Piece of the Week: Mary Pratt’s “Rouge,” A Five-Year-Old’s Frolic


When you ask a five-year-old, “How old are you?” it is likely that you will not only get a joyous response, but precision to the nearest quarter of a year.  

Later in life, responses significantly decrease in enthusiasm.

Rouge (48”x48”) captures the innocence of that fleeting time of popsicle-stick humor, sidewalk hopscotch, and frequent tooth fairy visits.

Even the canvas itself, with its bright gingers and mossy greens, looks as if it has just come inside from a morning of frolicsome puddle jumping on a raw-nosed, autumn Saturday. 

The oil painting by Mary Pratt portrays a young girl in a spongy field frolicking with a trio of waltzing chickens. The girl wears a pair of wellington boots and a spinning toadstool skirt as she gallivants through Pratt’s imaginative meadow.

The background, with its floating circles and unique colors, gives off a surrealist energy; it is as if in her adventure, the girl has accidentally wandered into a Joan Miró canvas.


Pratt’s technique is an exercise in simplification. “My new shortcut is to squeeze paint directly from the tube and mix on the canvas,” says the artist.

The result, along with a growing crop of paint-tube caps strewn on her studio floor, is a harvest of bold brushstrokes and sliding textures.

The few palettes that she does keep around her studio are rarely cleaned. She calls the build-up “extraordinary” and poetically points out how it “simulates a conversation.”

In this way, Pratt’s paint-coated palettes have a memory. The color layers are like stories passed down through an oral tradition, or in this case, an oil tradition.

“I will eventually chisel the large petrified oil paint piles from the palettes and begin anew,” Pratt says.

Rouge was inspired by a photograph of Pratt’s grandchildren – whom she charmingly calls her “grandgirls” – running around on a farm with chickens. She strives to capture the exuberant energy of a young child.


Pratt and her granddaughters

About the title she says, “when I completed Rouge and before I named it, I noticed the red in the piece looked applied, much like cosmetics on a face or rouge smeared across a cheek. My titles are generally a simplified expression of the piece.” 

Rouge is the place where, as Pratt puts it, “the ordinary becomes a work of art.”

See more of Mary Pratt’s art on UGallery.