‘Cézanne – The Father of Modern Art’ – Douglas Skeggs
The pictures painted by Cézanne are not easy to understand and he himself was remote and unapproachable but lecturer, Douglas Skeggs, in a virtuoso performance to Stratford Decorative and Fine Arts Society at the Artshouse, proved that the artist was well worth the extra effort needed to really appreciate his work.
There were two major influences on his life; the novelist, Emile Zola, was a friend from teenage years and introduced Cézanne to Manet and his circle in Paris. Eventually Zola’s novel, The Masterwork, which parodies the Impressionist Painters and obviously caricatures Cézanne brought that friendship to an abrupt end.
Scruffy, bohemian, a very angry young man, he did not fit in with the more sophisticated Impressionist painters but he became close to one, Pisarro. The older painter recognised Cézanne’s talent and, though the latter refused to be taught by him, he let him work alongside and was accepted as a mentor.
Now Cézanne began to paint with powerful rhythm; a play of structure, shape, colour and light which was almost geometrical. He studied his subjects intensely, sometimes spending hours over a single brushstroke which would build up a complex form.
In later life, now admired and sought after, he lived reclusively, painting the landscapes of his beloved Provence, particularly Mont St Victoire, in all lights and seasons.
His work is instantly recognisable and forms a bridge between the Impressionists and the cubism of early 20th century art. As Picasso and Matisse said, ‘He was the father of us all’.
‘The Cuisine of Art and the Art of Cuisine’ – Ghislaine Howard
Making a meal is very much like making a painting, suggested Ghislaine Howard in a lecture to Stratford Decorative and Fine Arts Society at the Artshouse entitled, The Art of Cuisine and the Cuisine of Art. There are rules or a recipe but artists or cooks add their own twist, flavour, originality. Paint is ground as are spices, and colour, shape, placing pigment on canvas or food on plate is important to both.
From the prehistoric cave paintings which depicted the animals whose meat would sustain the tribe, food and feasting have been a prevalent subject in Western Art: delicious food on frescoes at Pompeii; Last Suppers; Mediaeval Banquets; still life paintings of fish, fowl and fruit in abundance; simple but beautiful kitchenware; a milkmaid caught in a fleeting moment as she pours from a jug.
The French Impressionists adored their food and are credited with helping Paris become the world centre for cuisine. Renoir introduced Paris to the pleasures of Provençal peasant cooking; Toulouse Lautrec was famous for fabulous meals and an infamous cookbook; Monet’s cookery notes have been gathered into a beautiful book which was this month’s raffle prize.
‘King George IV, the Greatest Royal Collector’ – Oliver Everett CVO
For most of us, the image of George IV is the fat, gluttonous, womaniser of Gilray’s satirical cartoons but there was another side to the Prince Regent, later King. He was, as Oliver Everett, former Librarian to the Queen, explained to Stratford Decorative and Fine Arts Society, the greatest Royal Collector, responsible for at least half of the current Royal Collection. In a very lively lecture in which he turned the tables on members by asking us questions, the lecturer showed glorious pictures of some of the major acquisitions.
The King’s building and collecting was as extravagant as the rest of his lifestyle, and usually done with other people’s money; he appears to have ruined at least two Banks, but he certainly had taste.
He bought the Old Masters, Rembrandts, Reubens and Van Dykes which grace the Royal Collection and patronised the leading artists of the day. A whole room at Windsor was devoted to paintings celebrating Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.
There are four thousand pieces in the Royal gold and silver collection and one of the greatest collections of Sèvres porcelain in Europe along with French furniture and bronzes.
But while the Royal Collection has only recently and partially been made accessible, we can all see his buildings including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch.
‘The Language of Clothes: Visual Codes and Messages’ – Mary Alexander
For our afternoon lecture, we welcomed visitors from the Orchestra of the Swan.
How would a hatter know his customer was a gentleman? Answer: if he asked for a ‘topper’.
This and many other fascinating facts were included in a lecture by art and fashion historian, Mary Alexander in a lecture on ‘The Language of Clothes’, given to Stratford Decorative and Fine Arts Society at the Artshouse recently.
She went on to explain that a man working in the City would ask for a ‘top hat’ while one from suburbia wanted a ‘silk hat’. From the Middle Ages onwards, men demonstrated their standing by the clothes they wore. The Church might outlaw very pointed shoes but men still wore them because it was the fashion and showed one did not have to work for a living. In Shakespeare’s Day, men displayed their wealth in doublets of slashed silk, a signal that they had access to a brilliant (and expensive) tailor capable of cutting silk without fraying it. To be out of fashion made it clear that one was out of the loop both with the court and with the world.
Today people wear ‘brands’ to indicate that they belong to a particular group; this is no longer the prerogative of an aristocracy – though there is now a trend among some designers to emphasis craft skills and keep the label discreet.
Denim jeans, originally workwear, became a uniform of youthful rebellion and then a universal garment. But while fashion is ever changing and created by an industry, style is
‘Photography as Fine Art’ – Brian Stater
Can photography be regarded as Fine Art, equal to or even exceeding traditional disciplines such as portraiture, landscape and still life? It has carved its own area of excellence in depicting the human condition and depths of human experience. These ideas were discussed with reference to the work of acknowledged masters including Cartier-Bresson, Fay Godwin.
‘Art and the Napoleonic Wars’ – Lois Oliver
Marking the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and complementing an Exhibition at the Royal Academy this lecture explored the contrasting views of British and French Artists to the final victory over Napoleon. The British public were fascinated by images of war ranging from fans decorated with the latest military manoeuvres to full re-enactments of naval battles played out on real water at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
‘The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces: Religious Architecture of the World’
Across the globe pilgrims and tourists flock to sacred sites and houses of worship. From Chartres cathedral to Angkor Wat, religion has been the inspiration for many of the most remarkable buildings on the planet. Indeed, for much of human history, the story of architecture and the story of faith were synonymous. But how, for example, is a mosque different from a church or a synagogue and why? Jon Canon discussed this and much more in a packed lecture.
‘Dido Elizabeth Belle and the Beginnings of Abolition’ – Leslie Primo
Who was the beautiful black girl in the exotic turban painted by Zoffany, peeping from behind the conventional English beauty, Elizabeth Murray? In a lecture to Stratford Decorative and Fine Arts Society, Art Historian Leslie Primo told the story of Dido Belle and the Beginnings of Abolition .
Despite the recent film about her, facts about Dido’s life are sparse and contradictory. We know that her father was Sir John Lindsay, a naval officer, and her mother, a slave. Fortunately for her, she was adopted by the Earl of Mansfield and brought up in luxury at Kenwood House, though neither full family member nor quite a servant. Inheriting modest sums from her natural and adoptive fathers – the latter guaranteeing her freedom in his will – she appears to have married comfortably and raised a family.
She was lucky; between 1662 and 1807, Britain industrialised the Slave Trade and shipped 3.1m Africans to the Plantations as part of the lucrative sugar and cotton trades.
It was this money that built the National Gallery and led to the setting up of Lloyds of London.
In a landmark judgement of 1772, Lord Mansfield, Dido’s adoptive father, then Lord Chief Justice, ruled that slavery had no precedent in English common law. The movement for Abolition gained pace; respectable citizens joined in, Gilray’s cartoons and Wedgewood’s plates with the slogan, ‘Am I not a man and a brother,’ added impetus, but it was not till 1807 that slavery was abolished first in England and finally, in 1833, throughout the Empire.