Soapsuds and Whitewash: the Sea Paintings of JMW Turner (can be a ½ study day)
The great critic, John Ruskin, believed that Turner’s later marine paintings included ‘the noblest seas ever painted by man’ and over the years few have seriously contested his judgement. One third of Turner’s oil paintings are of marine or seafaring subjects, and this lecture surveys the full range of his work in this genre. They include sea battles, fishing scenes, wreck pictures, the slave trade, mythological subjects and, above all, the sea itself in all its moods. It shows how Turner took a lowly and little regarded category of painting and used it to produce some of the most compelling images of the Romantic movement.
Carl Giles: the Life, Times and Cartoons of a National Treasure
Giles once said that he loved Grandma – that fearsome, black-clad, gambling, drinking battleaxe – because she allowed him to say things through his cartoons that he was too polite to say in person. Giles poked fun at authority in all its forms, from Hitler to traffic wardens and even his employers at the Daily Express, who didn’t trust him and had sub-editors scouring his cartoons for subversive background details. He was voted Britain’s best-loved cartoonist in 2000, but few realise this likeable and humane satirist was also a war correspondent who witnessed the horrors of Belsen, or that the camp commandant, Josef Kramer, was a great fan of his work. Giles gave us a remarkable picture of a half-century of British life. He was also, as his editor John Gordon put it “a spreader of happiness’ and ‘a genius…with the common touch’.
With a Little Help from Their Friends: the Beatles and Their Artists (can also be a ½ study day)
A journey through the 60s in music and images, following the Beatles from the Hamburg Reeperbahn in 1960 to Abbey Road in 1969. The band was always fascinated by the visual arts - the ‘fifth Beatle’, Stuart Sutcliffe, was a prodigiously talented painter - and they also learned very early on that artists and designers could help promote their image and their music. Their rise to global fame was aided and recorded by an impressive roster of photographers, including Astrid Kirchherr, Bob Freeman, Robert Whitaker, Angus McBean and Linda McCartney. The innovative covers for releases such as Rubber Soul (Bob Freeman) Revolver (Klaus Voormann), the White Album (Richard Hamilton) and Sgt. Pepper (Peter Blake & Jann Haworth) turned album design into an art form in its own right.
Charles Saatchi – a Modern Medici?
Since the 1980s the collector Charles Saatchi has become one of the most powerful figures in contemporary British art. The lecture examines Saatchi’s rise to prominence as an advertising magnate and as a tastemaker, charting the changing shape of his collection and his effect on artistic reputations. Although he is most closely associated with Britart – the label attached in the 1990s to the work of younger British artists such as Gavin Turk, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, the Chapman Brothers and Chris Ofili, his collection has changed considerably over the years because he sells as well as buys work. The lecture ranges widely over Saatchi’s collecting, embracing art from various countries and in many different media. Saatchi’s beautiful gallery, located in the former Duke of York’s Regiment HQ in Sloane Square, is one of the largest galleries of purely contemporary art in Europe and has been the venue for ground-breaking exhibitions of Chinese, American, Indian, Middle Eastern, Russian and German art.
‘The Sincerest Form of Flattery’: Great Images and Those who Borrow Them
Artists and designers have always imitated their predecessors. Their motives for doing so range from genuine respect to outright parody, and the more a work is copied, adapted, quoted and repackaged, the more it lives on in the public imagination. This is a lecture that deals with artistic borrowing, drawing on a very wide range of art and design, including painting, sculpture, photography, graphic design and fashion. The artists on whom it touches include Constable, Leonardo, Manet, Warhol, Turner, Dali, Harry Beck (creator of the Tube Map), Alexander McQueen (fashion designer), the photographers Martin Parr and Lewis Morley. It concludes with the strange 'afterlife' of Alfred Leete's famous WW1 recruiting poster of Lord Kitchener.
A Child of Six Could do it! Cartoonists’ Views of Modern Art
Modern art is often considered difficult, but it is much less so when seen through the eyes of some of the greatest cartoonists of the last one hundred and fifty years, who provide a humorous and sceptical but instructive guide to modern art from Courbet to the Britart of the 1990s. A chance to enjoy the insights and cartoons of (among others) Daumier, Larry, Thelwell, Matt, the wise guys at the New Yorker magazine and, of course, the immortal Giles. Collectively, they provide an absorbing, illuminating and, above all, a funny, revealing and sidelong view of 150 years of modern art.
Chardin and the Lure of the Ordinary
Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) is not a household name, but his list of admirers reads like a who’s who of modern art, for it includes Manet, Cezanne, Braque, Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse and even Mark Rothko. They admired his work for its absolute mastery of appearances, and for what the historian Pierre Rosenberg described as ‘its grave, silent quality’, which is often compared to Vermeer. When Chardin entered the French Académie, it was as ‘a painter of animals and fruit’ – the least respected category of art, but he struggled to overcome this low status and eventually attracted royal patrons from Sweden and Russia. The lecture examines the full range of Chardin’s art, his patrons, his social and cultural context and concludes with an account of his rediscovery in the mid nineteenth century and his considerable artistic legacy.
True Originals: the Art of Untrained, Visionary and Compulsive Creators
Outsider art is the name given to work produced by artists from all over the world who are usually untrained and outside the mainstream of twentieth and twenty-first century art. Their output ranges from tiny drawings a few centimetres wide to the world’s tallest wooden house. The artists include at least two postmen, a coal miner, psychics, unskilled labourers, several prisoners, psychiatric patients, a Russian ex-gangster and an Indian roads inspector. The one thing they have in common is a
compulsion to make astounding art. Few of them are well known – but they all deserve to be.
Gustave Courbet and Realism in France
Gustave Courbet (1819-1977) was not a modest man. In his own opinion, he was France’s most important living artist, and one of his many claims to fame is that he painted the world’s biggest self-portrait (at 6 metres/20 feet wide). His provocative, anti-establishment attitudes made him many enemies in the worlds of art and politics, but even his enemies acknowledged his powers. Courbet was a Realist painter who limited his subject matter to what he could see and experience for himself. As he once pithily put it: “Show me an angel and I will paint you an angel!” It was an attitude that helped to change the course of modern art.
Napoleon and his Artists
The French painter Girodet, spoke for all those who worked for Napoleon when he said “We were all conscripted, but not all of us wore the uniform”. Bonaparte’s brilliant exploits in the Revolutionary Wars attracted artists from the earliest stages in his career and he made systematic use of art as propaganda to reveal himself as soldier, peacemaker, lawgiver and the possessor of semi-divine imperial power. He was fortunate to have at his command the greatest artists of the era, including Jacques Louis David, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Antonio Canova and the lesser known Charles-Antoine, Baron Gros, who produced some of the most astounding Napoleonic pictures. The lecture concludes by looking at the less flattering images of Napoleon that were produced in Britain and Germany.
Art, Design and Photography in Post-Revolutionary Russia (can be a study day or ½ study day)
This lecture surveys developments in Russian art and design during the twenty years or so after the 1917 revolution, from the vigorous experimentation of the first decade to the stranglehold Stalin exerted upon the arts during the 1930s. It is often falsely assumed that the art produced in Russia after 1917 is characterised mainly by pictures of heroic, muscular workers and adoring images of Lenin and Stalin, but nothing could be further from the truth. Russian artists and designers such as Tatlin, Malevich, Eisenstein and the Constructivists attempted to design for a new, unprecedented society. Their achievements in the fields of painting, sculpture, photography, cinema and all forms of design, from posters and ceramics to monuments, clothing and theatrical sets are still keenly felt even today.
How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (can be a study day or a ½ study day)
Clement Greenberg, the noted American art critic, observed that when Hitler occupied Paris in 1940, the art world’s centre of gravity shifted to the USA, and to New York in particular. This lecture looks at the way in which America came increasingly to dominate the making, marketing and selling of art between 1940 and the early 1980s. These developments are set against the social and political changes of the period, including the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the growth of the consumer society. The work under consideration ranges from the realism of artists such as George Bellows and Edward Hopper, through the abstract work of Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Jasper Johns (the only artist ever to appear on The Simpsons), Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close and Jeff Koons, as well as a host of lesser-known but impressive figures. It looks at the international power exerted by art dealers such as Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Parsons, Leo Castelli and Larry Gagosian (once described by Time magazine as the most powerful man in the global art market)
The Turner Prize: its History and Controversies
In the early 1980s, British contemporary art was largely ignored by the international art world. Since the Turner Prize was first held in 1984, however, the work of younger British artists has achieved considerable acclaim in Europe, America and even Asia. The Turner Prize ceremony is televised annually; it has been presented by Madonna and by the actor, Dennis Hopper. The bookies, William Hill and Ladbroke, have been taking bets on the winners since 1998. In fact, the prize has thrived on a heady mixture of controversy and genuine talent. Those shortlisted have included Lucien Freud, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George, Antony Gormley, the Chapman Brothers, Grayson Perry, Steve McQueen and Chris Ofili. This lecture surveys the history of the Turner Prize from 1984 to the present, leaving it up to the audience to decide for themselves which were the high points and which the low. Picasso’s Guernica and the Spanish Civil War Guernica is one of the most famous paintings in the world and probably Picasso’s best known picture. It was prompted by events in the Spanish Civil War, and specifically the fascist destruction of the ancient Basque capital on a market day in April 1937. The lecture considers the circumstances surrounding its creation and charts its development through Picasso’s surviving drawings and the photographs taken by his mistress, the Yugoslavian photographer, Dora Maar. Furthermore, Guernica is examined alongside other art and photography created during the war, including celebrated images by the painters Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, as well as photomontage by John Heartfield, photographs by Robert Capa and a range of other graphic work.
Picasso’s Guernica and the Spanish Civil War
Guernica is one of the most famous paintings in the world and probably Picasso’s best known picture. It was prompted by events in the Spanish Civil War, and specifically the fascist destruction of the ancient Basque capital on a market day in April 1937. The lecture considers the circumstances surrounding its creation and charts its development through Picasso’s surviving drawings and the photographs taken by his mistress, the Yugoslavian photographer, Dora Maar. Furthermore, Guernica is examined alongside other art and photography created during the war, including celebrated images by the painters Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, as well as photomontage by John Heartfield, photographs by Robert Capa and a range of other graphic work.
Manet and his Milieu
Edouard Manet (1832-1883) is one of the most influential and paradoxical of artists. He was enthralled by the art of the past but is widely regarded as the first great modernist painter; he craved success and social status but painted provocative, puzzling and confrontational pictures of the society in which he lived. He worked at a time when Paris was rapidly changing and his main aim was to represent the experience of modern life. In so doing he produced some of the most widely admired paintings of the nineteenth century, including his stunning depiction of A Bar at the Folies Bergères in the Courtauld institute. The lecture looks at his work in the contexts of his friendships, his rivalries, his environment and his family. It concludes with a review of his admirers and of his importance within the history of modern art.
Spectacular Bodies: Art, Anatomy and Medical Science
For centuries, artists have learned from doctors and anatomists, but it is less widely realised that without the help of some supremely talented artists, draughtsmen and engravers, the practice of medicine would not have advanced as rapidly as it did. This talk examines the mutual benefits that art and medical science have bestowed upon one another; it refers, as one would expect, to the art of great renaissance masters such as Leonardo, Antonio Pollaiuolo and Michelangelo, but it also considers examples of work by (among others) Rembrandt, Hogarth, the American realist painter Thomas Eakins and the English artist Henry Tonks, who was both a distinguished surgeon and a gifted painter and teacher.
The Lesser Known Subjects of John Constable
Constable once famously wrote in a letter to his closest friend, John Fisher, ‘I should paint my own places best’, and his own places largely consisted of the Suffolk countryside in which he grew up and which formed the subjects of his most famous and beloved images. It is less widely known that Constable was a formidable painter of the English coast, or that he toured the Lake District, produced portraits, depicted religious subjects and spent fifteen years working intermittently on a grand oil painting of London. This lecture looks at some of these lesser known, but often remarkable products of Constable’s career.
‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’
This is talk considers some of the most unusual uses to which portraiture has been put. Sergei Vasiliev, for example, photographed Russian prisoners in order to build up an encyclopaedia of the tattoos that recorded their crimes. The French-Canadian photographer, Ulric Collette, has a very different agenda - he takes photographs of two family members, edits half of each face and creates one seamless portrait in order to demonstrate the effects of genetics. They are only two among a range of artists producing startling portraits for reasons that may be amusing, profoundly moving and completely unexpected reasons.
Paintbrushes at Dawn: the world’s greatest artistic feuds, rows and quarrels. The late Christopher Hitchens, who knew a thing or two about feuds, once wrote that a really first rate bust up requires one of at least two things: a clash of strong personalities, and a conflict of principles. The history of art is peppered with first rate bust ups: between the great early Renaissance artists, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, between Constable and Turner in the early 1830s, between Salvador Dali and the Surrealist leader, Andre Breton in the 1930s and, most recently, between the graffiti artists Banksy and ‘King’ Robbo, who painted out and amended each other’s works. There are many more. They are highly entertaining but they also tell us a great deal about key issues in art history.
Paintbrushes at Dawn: the World’s Greatest Artistic Feuds
The late Christopher Hitchens, who knew a thing or two about feuds, once wrote that a really first rate bust up requires one of at least two things: a clash of strong personalities, and a conflict of principles. The history of art is peppered with first rate bust ups: between the great early Renaissance artists, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, between Constable and Turner in the early 1830s, between Salvador Dali and the Surrealist leader, Andre Breton in the 1930s and, most recently, between the graffiti artists Banksy and ‘King’ Robbo, who painted out and amended each other’s works. There are many more. They are highly entertaining but they also tell us a great deal about key issues in art history