24 November 2020
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.
26 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
23 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.
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.
27 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.
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?