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Cazin in the Quarry

Grade Level: 6-7

Using Cazin’s painting The Quarry of Monsieur Pascal near Nanterre, students will hypothesize about the workings, setting, and size of this French quarry. Then, applying his working method of “memory painting,” they will draw or paint a setting from memory after close observation without taking notes or preparatory sketches.


Jean-Charles Cazin
French, 1841–1901
The Quarry of Monsieur Pascal near Nanterre, c. 1875
oil on canvas
Private Collection



Curriculum Connections

  • History/Social Studies
  • Science (ecology)


Warm-up Questions

Do you have a sense of how large this quarry is? Quarries can cover hundreds of acres. How did Cazin paint Monsieur Pascal’s quarry so that it looks very deep and wide? (The people are different sizes as they recede into the distance. The wall of the quarry takes up two-thirds of the painting. All that is seen beyond the fence is the sky.)


The quarry in this painting was probably located at the foot of Mont-Valérien in Nanterre, a small town located thirteen kilometers (about eight miles) west of Paris. The area, along the River Seine, is rich with limestone. It is thought that the man wearing a suit in the left foreground of the painting is Monsieur Pascal, the owner of the quarry. It isn’t known whether he commissioned Jean-Charles Cazin to paint the scene or whether the quarry simply caught Cazin’s eye.


Jean-Charles Cazin
French, 1841–1901
The Windmill, probably after 1884
oil on wood, 40.5 x 32 cm (15 15/16 x 12 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of R. Horace Gallatin

The Quarry of Monsieur Pascal was painted early in Cazin’s career, perhaps after his return to France in 1875 after living in England for five years. He painted realistic scenes from the world around him, in addition to being a ceramist and a sculptor—this may have added to his interest in the quarry. Around 1875, he created a number of other paintings of suburban workers, including dockworkers and boat wrights. All of these paintings, like The Quarry, have the same palette of yellows and browns and the same overcast sky.

Cazin studied with a teacher who advocated a method called “memory painting,” in which the artist relied on intense preliminary scrutiny rather than painted studies made during extended time on-site. Consequently, The Quarry almost certainly was painted in the artist’s studio in Normandy, based solely on his memory and without the aid of sketches.

Guided Practice

  • What natural resource is the subject of this painting? (Limestone.) The River Seine flows near Nanterre, where the quarry was located. What advantage did this quarry have by being near the river? (Convenient transportation of stone.) Use your imagination to decide how the resource could be used in nearby Nanterre.
  • What different jobs are depicted in this scene? What would it be like to work here? What are the horses for?
  • What does the painting tell you about the kinds of technology used to quarry stone in the 1870s? In what ways could the technology be different today?
  • Hypothesize about what the climate might be like in Nanterre. What clues does the artist give? (Men dressed warmly and an overcast sky suggestive of rain indicate a cool temperate climate. Use the “Climates Around the World” map to assist students.) How would you describe the weather in this painting?
  • When people are finished quarrying a site, a huge pit is left in the ground. If you were the owner of the quarry in Nanterre, how might you refurbish the area when you are finished taking stone from it? (One idea might be to bring in topsoil to line the floor of the quarry and grow a garden on the spot. Visit Butchart Gardens's website to see the transformation of an abandoned limestone quarry into public gardens.) 


Students will create their own “memory painting” of a place around their home, school, or neighborhood. No notes or preparatory sketches are allowed; rather they should use their keen sense of observation. Remind them the longer they look the more they will see and etch into their memory. Once they return to the classroom, they will draw or paint this scene from memory incorporating as many details as possible.


Depending on the setting of the student’s work of art, the class should either go to the site or the student artist should bring in a photo of the site for comparison. Critique should begin with comparing the remembered depiction versus the actual site. Students should discuss the hurdles they faced when confronted with drawing from memory. Was it hard to remember exact colors? sizes of objects in relation to other objects? placement of shadows and highlights? What was easier to remember? Why do you think this object or area stayed clearer in your memory? Is it something that holds a special significance or a more common object one sees often?

National Core Arts Standards

VA:Cn10.1.7 Individually or collaboratively create visual documentation of places and times in which people gather to make and experience art or design in the community.

VA:Cn11.1.6 Analyze how art reflects changing times, traditions, resources, and cultural uses.

VA:Cr3.1.6 Reflect on whether personal artwork conveys the intended meaning and revise accordingly.

VA:Re7.1.6 Identify and interpret works of art or design that reveal how people live around the world and what they value. 

VA:Re7.2.6 Analyze ways that visual components and cultural associations suggested by images influence ideas, emotions, and actions.

VA:Re8.1.7 Interpret art by analyzing art-making approaches, the characteristics of form and structure, relevant contextual information, subject matter, and use of media to identify ideas and mood conveyed.