'Fish and Ships' at London's National Gallery of Art

From Room 20, I was sent, by my worksheet to Room 6 in the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. My sheet told me to stop at "Tobias and the Angel," by Verrochio (1435-1488).

I quickly discovered that a young Londoner was making the same tour as I --the "Fish & Ships." She appeared to be about eight years old and had "Daddy" there as backup.

In fact, I found "Daddy" useful myself as I struggled with the answers to such questions as:

"What do you think the box the angel is carrying is made of?" And, "What is the boy carrying (two things)?"

And I hadn't even noticed the adorable little dog in the picture when I came to the question, "What is odd about the dog?"

My young friend pointed the dog out to me and we agreed that a lot of things were odd about it, but that what was most odd was that he was almost transparent. I mused aloud that I thought the angel should have been transparent, but my newfound friend explained that angels weren't transparent when they had wings.

The final request on this work sheet asked us to "make up a suitable name for the dog." As I left the room to go on to the next painting, "The Baptism of Christ," by Niccolo di Pietro gerini, I heard my friend say she would name the doggie Puff -- and she said the word to rhyme with roof.

I couldn't help but notice i'd written down "Puff," which sounded to me like "rough."

I did as I was told for the next picture. I counted the fish and then drew at the bottom of my sheet the "fish I liked best."

"The Bathers," by Seurat, was my next stop, and there I ticked off the types of ships I could see in the painting.

In Room 34, I dealt first with Hogarth's "The Shrimp Girl," then Turner's "Calais Pier."

I found the questions challenging; I naturally would have noticed other things about the painting, and had to discipline myself to carry out the trail of fish and ships laid out for me by the education department.

When I talked with members of that department in the National Gallery, they assured me that Daddy and the manner of Puff were precisely those they wanted to involve.

It wasn't for school groups that they thought they should work these imaginative programs out; no, it was for the casual visitor who really needed to become involved in order to become a repeater.

And I was assured that, since the inception of similar "trails," attendance had risen perceptively.

Also, the education staff asks for both drawings and some written material, providing prizes for some and posting on a special wall for others.

Perhaps one or more Monitor readers would like to enter the tongue-twister competition. Rules: Not more than 12 words to do with the sea. All the important words should begin with the same letter. Two examples:

She sells seashells on the seashore.

Pink prawns prattle peevishly about plump plum puddings.

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