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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Child Prodigies

la Picador, 1890, Pablo Picasso,
age eight or nine.

la Picador, 1961, Pablo Picasso


It took me twenty years to learn to paint like an adult, and the rest of my life to learn to paint like a child.
                                                      --Pablo Picasso

Young people are naturally creative and the history of art is peppered with children who exhibited outstanding talent at an early age--Picasso among them. He was around eight or nine when he did his first painting, titled la Picador (left) in 1890. He returned to the subject in la Picador II (below, left) seventy-one years later (1961), underlining the validity of his words above. A silverpoint self-portrait of a thirteen-year-old Albrecht Durer (below, right) survives to stake his claim to the designation, child prodigy. The English Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais became a member of the Royal Academy at the tender age of eleven. Today, thanks to social media, we're well aware of such precocious output in all the arts.

Albrecht Durer Self-Portrait,
age 13, 1484

In discussing the child prodigy phenomena of today, I'm not talking about four-year-olds who can paint like Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. Such brush-wielding kids may, in fact, be prodigies, but the artists to whom they're compared may have taken Picasso's words to heart to such a degree that any comparison of the work of juvenile artist to theirs is largely meaningless. Although the Internet is rife with the work of teen and pre-teen painters following in Picasso's footsteps in learning to paint like adults at a young age, I'm particularly fascinated by the work of just two such talents--Akiane Kramarik, and Kieron Williamson.
Akiane Kramarik, at age eight, with her Prince of Peace, 2002

Kieron Williamson, age eight.
Both Akiane and Kieron have painted virtually all their young lives. At the age of eight, Akiane was painting large, religious and fantasy works with a style and skill many adult artists would envy. Kieron, a young British lad (now eleven) started with watercolors, as a preschooler. By the age of eight, his second exhibition of sixteen paintings sold out in just fourteen minutes for almost $28,000. Kieron's father is an art dealer and professionally promotes his son's work, enabling their family to move from a two-bedroom flat in Norfolk to a proper British house. Akiane donates a portion of the income from the sale of her work to charity. She is nineteen now. Both started out largely on their own, self-taught, though they've since taken painting classes. Akiane's work is smooth, highly finished, quite realistic and purposefully overwhelming in its scale, often featuring faces five to ten times life-size. Kieron's watercolors, tend toward kid-size, mostly around nine by twelve inches, though recently he has taken up oils on a larger scale. Nearly all of his work involves loose, somewhat impressionistic landscapes of his native coastal England. Both artists take their gifts seriously, working as much as four to five hours a day at their art. Neither seem much disposed toward now learning to paint like a child.
Kieron Williamson, now eleven, is sometimes referred to as the "Mini-Monet."



  1. Check out Akiane's more recent work, like this one:

    She's now 23 and has got even better, her latest paintings are incredibly realistic. Many child prodigies rest on their laurels and then get overtaken by harder workers, but she's clearly developed her technique to amazing levels.