The Washington Post

Book offers kids an unusual tour of National Gallery of Art

(From Mary Lee Corlett)

Belle: The Amazing, Astonishingly Magical Journey of an Artfully Painted Lady” by Mary Lee Corlett. Age 8 and older. $25.

What if things in paintings could come to life? That fascinating idea drives this exciting, funny, thrilling story of two butterflies who find themselves lost in Washington’s own National Gallery of Art.

Belle is a butterfly fluttering above a beautiful white poppy in a painting called “A Vase of Flowers” by Davidsz de Heem that was painted in 1660 and which has been in the National Gallery since 1960. But in this fantasy story by an art historian at the gallery, Belle gets blown out of her painting one day while the work is being moved. Turns out that Belle wasn’t the only butterfly to get jostled from the painting, which is how she comes to meet Brimstone, a handsome yellow butterfly.

The problem is that the two butterflies have been part of the painting for 300 years and being out in the world of the museum is pretty scary, especially since they don’t know how to get back to the painting that is their home.

But Brimstone is an adventurous sort, and soon he’s checking out a painting featuring birds. Belle doesn’t like this idea saying, “in some circles ‘butterfly’ was just another name for ‘bird food.’ ” But Brimstone gets a little too close to the bird painting, bumps it and sets free a very hungry bird. With the bird in hot pursuit, the two butterflies find themselves trying to camouflage themselves in some of the National Gallery’s most famous paintings.

The result for the reader is a fun, fast-paced tour of the museum with stops that include works by such famous artists as Pablo Picasso, Johannes Vermeer, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock.

If the book inspires you to visit the museum, then there’s no better day to do it than this Sunday, when Mary Lee Corlett, the author of “Belle” and Phyllis Saroff, the illustrator, will be talking about their book and signing copies of it.

What: “Belle” book talk

When: Sunday, November 13, at 11:30 a.m.

Where: National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. The book talk is in the East Building’s small auditorium.

How much: Admission to the gallery and book talk is free. Books will be available for sale.

For more information: 202-737-4215 or go to

— Tracy Grant

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