‘Chemise de la Reine’ and quickly caught on, gaining popularity amongst upper class women in France, England and wider Europe. The style caused a seismic shift in 18th century women’s clothing and, as the 1790’s dawned, sent fashion careening straight into the regency period. The white, gauzy fabric finely gathered beneath the bust, puffed sleeves, square neckline and simple skirt all became foundational staples of women’s fashion for the next 40 years. It had a truly transformative impact. And, although the gown travelled far from its birthplace of the Caribbean, it is important to acknowledge the black and Creole origins of the Chemise de la Reine and recognise their monumental influence on an entire century of Western women’s fashion.


DuPlessis, R. (2019). Sartorial Sorting In The Colonial Caribbean And North America. The Right To Dress: Sumptuary Laws In A Global Perspective, c.1200–1800,


pp.346–372. doi:

Halbert, P. (2018). Creole Comforts and French Connections: A Case Study in Caribbean Dress. [online] The Junto. Available at:

Peterson, J. (2020). Robe en Chemise or Chemise a la Reine – Pattern 133. [online] Laughing Moon Merc. Available at:

Square, J.M. (2021). Culture, Power, and the Appropriation of Creolized Aesthetics in the Revolutionary French Atlantic | Small Axe Project. [online] Available at:

Van Cleave, K. (2021). On the Origins of the Chemise à la Reine. [online] Démodé Couture. Available at:

Whitehead, S. (2021). À la Creole, en chemise, en gaulle: Marie Antoinette and the dress that sparked a revolution.


Retrospect Journal. Available at:

How can abstract art develop students’ visceral feeling and creative thinking across the curriculum?

Art teacher Elin Mbeyela considers the power of abstract art, and discusses how debate and inquiry are central to the Art curriculum at WHS, allowing students to develop an open-minded and experimental approach in their own work

I remember how I felt, as I stood in front of Ai Weiwei’s piece at his unforgettable and ground-breaking exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2015. His commemorative installation piece, titled ‘Straight’, consisted of 90 tonnes of steel-reinforced rods straightened by hand after being mangled in the Sichuan earthquake. The rods were laid out meticulously and created a dense carpet that overwhelmed the space, and on the wall overlooking the rods were the names of over 5,000 children killed due to the poorly constructed buildings.

Adrian Locke, co-curator at the RA commented, “it is a very sombre and sobering work when you see it, it has this kind of power and silence about it…it bears a real sense of loss of life”[1]. I was reduced to tears by this provocative yet poignant piece. I was also reminded of how art can be used as an expression of our thoughts, emotions and intuitions, and that it is even more personal than that: it’s about sharing the way we experience the world. This means it provides a platform for much discussion and debate.

How do we encourage this discussion and debate?

We embed discussion and debate in our curriculum at WHS, right from Year 7. During the students’ first autumn term in Senior School, we explore colour theory and abstract art. We look at a range of artists such as Frank Bowling, Jade Fadojutimi and Gillian Ayres, encouraging students to see with their mind what they don’t see physically – in essence, prompting them to explore how abstract art enables the artist and the viewer to perceive beyond the tangible. Fadojutimi’s large scale gestural paintings explore identity and emotion; she uses colour flamboyantly and applies the oil paint in thin layers, creating depth with expressive mark-making.

WHS Art department

Through group discussions we ask students the following –

  • How do you feel when you look at this piece?
  • How is the work abstract?
  • Does the artist explore any particular subjects / themes / moods / issues / messages?
  • Comment on the visual elements in the piece – line, shape, tone, texture and space. How do they help communicate ideas and reinforce a message?
  • How could this artist inspire your own work?
  • What media, techniques, styles and processes have been used? How do they affect the mood of the artwork and the communication of ideas?

Jennifer Higgie, writer and critic, comments on Fadojumiti’s paintings, “Art is not an explanation: it’s a shot of energy, a flash of colour; a shimmer, a reaction, a line thrown out to see who might pick it up… Jadé tells me that her aim is for “deep emotion, not deep description”.”[2]

To many, the intangible nature of abstract art is uncomfortable, and they desperately want to seek some understanding and meaning in what they see. This can lead some to mock such art, and to think it is not worth their attention. In essence, they want to be able to decipher and understand it.

Meanwhile, our students engage in thoughtful, creative discussions about Fadojutimi’s work. They are curious and fascinated by the possible hidden meanings and messages in her paintings. But ultimately what they are struck by is that there is no universally accepted theme or subject, and that the work allows them to make individual visual connections, thoughts and interpretations.

Following our discussion, students enjoy experimenting with paint techniques such as impasto and sgraffito and explore mixing their own colours by applying their colour theory knowledge. This marks the initial stage of planning for their own abstract painting.

Students’ work WHS Art department

To conclude

We value highly students’ ability to be curious; through encouraging debate and discussion in the classroom, we instil in our learners that engaging with art contributes to the refinement of emotional meaning and improves communication and interaction with others. It allows them to think creatively and expressively, without limits or boundaries. These skills are not just fundamental to studying Art but, with the school’s innovative approach to STEAM, they are crucial to our interdisciplinary curriculum.



Why was the cat a cultural icon in ancient Egyptian culture?

Elsa P traces the history of cats in Ancient Egypt – from humble ratcatcher to god, and from pet to votive offering – exploring both how they were represented, and how they lived within Egyptian society

Animals are an important presence in many aspects of society, culture and religion. They act as companions but also symbols, idols and gods. Their significance goes back centuries and their role in the development of cultures can be felt today. What I want to look at in this piece is the question, why is the cat so important?

The earliest historical depiction of the upright tail, pointing ears and triangular face of the domesticated cat appeared around 1950 BCE, in a painting on the back wall of a limestone tomb around 250 kilometres south of Cairo, Egypt. After this first feature, cats soon became a fixture of Egyptian paintings and sculptures and were even immortalized as mummies. Cats possessed the art of social climbing as they rose in status from rodent killer to pet to representations of gods. Does this mean the domesticated cat had a significant impact on the development of ancient Egypt?

Most ancient Egyptian artistic representations of cats were based on the African wildcat. With a light build, grey coat and black or light-coloured spots and stripes, the African wildcat is very similar to the tabby cat that we see in most domestic homes today.

With a prominent farming culture in ancient Egyptian society, cats were a useful tool to chase away dangerous animals such as venomous snakes and scorpions but progressively became symbols of divinity and protection in the ancient Egyptian world.

Paintings on Egyptian tombs show cats lying or sitting below chairs and chasing birds and playing. A recently discovered pet cemetery[1] (dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries CE) found on the outskirts of Berenice, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast holds the remains of cats with remarkable iron and beaded collars, which are believed to have died of old age. These discoveries suggest that cats were probably kept as companions and were loved and respected animals in Egyptian society.

“The ancient Egyptians, in general, did not worship animals. Rather, they saw animals as representations of divine aspects of their gods,” according to Julia Troche, an Egyptologist, assistant professor of history at Missouri State University[2]. In addition to domestic companionship, cats were seen as vessels that the Egyptian gods chose to inhabit, and whose likeness such gods chose to adopt. One god that was depicted as a cat was Bastet, the goddess of the home, domesticity, women’s secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth. Bastet was first depicted as a fierce lioness, but later as a domestic cat and as dutiful mother with several kittens and a protector of the family. In tomb paintings, a representation of fertility was a cat sitting under a women’s chair, possibly arising from the fact that a female cat gives birth to a relatively large litter. Around 5th century BCE a large cult of Bastet devotees developed in the city of Bubastis near the modern-day city of Zagazig, north of Cairo. They would gather around a massive temple and would leave small cat statues as offerings for the Bastet. This popularity for Bastet persisted for almost another 1,500 years which further reinforces why the Ancient Egyptians respected and honoured the cat in their society. Ancient Egyptians thought of cats more generally, as protectors, while at the same time they respected their ferocity. The god Sekhmet, the goddess of war, is depicted as a lioness and was said to be a warrior and protector deity who kept the enemies of the sun god Ra at bay. “In some mortuary texts, cats are shown with a dagger, cutting through Apopis: the snake deity who threatens Ra at night in the Underworld,” Julia Troche explains[3].

As cats were fierce protectors in the eyes of the ancient Egyptians, it comes as no surprise that they played a vital role in the afterlife. Because of their highly respected status, the killing of cats in ancient Egypt was illegal. However, killing for mummification may have been an exception. A recent study[4] reported the carrying out of X-ray micro-CT scanning on ancient Egyptian mummified animals. The study explored the skeletal structure of a mummified cat and the materials used in the mummification process. The results showed that the cat was smaller than expected and that 50 percent of the mummy was made up of wrapping. Through dissection of the teeth of the cat, the scientists deduced that it was around 5 months old when it died and that the cause of the death was deliberate breaking of the neck. The study concluded that the cat was most likely purposely bred for mummification to provide votive offerings for the gods with cat associations. For example, the cat was used as a votive offering for the god Bastet. Mummified cats were bought by temples to sell to pilgrims who may have offered the mummified animals to the gods in a similar way that candles may be offered in churches today. Egyptologists have also suggested that the mummified cats were meant to act as messengers between people on earth and the gods. To uphold the demand for such offerings, entire industries were devoted to the breeding of millions of cats to be killed and mummified, and also so that they could be buried alongside people. This happened largely between about 700 BCE and 300 CE.

Cats were respected creatures in ancient Egyptian society. The representation of the ancient Egyptian gods as cats influenced the citizens’ behaviour towards these animals and played an integral part of religious practice. They also were a useful tool in the agriculture industry, keeping pests away from farmland. This admiration is still prominent in today’s western culture as many people keep cats as home companions and as pest control.


El-Kilany, Engy, Mahran, Heba, What Lies Under the Chair! A study in ancient Egyptian private tomb scenes, part 1, American Research Centre in Egypt, 2015

What Lies Under the Chair! A Study in Ancient Egyptian Private Tomb Scenes, Part I on JSTOR

Geggel, Laura, World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt, Live Science online, 08 March 2021

World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt | Live Science

Johnston, Richard, Thomas, Richard, Jones, Rhys, Graves-Brown, Carolyn, Goodridge, Wendy and North, Laura, Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals, Scientific Reports, 10(1) online, 20 August 2020

Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals | Scientific Reports (

MacDonald, James, Why Ancient Egyptians Loved Cats So Much, JSTOR Daily online, 27 November 2018

Why Ancient Egyptians Loved Cats So Much – JSTOR Daily

Plackett, Benjamin, Why were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with cats?, Live Science online, 17 April 2021

Why were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with cats? | Live Science

Yuko, Elizabeth, How Cats Became Divine Symbols in Ancient Egypt, HISTORY online, 17 August 2021

[1] Geggel, Laura, World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt, Live Science online, 08 March 2021

World’s oldest ‘pet cemetery’ discovered in ancient Egypt | Live Science

[2] Yuko, Elizabeth, How Cats Became Divine Symbols in Ancient Egypt, HISTORY online, 17 August 2021

[3] ibid footnote 2

[4] Johnston, Richard, Thomas, Richard, Jones, Rhys, Graves-Brown, Carolyn, Goodridge, Wendy and North, Laura, Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals, Scientific Reports, 10(1) online, 20 August 2020

Evidence of diet, deification, and death within ancient Egyptian mummified animals | Scientific Reports (

La photographie “à la sauvette”

Henri Cartier-Bresson liked to take photographs à la sauvette, like a thief stealing an image in a fraction of a second. Imogen (Year 11) and Bianca (Year 10) imagine a conversation between Cartier-Bresson and his friend, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, where they excitedly discuss the photo in a bistrot later that day. These responses were written for the ISMLA Original Writing Competition 2021.


Je me suis assis et j’ai commandé un café. J’ai regardé ma montre. Il était deux heures dix et André était censé me rencontrer à deux heures. Tout à coup une brise fraîche a traversé le café et m’a sauvé du temps chaud. J’ai levé les yeux et j’ai vu André. J’ai souri et je l’ai salué.  

“Je n’aime pas tellement ce nouveau président, Albert Lebrun” a dit André. 

“Pourquoi pas ?”, ai-je répondu. 

“Je pense que Paul Doumer me manque.” 

“Je ne crois toujours pas qu’il ait été assassiné!” 

Nous avons parlé pendant un moment et j’ai commencé à lui parler de la photo.  

“Je me suis levé tôt afin de préparer mon appareil photo. Comme toujours je voulais capturer des photos d’action mais ce n’est pas évident en France. C’est assez différent de l’Afrique après tout!” ai-je dit. 

“Oui c’est vrai” a-t-il remarqué. 

“De toute façon, je pense que c’est de bonne préparation pour le Tour de France parce que si je pratique, je réussirai. D’ailleurs je pense que notre prochaine destination devrait être à Marseille pour saisir les cyclistes.” 

“C’est une bonne idée!” a-t-il répondu. 

“Oui ! Donc, ce matin je suis sorti sur le balcon avec pour but de capturer quelque chose en action. J’ai vu l’escalier en colimaçon en dessous de moi et puis la rue. J’ai mis mon doigt sur le déclencheur et j’ai appuyé. Par hasard, un cycliste a traversé au même moment. J’étais très heureux ! Et j’ai commencé à nettoyer l’objectif quand tout à coup j’ai entendu une voix en bas. C’était un policier sur son vélo. ‘Excusez-moi monsieur, vous avez vu un cycliste ? On pense que c’est un voleur ?’ “

“Et qu’est-ce tu as répondu?” a demandé André. 

“J’ai répondu que je n’avais vu personne” 

“Pourquoi?” a demandé André. 

“Car je suis photographe, ce n’est pas à moi d’intervenir. J’observe, c’est tout.” 


Henri: André ! Regarde ! La photo est presque développée! On va dans ce bistrot, il pleut des cordes et mon appareil photo est trop chère pour se mouiller. 

André: Quoi? Alors dis-moi pourquoi ton appareil photo est couverte des rubans adhésifs noirs “ah bonjour, nous voudrons une table pour deux, merci.”

Henri: André. Combien de temps as-tu voyagé avec moi? 

André: euh … trois mois?  

Henri: Et combien de photos penses-tu que j’ai pris? 

André : Assez.  

Henri: Et je ne t’ai jamais expliqué pourquoi je mets des rubans adhésifs noirs sur mon appareil photo? 

André: Ouais…non 

Henri: Bon, alors, j’aime prendre les photos “à la sauvette”, tu sais ça?  

André: Oui oui. 

Henri: Oui, comme ceci je peux prendre des photos candides. Et alors je couvre mon appareil photo alors les personnes que je photographie sont plus naturelles et les photos sont plus authentiques. As-tu compris? 

André: Ouais, c’est génial, Henri ! Bon, je peux voir la photo? Tu sais, la photo où le cycliste m’avait presque fauché? 

Henri: Oui, je suis désolé, mon ami, mais je devais être à la place parfaite pour prendre la photo, et ce cycliste était vraiment rapide – je n’avais pas de temps à perdre! 

André: Pas grave. Mais, je n’oublierai pas monter des escaliers mouillés sur les toits de Hyères. 

Henri: Regarde la photo André ! Ça valait bien la peine! 

André: …ouais  

Henri: je sais…  

André: La couleur du cycliste est comme la balustrade.  

Henri: C’est une photo en noir et blanc, André… mais oui, j’aime trouver les motifs dans le chaos. Il y a un vrai contraste entre le chaos du cycliste et l’escalier géométrique. 

André: Tu as capturé la terreur d’être en retard. La terreur descend en spirale comme les escaliers. C’est trop parfait.  

Henri: Merci, André, j’ai voulu faire les compositions comme une peinture. J’espère que tu as compris pourquoi j’ai couru à prendre la photo.  

André: Ce cycliste était tellement rapide, mais pourquoi pédalait-il si vite? 

Henri : Il semblait comme un garçon de journal qui est vraiment en retard. Quand j’étais plus jeune, j’avais la responsabilité d’être un garçon de journal, c’est difficile! Une fois, j’ai fracassé la fenêtre de mon voisin… 

 André : Je te crois… 

New Year artwork 新年手工 xīn nián shǒu gōng

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – juvenile edition cover from 1999 © Bloomsbury

Decorating your room with your own handcraft or painting? Josephine (Year 8) and Elodie (Year 8) have excellent ideas of how to make easy and beautiful art works. Check them out here. 

This is a watercolour painting in Chinese mountain and water (山水画shānshuǐhuà) style by Elodie (Year 8) 

How to make a lantern (灯笼 dēnglóng) with one piece of paper? Josephine (year 8) shown you step by step in the video below:  

Recursive Creative Improvisation: STEAM+ in action

Rebecca Owens (Head of Art), Lucinda Gilchrist (Head of English) and Richard Bristow (Director of Music & SMT Secondee) reflect on recent work completed by WHS pupils combining three art forms; writing poetry, painting and performing music. This event formed part of the recent STEAM Tower opening.

Rebecca Owens – the view from the artist

The Golden Ratio (picture – Wikipedia)
Above: The Golden Ratio (picture – Wikipedia)

The links between art, poetry and music are many and varied, exemplified in the shared language around the disciplines such as composition, rhythm, tone, accent, vibrancy, dynamism. In an effort to create an emotional response in their audiences, visual artists, architects, composers and authors often use underlying mathematical concepts such as the Golden Section in their works. For example, Mozart made use of the Golden Section proportions in many of his piano sonatas. As we are all familiar with seeing the Golden Section sequence in nature, the use of these proportions and divisions in Art and Music is something the artist or composer hopes will help induce a natural affinity towards the composition, enhancing the sense of harmony in the piece of Music or Art.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a music lover and first realised the emotional power of music when listening to Wagner’s opera ‘Lohengrin’ in 1880. He then became friends with Schönberg, whose 12-tone method of composition was a turning point in 20th century music. As Kandinsky’s work developed, he came to believe that painting, as with music, should inspire emotions without having to necessarily be a visual representation of a particular thing, place or person. Arguably the first abstract artist, he transformed the course of Art using his synaesthesia to inspire his painting. Colours in his mind were linked to sound, shapes and emotions. Kandinsky said ‘The sound of colours is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble’.

Kandinsky ‘Color Study. Squares with Concentric Circles’
Above: Kandinsky ‘Color Study. Squares with Concentric Circles’

Schonberg’s ‘5 Klavierstücke, Op. 23 No. 5’ bars 1-4 where all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are used with equality, creating atonality which breaks free from tonal hierarchies established in previously tonal music.
Schonberg’s ‘5 Klavierstücke, Op. 23 No. 5’ bars 1-4 where all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are used with equality, creating atonality which breaks free from tonal hierarchies established in previously tonal music.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) who created rhythmical paintings, in which he almost danced over the large-scale canvas which he laid out on the floor. He was obsessed with Jazz music listening to Jazz records for days on end and the controlled elegant movements with which he poured, dripped and threw the paint onto the canvasses, conveyed the dynamism and freedom of Jazz music.

Pollock ‘Convergence’
Pollock ‘Convergence’

Agnes Martin (1912-2004) often discussed the interest in the emotions that music created in her work, and for her there was a powerful link between music and her form of minimalist abstract art. She said ‘Our response to line and tone and colour is the same as our response to sounds. And like music, abstract art is thematic. It holds meaning beyond the power of words’.

Martin ‘Summer’
Martin ‘Summer’

These were some of the starting points for the art scholars, when exploring the connections between music and art, which was initially planned for our Cadogan Hall concert in March 2020. Sadly, owing to the pandemic, this event was cancelled, but the work and ideas were instead put towards the opening of our STEAM Tower in November 2020, with the addition of poets composing alongside the artists and musicians.

The artists responded to the rhythms, the tones and the emotions the music inspires as we work. As with all Art, there will be no correct answer, and in this experiment the process of creating the work will be as important as the outcomes. The speed with which one works undoubtedly affects the marks one makes. With timed drawings, which is something we often use in Life drawing classes, the fluidity and spontaneity of the marks created often more that makes up for the less accurate proportions. With less than 10 minutes to work on these pieces it will be interesting to see how each person responds differently to the music and how the canvasses develop during the time.

Kandinsky ‘Composition, VII’
Kandinsky ‘Composition, VII’

Alex in Year 13 reflects on the creation of her artwork: “Exploring links between different forms of creativity was fascinating. In this process I was able to respond to the music I heard and the poetry I read with a variety of colours, mark-making, and compositions. I was most influenced by replicating bow movements with brush strokes, which gave energy and flow to my artwork. This activity developed my skills as an artist as I was more aware of each creative decision I made.”

View some of the art created during the STEAM opening below.


Lucinda Gilchrist – the view from the poet

 We know proverbially that ‘two heads are better than one’, but collaboration is more than just combined brain power. Educational theory highlights that words and language solidify and consolidate thought, meaning that sharing and communicating with others is essential for learning. In collaborating across subject disciplines, we can make the most of others’ expertise in a way which serves to enhance and enrich our understanding in countless ways.

From the perspective of English, in looking at a poem, for instance, we can benefit from a wider contextual understanding that History can bring us, the deeper understanding of rhythm and tone from Music, attention to detail and imagery from Art, global artistic movements from History of Art, forensic attention to detail from Science, and grammatical understanding from Languages. But it is not just about what individual subjects can gain from using different disciplinary perspectives, but how the meeting of different disciplines then serves to open up horizons which would have been unthinkable without the combination of perspectives.

Jess in Year 13 writes: “Usually I would start writing about a preconceived subject matter, whereas responding in real time to music and visual art meant it took longer to establish a topic or a narrative. Therefore I think the influence over the structure of the poems is most pronounced- there’s the dislocation of short or non-sequiturial lines that correspond to staccato parts of the music; but on the other hand, there’s a lot of enjambement, since I think the timbre of the strings might have evoked a watery quality for the writers and painters.”

If lightning could be gradual
If it could be a majorette ribbon
If it could be a suturing needle
If it could be a hairline fracture
If it could be the persistent tautness of a diaphragm
If it could be the searing blaring flaring scarlet that stays in the back of your eyes
If it could cut
If it could be a vaulted ceiling
If it could be sweet, and if it could ache
If it could be the ridge of a mountain
Protruding through snow
Snow packed on scars
When figure skaters turn
And the air takes their necks
In its hands
Suddenly, very afraid of heights
Is lightning catching?
Can it reverberate down vertebrae?
Electrify the nervous system?
Pluck out spinal chords?
The spine a rose between
the lightning’s jagged teeth

Lauren in Year 13 writes: “I found writing to music and live art extremely helpful as each piece created a different atmosphere and led to me writing a range of poetry. I think I may even use music when writing poetry again in the future.”

Sky city suspended between storm clouds
Golden rain and bare feet
Feathers outlined in molten metal
Twisting as they fall
Like sycamore leaves
Laughter thrown at the sun
With the wild abandon of Icarus
In his final moments
Before reality came up to meet him.
Cradled by Zephyr as they spiral down
Either ignorant of the danger
Or too immersed in music to care.
The ground is far too restrictive for dancing
When falling allows them to fly.

Richard Bristow – the view from the musician

I still vividly remember the first time I experienced the music combined with art and spoken word. It was 1990, I was 5 years old, and Disney’s Fantasia had just been released on VHS. The whole school watched it in one afternoon and it introduced me to music that I had never heard before in such a powerful way that the memory still lives on, some thirty years later.

The film Fantasia was made in 1940, featuring Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra with animations by Disney. I still recall seeing Mickey Mouse battling against brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas, the strange abstract shapes to Bach’s iconic Toccata and Fugue and of course the petrifying mountain demon pictured to Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain. If you haven’t seen it, please add it to your Christmas list. It is simply brilliant viewing.

Fast forward to more recent times; it’s now the summer of 2019 and I’m busy planning the WHS Symphony Orchestra repertoire for the next Cadogan Hall concert, scheduled for March 2020. We have a large brass section this year and also a harp – a first for our orchestra – and as such Mussorgsky’s epic Symphonic Poem is something that provides challenge but is also accessible to all our players – from our new Year 7s right up to our Year 13s who will shortly be heading to University. The pupils take to it well, so much so that the simplifications I’d anticipated needing were quickly discarded in favour of the real authentic score.

Rehearsing the piece brought back memories of watching Fantasia for the first time and it is from here that we started to explore the idea of live painting to live music, essentially recreating Fantasia in Cadogan Hall in 2020. Combining these art forms, utilising some nifty camera technology, would allow us to see links between the disciplines in real time. Exciting stuff.

Sadly, the pandemic meant the concert couldn’t happen in March 2020, and obviously this was a huge disappointment to us given we had been working towards this for 7 months. However, with the opening of the new STEAM Tower, we had another opportunity to explore the combination of different art forms, showing inter-disciplinary learning in an improvisatory way and putting our previous learning to work. Current coronavirus restrictions meant the Symphony Orchestra was replaced by our wonderful socially-distanced String Quartet A and we expanded our thinking to include two Sixth Form poets to add another dimension to our exploration. Combining these art forms together facilitates wider conversations about art and creativity, and enables pupils to make connections and to think about things in more advanced ways.

Sophie in Year 11 writes: “It was really interesting to see how the poets, musicians and artists responded to each other, as all of us are artists. I loved how it allowed us to really explore our creativity and it has helped us to think of the pieces we are playing as an ensemble in new ways.”

It was fascinating to see the pupils work out how the inner bars of music evoked a sense of water with this being picked up in both the poetry and the art in various different ways. This prompted conversations about whether this was intentional by the composer or if it was more subtle in nature, perhaps influenced by our previous learning. Exploring the arts through different artistic lenses allows us to explore art in a larger, freer way, inter-connecting our learning and enhancing our understanding.

Final thoughts

Making connections between subjects, filling in the gaps and tinkering with new ideas are central to our educational provision at WHS. We relish the chance to investigate things we are expert in through lenses in which we are less accomplished, feeding into the kaleidoscope that is limitless learning in the modern day. This is STEAM+ in action.

We are all lucky to work and learn in a school where collaboration, exploration and adventure are inherent qualities that are highly valued.

Who knows what we’ll discover next…

Robert Doisneau Project

Robert Doisneau (1912–1994) was a French photographer of international renown. He was a champion of humanist photography and a pioneer of photojournalism.

Doisneau was known for his modest, playful, and ironic images of the lives of ordinary people on the streets of Paris ‘circulant là où il n’y a rien à voir’. He presented a charming vision of human frailty, and life as a series of quiet, incongruous moments.

Doisneau is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street.

The Y11 advanced French group tried to imitate his style, capturing aspects of life at WHS as a series of ‘les moments furtifs’.

Un Moment de Pause – by Rosie

La scène se passe dans la cour de récréation, au début de la pause du matin. En arrière-plan, on voit des élèves sortir précipitamment du bâtiment. Cependant, au premier plan, il y a un moment d’immobilité où une fille, Martha, observe l’agitation pendant se perchant sur une table. Pour moi, ce que je trouve beau, c’est qu’elle contraste le mouvement avec l’immobilité.

Le Meilleur est à Venir – by Martha

Ce sont deux photos en noir et blanc. Ils s’appellent ‘Le Meilleur Arrive’. Elle date de 2020. Les photos ont été prises au ‘Wimbledon High School “et vous pouvez voir des échafaudages entourant le bloc scientifique. Dans cette école, les enseignants et les élèves attendent la construction de nouveaux bâtiments. Il existe un programme pour reconstruire toute l’école. Toute la photo est net donc c’est possible à voir le détail.

Le bonheur avant les examens le 26 Février 2020 – by Diya

Cette photo a été prise alors que deux filles couraient pour déjeuner. Cela me fait penser à quel point mon école primaire était amusante. Je suis touchée parce que je peux voir leur pure joie innocente dans un événement quotidien aussi général. À mon avis, je voulais montrer que le bonheur est un choix que l’on peut choisir à tout moment comme le montrent ces deux filles.

Travailler Dur – by Rosie

La scène se passe dans la bibliothèque, le matin. Dans la photo on peut voir plein de livres, et entre l’étagère, se trouve une fille – Martha – au centre de l’image. Derrière elle, on peut voir que le soleil brille à travers les fenêtres, donc elle peut dormir même dans la lumière. En regardant l’image je suis touchée parce que la photo donne une sensation de calme et tranquillité dans la bibliothèque, et elle illustre à quel point le collège est fatigant. 

La Chimie – by Natascia

Dans cette photo, il y a trois personnes qui font une expérience de chimie. Les filles ont l’air fascinées sur la photo parce qu’elles sont impliquées dans le leçon. Les filles portent une blouse de laboratoire et des lunettes.

Joie – by Jess

En regardant l’image, je remarque que Diya a l’air très heureux. Aussi, le ciel a des marques d’avion que j’aime.   

Le nagueur solitaire – by Bea

La jeune fille qui on voit nager tout seule. L’eau dans la piscine est calme et ça donne un air tranquille à la scène. La réflexion du soleil sur l’eau c’est comme une conte de fées.  

Marcher et parler – by Chloe

Cette photo capture mes amis en train de rire alors qu’ils traversent le terrain de l’école.Je peux voir la joie pure dans le visage de Eloise comme elle jouit d’une conversation avec les autres filles. L’arrière-plan simple de la photo vous permet de voir un bâtiment et quelques arbres offrant un contraste avec la joie vue au premier plan.

Il est 4 heures – by Eloise

Dans cette image il y a une fille qui est en train de courir vers la sortie de l’école avec son portable dans son manteauqu’elle ne peut pas attendre pour utiliser dès qu’elle quitte. Elle sourit parce qu’elle est enfin libre après avoir été à l’école pendant 7 heures.

L’école – by Julia

Cette photo montre une élève heureuse pendant la journée scolaire. Elle s’appuie contre la table et la photo implique la tranquillité pendant la journée. Quand je regarde cette photo, je me sens relaxée car la photo a l’air de bonheur. À mon avis, je voulais montrer comment l’école est un bon environnement, parce que les petits plaisirs sont importants, par exemple, pour voir tes amis et acquérir de nouvelles connaissances.

Does Drama have a place in the A in Steam?

Emily, Year 10, asks if enough emphasis is placed on drama as part of the A (Arts) within STEAM.


STEM was originally a government initiative to “help empower future generations through science, technology, engineering and maths to grow a dynamic, innovative economy”. Recently the A was added to STEM to include the arts, but how much emphasis, if any, is put on drama as part of this addition? Traditionally within education drama has been seen as a soft option. It was often viewed as a GCSE choice for students who are less academically capable, and few links are made between the benefits of drama and other areas of the STEM curriculum.

Why do people consider Drama as a lesser part of the A in STEAM?

When considering the A in STEAM, many people think of subjects such as art, design or and/or the humanities, with the performing arts (which includes drama) very much a secondary consideration.

Commonly drama is mistaken for a break from academia. Drama, music and dance are often under threat amongst underfunded schools subject to ever-increasing budgetary constraints. Even important figures within the performing arts world cannot be relied upon to promote drama within education. The head of the National Youth Theatre said in 2014 that “drama classes should be taken off the GCSE curriculum because they are irrelevant, and the subject is seen as soft and easy”.

Jungle Book
Above: Jungle Book by Year 8 earlier this year

How does drama help with STEAM learning in schools and in STEAM careers?

Learning drama at school, or participating in the performing arts, is beneficial and important in many different areas. The skills you develop through drama can help in all areas of your subjects including the traditional STEM subjects. Positive outcomes include:

Problem-solving – drama improves problem-solving and decision making, for example improvisation can help with quick thinking solutions. Developing problem-solving skills is a key reason why the STEM initiative started in the first place – to solve many of the world’s problems.

Imagination – In drama you need imagination; you have to make creative choices and think of new ideas. Imagination increases creativity and innovation; this is essential in, for example, engineering to design new products and processes to drive efficiency. Einstein himself said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Team working skills – this is an essential skill in life which crosses all disciplines at school and in life. The ability to work well in a team, to be able to listen and incorporate other people’s ideas is as important in STEM careers as it is in any other. In drama lessons, or when putting on a school production, working well as a team is essential to the success of the project, whether you are front of stage or backstage, no project or performance succeeds unless every part of the team pulls together.

Empathy – drama teaches you the skill of empathy and develops your emotional intelligence. You have to understand a character’s motivation and actions by putting yourself in their shoes. EQ is becoming an increasingly important skill in the workplace.

Confidence in speaking – drama lessons often translate into better communication skills and self-confidence. Drama students are encouraged to ask questions and explain their thoughts, and of course to perform in front of a live audience. The ability to be able to speak effectively in public and present your ideas confidently is a key leadership skill that will help with an individual’s career progression.

WHS Play
Above: ‘Education, Education, Education’ – the WHS Senior Play this term

How else can drama help?

In 2012 the National Endowment for the Arts released a report showing that low-income student’s who had access to the arts tended to have better academic results, when music, dance and drama are part of people’s life they generally then go on to have better work opportunities. You also cannot underestimate the importance of a balanced education, and drama can act as an important emotional release from the demands of academia and the pressures of modern life.


Overall, I believe that drama does deserve a place in the A in STEAM. Many skills that drama help you develop are vital to those needed for success in STEAM careers and in everyday life.


Why do babies in medieval art look like mini adults?

Helena, Year 10, looks at the different influences on medieval and Renaissance art, and how this changed the portrayal of children and babies in art.

Last summer, I visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which is full of amazing Italian art from the medieval and Renaissance periods. Whilst there, I found it amusing that all of the babies in earlier artwork look less like babies and more like old men, such as in Madonna and Child by Bonaventura Berlinghieri, painted between about 1260 and 1270. Or in Paolo Veneziano’s Madonna With Child, painted in 1333. At first, I thought perhaps these artists had just never actually seen a baby, or couldn’t paint them, however, these odd-looking babies were actually very intentional.

Above: Madonna and Child, Berlinghieri

Above: Madonna with Child, Veneziano

Most medieval babies were depictions of Jesus

In the medieval period, most portraits of children and babies were commissioned by the church, which greatly limited the range of subjects to Jesus and a few other babies in the Bible. At the time, portrayals of Jesus were heavily influenced by homunculus, which translates from Latin to mean ‘little man’. They believed that Jesus was born perfect and unchanged, which was reflected in the artwork of the period, as he often is painted with similar features as a wise old man. Over time, this homuncular, adult-looking Jesus became the norm, and artists depicted all babies in the same way.

Medieval artists were less interested in realism

This unrealistic way of painting baby Jesus actually reflected a much wider trend in medieval art; unlike the Renaissance artists, they were far less interested in naturalism, and tended to lean more towards expressionistic conventions. This can be seen in both of the paintings above, as like Jesus, Madonna also does not look very realistic.

How the Renaissance changed medieval conventions

Non-religious art flourished

During the Renaissance, Florence’s middle-class prospered, and art was used for more purposes than the decoration of churches. Unlike in the medieval period, where common or even middle-class people are rarely portrayed in art, during the Renaissance more people could afford to commission art and portraits. Therefore, as portraiture expanded, and people did not want their own children and babies to look like homunculi; realistic, cuter babies became more standard. Eventually, even Jesus began to be depicted as the more cherub-like baby we would recognise today.

Renaissance idealism changed

During the Renaissance period, artists became more interested in naturalistic and realistic painting styles, unlike the more expressionistic style used by the earlier Medieval artists. There was a new interest in observing from the natural world and this extended to include babies and children as well as adults.

Children were viewed as innocents

In this period, a transformation in the way children were viewed was underway. Instead of tiny adults, babies were thought to be born without sin or knowledge and were therefore innocent. This changing of adult attitudes was reflected in artwork, as babies began to look much cuter, younger and more realistic than before.

It’s probably a good thing that post-Renaissance attitudes to children have prevailed, as I think we can all agree homunculi babies are not the prettiest!