Previous Special Interest Days


Tuesday 6th March 2018:  

Frank Woodgate, a lecturer and guide at the Tate Modern and Tate Britain gave a lecture of eloquence and wit on The Art and Scandalous Lives of the Bloomsbury Group.

They were a group of intellectuals who came from privileged backgrounds and were artists and writers.  Roger Fry, Vanessa Stephen and Duncan Grant were seen as the centre of the group in terms of artists.  Vanessa met the artist and art critic Clive Bell in Paris.  They married in 1907 and set up home in Charleston in Sussex in 1916.  The house became the main centre where the group gathered.  They were joined by the political theorist Leonard Woolf and writer Lytton Strachey who had been colleagues at Trinity College Cambridge.

Vanessa’s younger sister Virginia was married to Leonard Woolf.  She was a fragile person given to bouts of depression.  They had no children and despite the loving support given to her by her husband, she committed suicide by drowning in 1941.

Duncan Grant studied art in Paris and associated with avant-garde artists there.  He painted conventional paintings depicting scenes of everyday life such as ‘The Kitchen’.  The first Impressionist exhibition had been staged in 1874.  In 1910, fellow artist Roger Fry, together with Clive Bell, was responsible for the so-called ‘Art Quake’ which shocked London and pushed the boundaries.  However, it came to be considered as the most important contribution of the group to the visual arts in Britain.  An exhibition was mounted at the Grafton Galleries featuring ‘The Bar at the Folies Bergere’ by Manet and works by other Impressionists.  Manet was considered a controversial artist because of his paintings ‘Olympia’ and  ‘Dejeuner sur l’Herbe’ which had caused a furore in Paris.

In the same year, some members of the group staged one of the most famous practical jokes in military history.  Known as ‘The Dreadnaught Hoax’, they dressed up as Abyssinian princes and gained access to the pride of the British Naval Fleet, where they were lavishly entertained by the unsuspecting crew!

Their art was to alter over the years as they were influenced by artists such as Matisse, Van Gogh, Seurat, Cezanne and Picasso.  They occasionally experimented with abstract  and cubism.  They created the Omega Workshop where usable articles such as furniture and rugs could be bought.

Lastly, their art cannot be separated from their astonishing lives of multifaceted and complex relationships.  It was said that they lived in squares, moved in circles and loved in triangles.  Virginia Woolf had an affair with the wealthy writer and socialite Vita Sackville West,  Clive Bell had numerous affairs.  Duncan Grant was the youngest in the group and was loved by everybody!  He had an on-going relationship with his homosexual friend Lytton Stracey and an affair with Vanessa Bell by whom he had a daughter, Angelica.  She grew up believing Clive Bell to be her father only to be devastated when she found out that it was Grant.  She married David Garnett, a writer and publisher, who had been her father’s lover at the time she was born, and they had four daughters.  Dora Carrington, a British painter had a menage a trois with Lytton Strachey and Ralph Partridge.  She committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine seven weeks after the death of Lytton Strachey.

Special Interest Day – 28th March (ArtsHouse)

‘A Day with Mark Hill’ on 20th Century Glass

Almost 50 of our members listened to Mark Hill (of Antiques Roadshow and many other TV programmes, author of antiques guides and books).
He spoke eloquently and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of glassware and the wider world of antiques, along the way giving us valuable thoughts on what to look for when buying antiques. He gave us pointers to items that had fallen in value and now represented excellent value for money, especially compared to the modern versions. There were also some throwaway comments about the ‘daytime TV antiques programmes’ and the valuations therein!

The audience also saw the first outing of our new high-resolution projector (see ‘Behind the Scenes’ below), which was impressive.

Some of our members had brought items for valuation, and whilst we did not have a ‘eureka’ moment, there were certainly a number items that he considered had opportunity for value appreciation, and some where the current valuation was a significant amount.
The audience left with a great deal of insider knowledge about antiques. There were complimentary remarks about our excellent speaker – and the buffet lunch!

This was Sue Cragoe-Jones’s last Special Interest Day for STRADFAS. There was a heartfelt thank-you from the audience for the wonderful variety of topics she has organised over the last three years. Many of the audience had been to all of these; they are unfailingly interesting, and allow an in-depth look at the topic of the day. This is due in large part to the excellent speakers that we select for these days.

Thursday 2nd Nov 2017
Klimt and his World: the Art and Culture of fin-de-siècle Vienna
For the Day of Special Interest on Thursday 2nd November, Gavin Plumley gave a three superb lectures on The Art andCulture of fin-de-siecle Vienna.  He talked about the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the struggle between conservationists and modernists.  This was to lead to a remarkable development in art, architecture, music and psychoanalysis.


Part of this new culture were  architects Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos and Joseph Hoffman and artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Shiele and Oskar Kokoschka.  The composer Gustav Mahler and the philosopher Ludwig Wittenstein were also part of this new emerging circle of new thinkers.The Emperor Franz Joseph 1st was head of state and married to Elizabeth known as Sisi.  It was not a happy union and she spent much of the time away from the court.  After the suicide of her son Crown Prince Rudolf, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was finally assassinated.

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Archduchess Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914 resulted in the outbreak of the 1st World War and the beginning of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Otto Wagner, born in1841 was to design a new Vienna.  Proclaiming himself to be the radical architect to move into the 20th Century, he transformed the city using a combination of Renaissance, Gothic and Classical design.  He introduced  a modern element for greater domestic use.  The old city walls were dismantled and on the grand Ringstrasse which surrounded the city, he designed large residential buildings, an opera house and finally a railway system to reach the outskirts of the city.  He was also granted the task to of building a new psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Vienna. Devised to create a more relaxed atmosphere for the mentally ill to aid their recovery, he constructed a village complex complete with theatre, coffee houses and a chapel.

Gustav Klimt, an Imperialist and muralist painter, had proved to be brilliant draughtsman at the School of Applied Art and his early paintings of peoples on theatre and staircase walls aped the work of Van Dyke.  When he created his iconic painting ‘The Kiss’ which coincided with the 60th jubilee celebration of the Emperor Franz Joseph, it was both controversial and disturbing and raised many questions.  It depicted a strong, virile male clasping a delicate, pale and seemingly lifeless woman on the edge of a precipice.  Was this depicting the demise of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire?

Finally, this group of forward thinking liberal artists which included Hoffman, Moser, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others left the confines of the Association of Austrian Artists the Vienna Knustlerhaus and moved to new premises which came to be known as the Secession building.  It was there that their new concepts of art could be fostered and developed.  The day ended with a flourish as we listened to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  It was a fitting end.

Tue 11 October 2016   

‘Capability Brown’
At Compton Verney

The 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is being celebrated.

During the day we:

  • heard about the work of Compton Verney from the Director;
  • attended a lecture on ‘Capability’ Brown, given by Professor Tim Mowl;
  • had a guided tour of the grounds by the Head Groundsman
  • were shown the highlights of the Compton Verney collections
  • viewed a display about the work of ‘Capability’ Brown to which the research findings of some of our STRADFAS Heritage Volunteers had contributed.

In the run-up to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s tercentenary this year, and following on from the exhibition on Brown’s work at Compton Verney, for which he was the Consultant Curator, PROFESSOR TIMOTHY MOWL delivered an illustrated lecture on Brown’s aesthetic revolution and his achievements in shaping the 18th century landscape. He considered Brown’s practical approach, his management of water, his creation of parks for sporting pursuits, his architectural commissions, above all his sure eye for the capabilities of a found landscape.

Timothy Mowl 1TIMOTHY MOWL is Emeritus Professor in the History of Architecture and Designed Landscapes at the University of Bristol and Professorial Research Fellow in the Humanities Research Institute at Buckingham University, for whom he delivers an MA in Garden History.
Professor Mowl, generously supported by the Leverhulme  Trust, is embarked upon a research project aimed at producing a series of books on the historic gardens of England, county by county. Many have been completed, including Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire and Hampshire will be published this year.

March 2016
A Journey through 3000 Years of China’s Civilisation.
Lecturer: Anne Haworth

The study day explored the history, civilisation, art and culture of China – The Middle Kingdom. China was once ruled by dynasties of autocratic emperors, believed to be Sons of Heaven with a cosmic role as intermediaries between Heaven and Earth. The Imperial Palace, known as The Forbidden City was built as a symbol of the Heavenly realm of the Celestial Emperor. The country enjoyed a continuing and profound sense of its unique civilisation until the Opium Wars of the 19th Century, the abdication of the last emperor in 1911 and the turbulent history which followed.
The three lectures followed a chronological history from the beginning of the first millennium BC, when Chinese skills in bronze casting, jade cutting, silk weaving and tea-production flourished, through the time of the mighty First Emperor and then the golden ages of the Silk Road. The religions from Buddhism to the philosophy of Confucianism which underpinned Imperial rule were considered. China historically valued literacy, writing and poetry-composition as supreme elements of its cultural identity. An elite class of educated literati emerged who were skilled in calligraphy and painting and developed a culture of gardens. Also considered were the importance of tea, porcelain and silk in the China trade with Europe before moving on to the end of Empire.

Egypt temple AmhotepTuesday 22nd September 2015
Art & Architecture of Egypt’s magnificent Temples & Tombs’: 
Lucia Gahlin
Visitors to Egypt can but marvel at the extraordinary temples and tombs that have survived the millennia. Lucia Gahlin led us through the wealth of ancient art and architecture. She explained that much remains in situ, but that wonderful examples can be enjoyed throughout the world, and in particular spent time on the Ashmolean Museum collection in Oxford.

March 2015: Monarchs, Murders, Mistresses and Musketeers – The French Monarchy 1515-1643: Fenella Billington
We were treated to a day of intrigue and cultural development in France: We learned that Francis 1 was a passionate supporter of the Italian Renaissance and the first king of France to systematically collect works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci and Cellini. We listened to
turbulent times of contrast – passion, violence, religious unrest and uprising, set against the elegance and beauty of the chateaux of the Loire. Fenella Billington handed us details of the family trees of the Houses of Valois, Bourbon and Medici and a reading list.

October 2014: Cornish Art; Lecturer: David Tovey
A large audience listened attentively as David Tovey led us on a tour of the history of Cornish art, initially centering on an exhibition held by Cornish artists at Nottingham Castle Museum in 1894 (and to be replicated in Spring 2015). He covered the related social history of the group of artists, their very different backgrounds, and finally how their reputation extended internationally

March 2014: Music Inspired by Paintings and Paintings inspired by Music
Peter Medhurst’s three lectures spanned over 600 years of the arts, analysing and discussing works from Respighi’s ‘Trittico Botticelliano’ (1927) inspired by Botticelli’s ‘La Primavera’ (1482), ‘Adoration of the Magi’ (1475) and ‘The Birth of Venus (1486) to the painting by M von Schwind, ‘Symphony’ (1852) with which a connection was made with Beethoven’s ‘Fantasia in C for Piano, Soloists,Chorus and Orchestra’ (1808). Peter’s manipulation of pictures and music was an amazing ‘tour de force’ and the audience left enraptured by the day.

October 2013: The Jewel in the Crown: Classical and Medieval Sicily
Over 100 members listened to Jane Angelini reveal the rich fusion of artistic and architectural styles, the result of invasions by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Italians, which make this island unique.

The Birth of the Novel
To mark the Bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, STRADFAS held a Study Day, when Jane Tapley, who specialises in Victorian theatre and literature, gave a fascinating talk on the development of the English novel.  As well as explaining the importance of works by Dickens, members were delighted to learn about other authors of the 18th and 19th centuries such as Jane Austen, Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding.

Moghuls and Maharajas
Three lectures by our knowledgeable speaker Edward Saunders were barely enough to tackle this vast subject!  Members heard about the importance of these Indian Emperors from the 16th century onwards, and were treated to wonderful images of the Taj Mahal and the beautiful regal courts and buildings of the cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur.