Gagging to go to the Guggenheim, but worried the munchkins won’t behave? As Group Director, Art Collections, Estates and Valuations at Bonhams, Harvey Cammell knows something about art. He has taken his kids Nancy (11) and Tom (8) to view everything from classic portraits to Goya’s fantastical works to contemporary American art and he says parents can absolutely visit art galleries with kids and museums with little ones. Here are his tips for introducing children to the great works. 

Are art galleries suitable places to take young children?

Not always! Best advice is to make your visits short and sweet. Most large museums are pretty tolerant, but clearly they are not designed for toddlers!

Are there some galleries that are not suitable for kids?

None that I have visited. We have been asked to quiet down a few times but I cant say I blame the museum for that!

What is the optimal age to start introducing kids to art galleries?

For art galleries I think 7 onwards is a good age. My son learnt about some of the great artists in school at this age, so to be able to take him to a museum and show him some examples brought everything into context. 

Why is it important for children to be exposed to art from a young age?

Culture is the lifeblood of society. The visual impact of exhibits in museums provides children with the spark that hopefully inspires them to question and learn. Personally I couldn’t be happier if both my kids went on to draw/paint/create for the rest of their lives whether professionally or just for fun. Museums [and galleries] provide an important, easy and accessible way to inspire them.

What can children learn about other cultures and history from art?

The more curious the exhibit, the more interesting for the child.  Both my children were fascinated rather than terrified by the shrunken Amazonian heads in The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, England. It brought to life their history lessons in school (they spent last term spent looking at South American culture).

Which is your favourite art gallery to take your kids to?

Ashmoleum in Oxford, England. Apart from being incredibly diverse and a fantastic space, it is very geared for children with various projects for them to undertake. Last time we went, we were challenged with copying a Raphael drawing – needless to say, my children’s attempts were far better than mine!

Which is your kids' favourite art gallery? 

Science Museum, London, England. It is probably the best museum for children with so many interactive activities and space to run about.  Where else can you hang out with lunar rockets and astronauts?!

How do you keep kids entertained and engaged at art galleries and museums?

Give them something to do! Drawing/learning trails always work a treat. Interactive presentations never fail to entertain. Make the presentation of the exhibits as visually interesting as possible.

Which are your top must-visit galleries and museums for young children?

·  Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid, Spain. Incredible collection and huge space, very geared up for families. They were fascinated by the ghoulish Francisco Goya paintings.

·  The Getty Centre in Los Angeles, California, USA. One of the most incredible.

·  Ashmoleum and Pitt Rivers Musem in Oxford, England. [These are f]amily favourites. The Pitt Rivers is a gem. It contains so many weird and wonderful collections from long dead dinosaurs to very much alive creepy crawlies.

·  The Henry Moore Foundation, Hertfordshire, England. A very tactile experience.

·  National Portrait Gallery, London, England. [My kids were f]ascinated to see portraits of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII bringing to life their favourite TV program Horrible Histories.

·  The Royal Armouries, Leeds, England. It may be more for the boys but it’s great to see the expression on your child’s face when they look up in awe at a knight and horse in full armour.

What are your top must-see works of art for young children?

·  Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. The most beautiful painting in Western art isn’t a bad place to start! 

[For more travel tips on galleries in Italy for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Florence Insider.]

·  Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night”, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. It appeals to children’s sense of wonder. It’s an incredibly painterly and magical picture; beautiful colours with the extraordinary pattern of brushstrokes that binds everything together. 

·  Frans Hals “The Laughing Cavalier”, The Wallace Collection, London, England. It’s about the enigmatic smile (along the lines of “Mona Lisa”) – a memorable image that prompts children to question and remember it.

·  Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, Louvre, Paris, France. I don’t know why but rather like the Mona Lisa. T face used to fascinate me a as child – was it really smiling or is it the moustache?!

·  Jackson Pollock, “One: Number 31, 1950”, MoMA, New York, USA. The bigger, the madder, the better with children as far as I’m concerned. Expect a paint-storm mess next time they try to copy this at home

·  Albrecht Dürer, “The Rhinoceros”, The British Museum, London, England. Endlessly fascinating. Children love detail, and Dürer is the master.


For more cultural activities to do with kids in London and New York, see the suitcases&strollers story Broadway and West End Shows
Images: Clare Clutterbuck, Louvre, National Portrait Gallery, London