I chose Vermeer as my public school 4th grade class' first artist, and "Girl with a Pearl Earring" as our first picture for picture study.
One of the (many) things that fascinates me about Johannes Vermeer's work is the way he used the same costumes and props in all of his paintings. If you look closely, you'll see that many of Vermeer's female models are wearing this pair of pearl earrings. Looking through a book of Vermeer's paintings (there aren't very many - fewer than 40 paintings are attributed to Vermeer!) is like playing I Spy or looking through Where's Waldo? Can you find the yellow coat with the fur collar? Can you find the lion head finials?
The way I do picture study, with a class of thirty (or thirty plus students), is to have the students look at a painting, pair-share observations with their "elbow partner" (the person sitting next to them - close enough to touch elbows with), then ask students to tell me what they see. I did something new this year. I split the lesson in half. One day, we observed, discussed, and - after we had done a lot of talking/oral composition - wrote about what the painting.
"Her eyes seem like they follow you."
A couple of days later, we looked at the painting again and I told my students they were going to draw Girl. Some students started to put their papers over their photocopies and I said, "Nope. Draw. Not trace."
This assignment was met with lots of groaning and whining. "This is hard."
"I know," I told them. "It took Vermeer months."
Having students draw a work of art really shows how closely they're looking at it. These four nine-year-olds looked pretty closely: