Picture Description

Reason

A picture description is an ideal way of practising your English vocabulary in all sorts of fields. And there's also a benefit for everyday life – imagine you want to show pictures of your family or home to your foreign friends.

Describing paintings or other art pictures (e. g. caricatures) is something for the advanced learner of English as you also have to talk about the artists intention and the impression on the viewer.

Preparation

Have a close look at the picture and decide on how to structure your picture description. What is important or special? What should the viewer pay attention to?

Structure and Content

It's not easy to follow a picture description if the writer jumps randomly from one point to another. Therefore, make sure that your picture description is logically structured, for example:

  • from left to right (or from right to left)
  • from the background to the foreground (or from the foreground to the background)
  • from the middle to the sides (or from the sides to the middle)
  • from details to general impressions (or from general impressions to details)

Which structure you finally choose depends on your taste and the picture you want to describe.

Pictures in General

  • short description of the scene (e. g. place, event)
  • details (who / what can you see)
  • background information (if necessary) on place, important persons or event

Paintings

  • name of artist and picture, year of origin (if known)
  • short description of the scene (e. g. place, event)
  • details (who / what can you see)
  • impression on the viewer
  • artist's intention
  • perspective, colours, forms, proportions etc.

Important Tenses

Tips

If you want to practise describing paintings, check out the websites of some galleries and write down expresssions that might be useful for your descriptions. On the website of the National Gallery in London for example you'll find lots of interesting paintings with descriptions.

The website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) provides a detailled description of a painting with interesting background information, e. g. how to use colours, how to give the impression of movement or perspective etc.

An English glossary on art can be found on the website of the Tate Gallery London.

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