LECTURES

29 September 2020

The Hidden World of Canal Architecture

This lecture examines the unique buildings and structures associated with the UK’s canal network, with a vast array of distinctive designs, landmark features and unusual artefacts: only the National Trust and the Church of England have more listed structures than our canals.

Look out for lock flights and lighthouses; cottages and clock towers; warehouses and lots of whimsical architecture – our canals delight the eye and refresh the spirit.

Roger Butler


20 October 2020

‘Something of Me’: (Self) Presentation in Portraits of Cecil Beaton

In the National Portrait Gallery, London, there are 347 different portraits of (royal) photographer, costume designer and serial socialite Cecil Beaton. By way of comparison, there are 819 of Queen Elizabeth II and just 47 of Princess Diana. Why should this be so? This illustrated lecture examines the many self-portraits of Cecil Beaton (in paint and print) and considers how contemporary friends and artists, not least Beaton himself, regarded and depicted his intriguing character. More generally, it considers the role of portraiture and self-presentation during the interwar period. Figures included in this humorous and humbling story include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rex Whistler, Lady Diana Cooper, Christian ‘Bébé’ Berard, Patrick Procktor, David Hockney, Augustus John and Francis Bacon.

Dr Benjamin Wild


4 November 2020

Francis Bacon

Many people have claimed that Francis Bacon was the most significant British painter of the twentieth century and, possibly, ever. He has also been called the most important painter in the world after the death of Picasso. Yet his work is often described as horrific, violent, nihilistic and ugly. The artist always denied this but there is no doubt that some of the images he produced can be difficult to look at. He was profoundly influenced by old masters like Titian, Velázquez and Degas and continued to work in the figurative tradition at a time when other artists thought it had been exhausted. He tried to push that tradition to its absolute limits in order to try and deal directly with the nature of the human condition as he saw it.
This lecture will examine Bacon’s career, focusing on his most important works in order to explain why they came to look the way they do. His influences, both artistic and personal, will be examined along with his techniques and source material.

Linda Smith


6 January 2021

The Art of the Hero: Commemorating Scott of the Antarctic

Captain Scott and his four companions died in the Antarctic in 1912. Although they had lost the race to the South Pole to Norwegian Roald Amundsen, their deaths unleashed an astonishing wave of tributes not only in Britain but around the world. This lecture will examine the different ways in which artists represented death in the polar wasteland and portrayed failure as heroic sacrifice.

Dr Max Jones


3 February 2021

The Captain, the Duchess and their 23,000 children – London’s great Foundling Hospital

In the early 1700s, shipwright Thomas Coram gave up his business in Massachusets. Returning to London he was appalled to encounter babies regularly abandoned in the streets. He began to lobby for the provision of a hospital for ‘foundlings’ and for babies at risk of infanticide. The great and the good weren’t interested. Coram persisted. After more than 17 years he finally achieved his aim. How did he do it? Why did England lag so far behind continental Europe? What part did Hogarth and Handel play at the Foundling? With places limited, on what basis were babies selected or rejected? Why were they given new names? And what of the Tokens – the trinkets and over 5,000 pieces of fabric left by mothers hoping to return and reclaim a child in better times? A gripping story with huge resonance for our own times.

Lars Tharp


30 March 2021

Provenance matters. The mass faking of the Russian avant garde on the world art market 2000-2018

With the opening of Russia post-glasnost came a huge surge of interest in the Russian Avant Garde. Previously-unknown artists became famous and much sought-after by the new Russian-buying public. With their reappearance, however, came an industrial-scale level of faking of their pictures often with the connivance, unwitting or otherwise, of Western and Russian experts.
Reputed specialists have estimated that as many as 95% of pictures on the market are unacceptable to any leading auction house, museum or dealer. This lecture will examine the evidence for and against such paintings.
The various attempts by specialists untainted by scandal to cleanse the market will also be examined with special attention paid to the 2017 exhibition of Russian Avant Garde at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, closed by Belgian Police in April.

James Butterwick


7 April 2021

The Genius of Beethoven

Famously, every morning of his adult life, Beethoven measured out exactly 60 coffee beans for his breakfast. A man who is capable of such discipline over a cup of coffee can surely apply that exactness elsewhere in his life and in Beethoven’s case, it was applied to his compositions. In fact, the detail found in his music is often so subtle that most people don’t even know it’s there. The lecture/study day explores Beethoven’s genius as a writer of music, at the same time setting his extraordinary story against the backdrop of 19th century warfare, revolution and dramatic social changes. Beethoven would have been 250 years old on 17 December 2020.

Peter Medhurst


25 May 2021

Dickens, Lawrence and Zhivago: David Lean’s Art of Cinema

Cinematic images are modern art forms. In the ‘golden age’ of cinema – before the development of CGI technology – film-makers had to construct sets to represent landscapes, townscapes and interiors. Sometimes they used paintings and photographs, sometimes they built scale models, sometimes they constructed full-size replicas. In each case, they created an art installation they then captured in celluloid images.
Drawing on new insights from the archaeology of cinema, this lecture will use the films of renowned British director David Lean to explore the art of cinema. How do the ‘artists’ – in this case formed of large collaborative teams (directors, screenwriters, production designers, costume designers, camera crews, fixers, etc) – choose locations, construct sets, dress actors and, more generally, ‘imagine’ the world they seek to represent? How much is authentic and how much preconception and prejudice? What are the influences on the way the cinema depicts the world?

Neil Faulkner