Previous lectures: March 2017- February 2018

Manet: A bar at the Folies-Bergère – Lizzie Darbyshire

The March lecture to the members of the Stratford-upon-Avon Decorative and Fine Arts Society was delivered by Lizzie Derbyshire who explored the famous Manet painting which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. She identified three strands of his style which contributed towards the final version: figure painting, still life, and the immediate environment.
In figure painting, Manet’s ‘The Spanish Singer’ of 1861 shows a left handed musician playing a right handed guitar! He was not worried about such problematic  details. He painted portraits of many ladies such as in ‘Les Dejeuner sur L’herbe’ of 1863 and ‘Young Lady’ in 1866. His still life depictions of flowers were admired by others such as Van Gogh.  Manet’s ‘Still Life with Salmon’ includes a reflection in a glass vase which is repeated in the Folies Bergere canvas and has roses displayed in it. His painting of ‘The Balcony’ shows his representation of the immediate environment. ‘The Masked Ball at The Opera’ of 1873 is another example and here can be seen a pair of legs dangling down just as a similar pair dangle in the Bergere picture! Suzon, the model for the girl in the painting, worked at the Folies Bergere. Her reflection in the glass is odd; she has put on weight and is leaning forward. There are many other problems such as that of the balcony and the bottle reflections. Manet deliberately painted them this way and showed Suzon as distanced from the viewer as he wanted her to be perceived as an icon of modern Paris. Things frequently do not add up in his paintings. Manet likes to make us work for our pleasure and we certainly have to in order to fully appreciate ‘A Bar at The Folies Bergere’.

Now You See it, Now You Don’t – Bertie Pearce

Bertie Pearce treated us to an entertaining talk about the art of visual deception ranging from the Romans to the modern world of street painting by Banksy.  He stated that, in the same way as magic enthrals us as children so optical illusions in art entertain us as adults. He showed us that the Romans stretched and distorted perspectives as seen in Andrea Pozzo’s “Vault in the Nave of Saint Ignazio, Rome.” The monks would not allow a second storey to be built so one was painted on the ceiling to give the illusion of another storey!
Surrealism is another form of illusory art and we were shown various paintings by Rene Magritte including “The Human Condition” where ambiguous imagery allows some to see a plane flying past the window in the sky and others see an artist’s easel. Curtains are evident in this picture and Bertie emphasised that they are a recurring motif as they can hide objects or people and the viewer wants to see behind them.
The most extreme version of illusion is Trompe L’Oeil and Edward Collier’s painting of a letter rack shows unopened letters and newspapers that look so realistic that, apparently, people tried to take the objects out of the rack where it was displayed on a cruise ship! Anamorphic art which is closely related to Trompe L’Oeil was revitalised by Salvador Dali and showed how fascinated he was by hidden imagery. It camouflages heretical ideas and dangerous political statements. Other famous paintings were included in the talk such as Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” with the distorted skull and Hogarth’s “Perspective Absurdities.”

In the 1960’s there was a growing number of abstract painters such as Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley who use the repetition of simple colours and forms to create a vibrating effect, confusion and visual phenomena. Social media brought changes and Banksy realised that when people shared so much of their lives through the internet, mystique vanished. His stencils, which he secretly completes in public places, have an innate and pithy humour such as the on a wall where he depicts a lady being attacked by an A.T.M machine! He makes political statements too such as in his depiction of an Israeli soldier being patted down by a small girl. He even takes classical paintings such as one of ballet dancers by Degas and paints Simon Cowell into the scene!
This enthralling talk was concluded with a magic trick involving the audience as Bertie argued that Theatre Magic is the ultimate illusion of using perspective, colour and design to shrink, conceal and disappear!

Theatre-going in Georgian England 1715-1830 – Simon Rees

Simon Rees treated us to an amusing lecture about theatre goers in Georgian England between 1715 and 1830. During that time the theatre was the main place of entertainment all over the country and he managed to include not only pictures of those who were engaged in and watched spoken masterpieces but masterpieces which were sung as well. We saw examples of great paintings and cruel satirical prints as well as the decorations of the theatres themselves.
He began by showing us the inside of the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, Yorkshire where there was an intimate theatre space; the front cloth was of a Romantic painting. In those times painted scenery was kept and not painted over, so the theatre would always use the same ten scenes such as one of a palace or a street. These scenes were probably painted by Philip de Loutherberg. The London theatre season was in the winter so sailors were used as stage crew. They were not allowed to whistle on stage, as they did on ship to communicate commands, in case there was an accident and this remains a superstition in the theatre even today.
Under George 1 the King’s Theatre in The Haymarket became a lively part of London. The Theatre Act was introduced to control and censor serious theatre. Italian theatre was popular and Handel used castrati to sing his music and we were shown caricatures such as one of Farinelli who took on female roles.
Hogarth’s engraving entitled” A Just View of the British Stage” was a satirical view of the kind of drama which he felt had taken over the stage. Other Hogarths were explored such as Garrick as Richard 111. Also shown was “The Laughing Audience,” illustrating how much everyone is enjoying themselves.
Thomas Rowlandson was influenced by Hogarth and he depicted not only audiences such as” Box Lobby Loungers” of 1786 but also the internal structures of Georgian theatres. We were told many interesting facts about the theatre such as, at one point audiences showed their emotions openly so it would be obvious if the play was a tragedy or comedy, then the audiences were not to be upset so, for example, the ending of King Lear was changed!

He concluded by commenting that theatre is still as strong and living a force in society today as it was in the Georgian era.

Art and Revolution: The Life and Death of the Russian Avantgarde – Rosamund Bartlett

Rosamund Bartlett treated us to a plethora of information in the form of slides, films and music when telling us about the effect of the 1917 Russian revolution on Russian culture. This was a difficult period to be a Russian artist as Russia was behind the rest of the world culturally, the church was powerful and the icon was the chief art form.The Russian millionaire, Schukin, collected French art and put it on public display. Young Russian artists attended his salon to see paintings by artists such as Picasso. This influenced them as was seen when Larionov held his Jack of Diamonds exhibition which shocked the Russian art world as it poked fun at traditional art. At the same time, Russian poetry evolved through the Futurist movement.

Kandinsky, Chagall, Tatlin and Malevich developed their own styles both inside and outside Russia. Rivalry broke out between Tatlin and Malevich who both sought to become the leader of the Avant-Garde movement. Tatlin used ordinary objects and gave them new radical meanings. He turned a wall into an extension of his art. However, Malevich became the leader with his use of more traditional styles and set up his own Suprematist art school. These painters were seen as a collective as all their art work was signed with his famous black square.
Throughout the chaos of the revolution, the art world kept going. The people’s Commissariat of Enlightenment was set up to promote the Bolshevik cause through art. Lenin encouraged the display of statues of revolutionary figures, such as Marx. Utopian models were constructed but never built.
AGITPROP was established to promote Communism through posters and even porcelain. The Russian Intelligence Agency issued posters for showing in railway stations.
By 1921, Lenin had to kick start the economy so a form of capitalism was introduced. This promoted a rise in geometric art. Artists turned to film, photography, advertising and theatre design. Music was influenced such as in A Symphonic Dedication to The Revolution by Shostokovich.The introduction of The Five Year Plan resulted in the death of the Avant-Garde movement as Realism returned with paintings of industry.

Giles: His Life and Cartoons – Barry Venning

Stratford ArtsHouse rocked to gales of laughter when lecturer Barry Venning gave a talk to members of Stratford Decorative and Fine Arts Society on Giles, the greatest cartoonist of the twentieth century. Along with STRADFAS members his fans included Frank Sinatra, the Commandant of Belsen and the Duke of Edinburgh – the Royal Family own the  largest collection of Giles originals.
Not everyone appreciated him though; Churchill hated his war cartoons because he made fun of Hitler (always drawn as very tiny) and Mussolini instead of depicting them as monsters. Giles relished letters from detractors usually making them the subject of his next cartoon.
Although a lifelong Socialist he drew three cartoons per week for the right wing Express newspapers for forty eight years because they gave him access to four million readers and incidentally made him rich and famous.
His own views and opinions were expressed through, perhaps the best known and loved member of the Giles cartoon family, Grandma, described by the humourist Dennis Nordern as the only credible character in British Life. Never without her flowery hat and fur- trimmed coat she would set about politicians, traffic wardens, Doctors and even a herd of charging rhino with her duck head handled brolly or, on occasion, a luger pistol. She was a ‘violent’ pacifist.
Though self- taught, Giles was a consummate draughtsman, his cartoons giving us fifty years of architectural as well as social history and judging by the laughter at the talk, they are as funny as ever.

Music, Masquerades and Monkeys – Jane Gardiner

Jane Gardiner’s lecture traced social history through 18th century porcelain figurines. Little figures which were made out of sugar were interspersed on the great tables in Germany to enhance dessert courses. Meissen recognised that these figures could be made out of porcelain and then lit by candlelight in such a way that the sparkle of the glaze and the brilliance of the colours brought the figures to life.
Kandler, who trained as a stone sculptor, was brought to the Saxon court to make large sets of figures to enhance the Elector of Saxony’s banqueting tables. Commedia D’ell Arte figures translated well into this environment. The Harlequin, with his traditional patch work costume and animated, exaggerated movements was easily recognisable and all the figures interacted with each other on the table as if in a play. They were small and   three dimensional so they could be seen in the round. Porcelain is very difficult to craft as each piece is made individually and was not stable so many figurines had to be depicted leaning against tree stumps which became part of the design. Eventually, these figurines were sold separately as the dinner tables were not large enough to accommodate a whole set. The figure making techniques spread throughout Europe.
In England, porcelain makers looked to Meissen for inspiration but often used etchings as patterns. Exotic figures from abroad such as those made by the Derby factory reflected society’s fascination with distant lands which they did not have any actual knowledge of. We laughed at the very thin German depiction of Buddha! One picture showed a figurine of a wet nurse with a baby in swaddling clothes; reflecting society’s attitude to child rearing at the time. People had a fascination with monkeys at this time so monkeys were produced in different types of outfits. Society gradually wanted these figures for house decorations so larger ones were made which were flat at the back to go against a wall. One larger piece showed a music lesson.French paintings were used as inspirations, as were political issues at the time.  Figures in court dress were produced as well as beggars. Some pieces had hidden meanings such as a lady shown holding a pug dog meaning she was a female member of the Freemasons.

Ghosts! – Susan Owens

This fascinating lecture on the changing nature of ghosts explored their depiction through art, literature, drama and photography. One of the earliest portrayals of a ghost was shown through a painting by an unknown artist of St. Edmund coming back from the dead to kill Sweyn, the Danish king, who had been menacing people of Bury St. Edmunds for money. The blue covered background gives the impression of eternity to St. Edmund. Ghosts prepared mortals for death as is shown in the De Lisle Psalter of The Three Living and the Three Dead where three kings out hunting are confronted  with three walking corpses who are warning the kings to change their ways otherwise they will end up like this! Similar images can be found in churches such as in St. Andrew’s Church in Wickhampton as a warning to all, no matter what their status. Later ghosts were depicted as part of the imagination so they did not actually exist.However,as they kept appearing ,books were written to explain their appearance such as the devil in disguise as a person known to someone to trick them or as an indication of a melancholy personality.
Revenge Tragedies contained ghosts and in Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Shakespeare explores differing perceptions of ghosts; the uneducated guards think they see one, with Horatio commenting the sightings were “but fantasies”, whereas Hamlet himself sees a spirit damned. Ghosts were portrayed as having wings, cloven hoofs and a tail. The dress of ghosts was portrayed differently by artists over the ages; some were in a shroud like dress as seen in John Flaxman’s painting of The Ghost of Clytemnestra Arousing the Furies or a white sheet such as portrayed in a painting of The Ghost of Darius appearing to Atossa by George Romney. One ghost was shown to us as in a shirt in a Thomas Rowlandson caricature! Titian depicted ghosts in clouds; transporting them from earth to heaven. James Gillray drew the Duke of Cumberland’s ghost as naked and in a billowing cloud! William Blake used water colour for a luminous glow in, “The Ghost of Samuel Appearing to Saul.”Jacob Marley’s ghost in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens appears as transparent in the illustration for the novel. The idea of ghosts haunting houses may have come from “The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole where ghosts are everywhere: in a corridor, in a crypt, as a painting and even the house itself seems to be living and breathing. This book ushered in a whole period of Gothic literature and art with tales of terror and paintings of skeletons and ghosts.
During the industrial revolution and the influence of the British Empire, people stopped being afraid of ghosts and invited them into their houses in the form of spiritualism. An albumen silver print shows Georgiana Houghton in a picture with a supposed spirit. She claimed her drawings were guided by the spirits of great artists such as Titian. The idea then came about that a camera could identify a ghost which the naked eye could not. The National Trust encourages the belief in ghosts in their houses even though in their book about them, no ghosts are shown in the black and white photographs; readers are encouraged to use their imagination. Ghosts personify the past so we value ghosts as we refuse to be erased by time.

Frida Kahlo: Reflections of a Life on Canvas – Siân Walters

Frida Kahlo is unique as a female artist who painted her autobiography on canvas. Her love of clothes is shown in paintings such as Tehuana 1943 where she represents herself in Mexican dress with a typical head dress which Sian told us was actually a petticoat worn around the head! The Mexicans did not realise what the petticoat was when the garments were washed up onshore after a shipwreck! Frida depicts herself in long dresses as she had polio as a child and wanted to hide her deformed foot. Roots surround her head symbolising her roots to her country and there is a portrait of a man stamped on her forehead. It is of Diego Riviera who was her husband for 25 years. In this painting they had just reconciled after divorcing and she is showing he is literally on her mind.

She was very close to her father and painted him in sepia colours as he was a photographer. He had encouraged her in her ambition to become a doctor but after a terrible accident- shown in “The Accident” of 1924- rendering her bedridden for long periods and unable to have children she expressed herself through paintings which frequently show her medical interest. In “My Grandparents, my Parents and I” in 1936 she paints a family tree with her parents in the centre, herself as a little girl and red ribbon, her blood tie, linking her to her grandparents. She also shows herself as an egg then an embryo. The classic painting “The Two Fridas of 1939 depicts Frida as loved in a white dress, similar to one of her mother’s, and a Frida, unloved, in traditional dress. It was the year of her divorce and it shows her heart being literally torn out of her by him. She holds a cameo of him in one hand. One of the Fridas is pretty, the other is masculine looking. It is almost as if she has become both man and woman as Diego has left her.

When she travelled with him to Detroit she paints herself standing on the boundaries of Mexico and the United States in the 1932 painting called “The Borderline.”Mexican red soil and foliage on one side is contrasted with the stars and stripes obscured by cloud on the other where there is pollution, dirt and ugliness. She even painted an amputated foot when she had to lose her part of her own leg. Her last painting completed days before her death depicts the Mexican flag colours in a bowl of fruit and has a sense of optimism about it.  She was influenced by Van Eyck, Michelangelo and others and was admired by artists such as Picasso. Her paintings are full of contrasts; pain, joy, marriage, separation, beauty and ugliness but there is always a sense of determination. She commented that,” I never painted dreams. I only ever painted my own reality.”

Albrecht Durer: The Italian and Northern Renaissance – Leslie Primo

Model books, copyright law and some of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci were all alluded to in Leslie Primo’s lecture to Stradfas in January when he explored Albrecht Durer, his influence on Renaissance artists and their influence on him.

There are so many iconic works by Durer, who was born in Nuremberg in 1472, but his self portraits are a feature of his life. His first one was painted when he was just 13 and he repeatedly painted himself throughout his career. Each painting can be identified with the”A.D. monogram” which becomes bolder and more obvious as he becomes more confident and famous.

Some information about Durer has been found in his correspondence with Pirckheimer who he wrote to when he became a journeyman broadening his knowledge and expertise whilst travelling to places such as Colmar and Strasbourg. He travelled as far as Venice and his fame had spread so much that it is reputed even Michelangelo had a print of Durer’s. Schoengower had influenced Durer and, although they never met, his style can be seen in “The Madonna with the Iris” compared to “Virgin in the Rose Garden” where Schoengower’s love of the natural world is reproduced by Durer in terms of flora and fauna. Also, the Madonna’ dress is similar in arrangement and colour. Other similarities between Durer and his contemporaries can be seen in animal representations such as dogs as in Jan Gossaert who stole Durer’s painting of a dog and incorporated it into his picture called “Adoration of the Magi”. Similarly, Durer paid homage to Schoengower by incorporating Schoengower’s dog in his painting!

Artists used model books which were representations of animals, drawn on vellum as a concertina and folded into a box which was carried around their necks. Whenever they were commissioned for a work of art they could incorporate any animal even though they had never come across one! Inevitably this meant that there are some strange looking animals.

However, so great was Durer’s expertise that his representation of a rhinoceros, which he had never seen, is remarkable. His photographic memory can be seen in his lifelike drawing of The Hare.
He admired painters such as Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci. As he became more successful in Venice he made enemies and many copied him. An engraver called Raimondi bought up Durer’s prints with the purpose of copying them but the Venetian state forbade him from using the “A.D” monogram and this has been seen as an early recognition of copyright law.

Optical Entertainments before the Movies – Andrew Gill

Members of Stradfas were laughing and giggling throughout Andrew Gill’s fascinating talk on February 15 which showed how the magic lantern played a significant role in bringing about social change in the Victorian era through slide shows with moral stories and “travel” slides that enabled the Victorians to see the world in other continents.

With great enthusiasm he traced the history of optical illusions from Cave paintings such as those found in Lascaux Cave in the Dordogne which showed movement and perspective through running horses. Andrew’s vast knowledge was illustrated when he commented on Shadow Shows in Java, China, Egypt and Indonesia where stick puppets were used behind a translucent screen. This technique was even used in 2013 by Attraction who won Britain’s Got Talent!

Using anecdotes he took us through the world of weird looking mechanics which transformed flat pictures into ones with perspective and eventually to moving images. Some were toys such as the Phenakistiscope which created the illusion of movement through a mouse disappearing over the edge. Others were the forerunners of our present day video such as the Praxinoscope which uses a strip of pictures inside a drum shape where there was also a candle and a shade so that when the drum was turned the image appeared to be jumping over a bucket. Another amazing piece of equipment was the double slipping slide which involved a fixed piece of glass with a painting on it and then 2 separate slipping slides so that more complicated movements could be shown, such as a dentist extracting a tooth! Ghosts came alive through the use of strategically placed glass invented by Pepper.

By the 1880’s there was a vast industry in slides recording constructions such as the Forth Road Bridge and even street lights. Slide projections told stories such as one where a signalman, who worked hard, fell asleep with the potential to cause tragedy. A Kinora showed slides which could be used to make   photographs of the family. We saw one of the first examples of 3D with a stereoscope shown at The Great Exhibition with a beautiful and realistic portrayal of the building and its contents. This was a unique presentation which gave us a glimpse of the world of entertainment before the advent of cinema through the use of Andrew’s great depth of knowledge and brilliant storytelling.