Previous Special Interest Days

Thursday 9th March 2023

Zara Fleming is an accreted lecturer of The Arts Society and an expert on the kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan.  She gave an inspiring lecture beginning with an introduction to the Buddhist faith and the art and culture that it has inspired.  The introduction began with the life of one man, Siddartha, revered today as Buddha Sakyamuni, and his emphasis on personal discipline and spiritual growth and his journey to enlightenment.

As a faith, Buddhism has reached nearly every corner of Asia and its undoubted success has been its ability to adapt to different cultures and merge with existing belief systems.   This has given rise to to an extraordinary diversity of artistic expression from its birthplace in India during the 6th century BC to the later form of Narayanan Buddhism which found its homeland in the Himalayas and Tibet. Its aim was to eliminate suffering and attain nirvana.

The aim of its sacred art, despite its aesthetic beauty, was to act as spiritual tools for meditation and visualisation to help practitioners on their journey to enlightenment.

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is also known as the land of the Thunder Dragon.  It is approximately the size of Switzerland and lies in the Eastern Himalayas, nestled between China to the north and India to the south.  Known as the country of gross national happiness, Buddhist faith has a strong influence on the populace.  Despite the introduction of roads, television and tourism, they balance their lives between modernity and tradition without diminishing their unique culture evident in their achievements in ecology, politics, etiquette, and architecture. Dance, textiles and other traditional crafts still remain clearly distinct from other Himalayan Buddhist areas.  Boys, some as young as eight, can enter the monastery as a monk to enhance their faith and benefit from a good education.  They are well looked after and their families will also benefit financially.

November 2022
Chinese Imperial Court Life and Exceptional Rulers – by Devid Rosier

David Rosier gave a wonderful Special Interest Day on Chinese Imperial Court Life charting the rise of the Qing Dynasty which was an exceptional period in Chinese history.  It was a time of territorial and economic expansion together with outstanding scientific and artistic advancement. However, multiple defeats by Western Colonial powers brought a decline and ultimately a collapse in Imperial power and the creation of the Republic of China.
The first lecture explored the lives and influences of two of the most important leaders – 18th century  Emperor Qianlong and the Dowager Empress Cixi.  Regulated Court costume, made of exquisite silk fabric, was regarded as an important factor in the power and authority of the Emperor.  The talk was illustrated by examples of the most important robes of state together with a range of insignia of rank for the nobility and the officials of the state.

The second lecture considered the impact, and legacy, of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796) who is regarded as one of China’s most accomplished emperors given his success in substantially expanding the borders and influence of the empire. This was accompanied by an economic boom driven primarily by the sale of tea, silk and porcelain to the West.
Beyond ‘Affairs of State’ Qianlong was the most influential person of this dynasty regarding patronage of the arts, cultural development and evolution of Court Protocol.
His greatest legacy being the creation and curation of the World’s finest ever collection of Chinese Imperial Art and Antiquities spanning over 4000 years. What remains of this collection now forms the basis  collection now forms the basis of the collection of The Palace Museum, Beijing & The National Palace Museum, Taiwan.

The final lecture considered the life and legacy of the Dowager Empress Cixi. A woman who was portrayed globally for over a century after her death in 1908 as a ruthless, self-indulgent tyrant who halted the modernisation of China which resulted in humiliating defeats at the hands of Western Colonial powers and Japan. Official records, however, now reveal, in contrast, an exceptional woman who seized power, via an audacious Palace Coup in 1861, in order to preserve imperial rule and her dynasty. She then
battled tirelessly to modernise both the court and the infrastructure of government and industry across the Empire.

In contrast to her political achievements, there was consideration of her talents as a fashion designer, painter and horticulturist together with her role as a patron of the performing arts. These passions were pursued in her later years in her beloved New Summer Palace which was created as her ‘retirement’ home in 1891 and where she lived until her death in 1908. Despite her efforts to preserve imperial rule, China, through revolution against the court from 1910 – 1911, would eventually become a Republic in 1912. Despite the collapse of Imperial rule, it is now generally accepted that
Cixi successfully created the ‘embryo’ of the modern China of the 21st century.

Recommended Reading:
• ‘Imperial Wardrobe’ Gary Dickinson & Linda Wrigglesworth. Oxford U. Press 1990
• ‘Chinese Dress-Qing Dynasty to Present’ V. Garrett. Tuttle Press 2007
• ‘Emperor Qianlong: ‘Son of Heaven, Man of the World’ Mark Elliott 2009
• Empress Dowager Cixi ‘The Concubine that launched Modern China’ Jung Chang

Tuesday 5 April 2022

‘Feisty Ladies’. Victorian Lady Travellers – by Roger Mitchell

The day was  interesting and entertaining.  The lecturer, Rodger Mitchell, read history at Oxford and Fine Arts at Leeds and his subject was the history of Victorian Lady travellers or ‘Feisty Ladies’.  He began by talking at length about Queen Victoria and her regular travels by train to Balmoral and the Riviera.  Moving on, the day was a slight departure from the normal SIDs.  Roger narrated as two actors played the parts of five intrepid women who travelled during the early part of the nineteenth century.  These were women of independent means who could afford to embark on a grand tour of Europe and beyond.  Despite their wealth and possessions, they encountered considerable dangers and discomfort on their travels.   Mary Elizabeth Lucy and her husband George Lucy, who had inherited Charlecote, embarked on their first tour. They took their five children and a new baby with them.  Travelling in some luxury, they took furniture, servants, a nurse, food and books of lessons for the children.  On October 4th 1840, they left London and travelled by steam packet to Boulogne and then onwards across the Alps to Rome.  The journey was fraught with difficulties and tragically Mary lost her precious baby.  A funeral was held and the body was returned to England.  Unable to forego their plans, they continued to travel round Europe for the next eighteen months before finally returning to Charlecote  in May 1842.

Violet Wickham who married Henry Wickham in 1871 accompanied him on his adventurous travels for almost thirty years. Their travels took them to Brazil, Queensland, British Honduras and Papua New Guinea.   She had to cope with disease, insects, snakes and fires which almost destroyed everything they possessed.  But the worst was the loneliness as well as the dangers.  On one occasion, she was left entirely alone on the island for nineteen days whilst Henry and one Malay man went in search of the boat which had been taken by some native labourers.  Poor Violet feared that she would never see them again and would have to wait in the hope she would eventually be rescued.  For two and a half years, she never saw another white woman or left these two islands.  They finally returned to England where Henry received a knighthood, but it had all become too much for Violet and they separated in 1899.

Another intrepid lady, Mary Kingsley wrote humorously about her difficult travels which were to become best sellers to Victorian naturalists and other such ‘armchair travellers’.  On one occasion, whilst following a rough and indistinct path, she fell into a fifteen foot deep game pit and was held by twelve inch long sharp ebony spikes.  Her thick skirt saved her, but she had to shout lustily before being finally hauled out by a bush rope.

Marianne North was an artist and set out to travel widely and paint the exotic vegetation. Setting sail from Liverpool in July 1871, she arrived in Boston and travelled on to New England, the Niagara Falls, Great Lakes, the Hudson River (which she described as a ‘very mild Rhine without the castles’).   She took letters of introduction with her and met people who proved to be extremely kind and helpful.  She took a ship to Jamaica where she again encountered kind hospitality and where she rented a house and remained there for five months before returning briefly to England.  Setting off on her travels once again, she spent the next ten years travelling in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, India, Ceylon, Borneo and Japan.  One of her last visits was to the Seychelles in 1883.  She encountered all the difficulties associated with travelling at a grass roots level.  She saw giant palms and magnificent ferns as slid down almost perpendicular hillsides and despite all that, she insisted that she felt well rewarded.  In Chile, she hired a guide and a horse and searched for two particular plants, the blue puya and the Araucaria imbricate (the monkey puzzle tree).  Again, she received dire warnings of the area ahead and also told that the trees no longer existed.  Undaunted, she continued her search and was rewarded with the sight of the blue puya in full flower and the Araucaria which she described as looking like pins in a pin cushion standing black against the sunset sky.  It was here that she made one of her last paintings and bequeathed  them all in a gallery which she had caused to be built at Kew Gardens and where they can be seen today.

The last ‘Feisty Lady’ is the redoubtable and intrepid Isabella Bird.  After a not very successful time in Australia and New Zealand, she travelled to Hawaii, and encountered a Miss Karpe, an American who was another formidable lady traveller. They were both of Spartan endurance, and had to cope with huge  cockroaches  on the bedding of their small berth on the boat.  On reaching Big Island, their goal was to see the Hale-mau-mau volcano.  Clad in ‘American Ladies Mountain Dress’ which covers special bloomers, they hired strong sure-footed horses and a guide.  They were both exhausted by their climb and were only allowed to  rest briefly before continuing to ‘the crater house’.  The following morning, they commenced a very difficult climb before finally arriving at the brink of the volcano.  They gasped at the sight as they looked down into the fiery centre some thirty five feet below. Isabella continued her travels by ship to San Francisco where she took the train to Truckee.  This transcontinental railway had been open for four years and the train was some seven hundred feet in length.  It was loaded with bullion and valuable parcels and was also full of Digger Indians with their squaws and children as well as many Chinese workers.  Truckee was a rough mountain town but she managed to find a small room in a local hostelry where she could rest. The following morning, she hired a horse and set off alone.  A large bear charged out of the thicket, frightening her horse which charged violently throwing her to the ground and ran off.  She managed to rise to her feet and battle on alone. She trudged on for nearly an hour before encountering an ox team.  To her joy and relief, one of the teamsters was leading her horse towards her.  She was treated with kindness and respectful courtesy by the men of the Wild West.
Her final words describe the incredible beauty of her surroundings:
‘Lake Tahoe stretches before me with the sun sinking behind the Sierras creating a cocktail of colours in the sky enhancing the snow-capped mountains. This beautiful sight is reflected in the still waters of the lake’.
Her tough journey was indeed worthwhile.

Tuesday 2nd November 2021

Real People doing Real Things was the subject of a study day on the 2 November. Our lecturer was Howard Smith who gained an MA from Trinity College before embarking on a career in advertising in major National and International agencies. On his mid-life crisis he settled in Canterbury with his own design and print business. He became an accredited Arts Society lecturer in 2017 and specialises in Graphic Art – Art for a Purpose. His lectures are all based on the work he did over 35 years for his clients. For example he worked for Royal Mail Education on the GPO Film Unit. Thirty years ago he saw a part of the Leni Riefenstahl film on the 1936 Olympics which then prompted him to research the backstory. Visits to Berlin found him being thrown out of shops. Picture Post was the publisher of Eagle, his greatest interest right back to the 1950s. They are all part of his life story which made for a thoroughly entertaining day.

The day was in three parts

The GPO Film Unit and the birth of documentaries.

This was a fascinating look back to the 1890s with vintage film clips form the Lumiere Brothers, Eisenstein’s documentary on Battleship Potemkin, the 1929 Soviet experimental film, Man with a Movie Camera to the formation of the GPO Film Unit from the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit.

At each stage we had film clips showing the development of the documentary film genre. The GPO Film unit produced over 150 films for hire in village halls and schools. The selection of films again showed the extraordinary creativity and finished with Night Mail, the only film to go on the cinema circuit. It is hard to believe the excitement of a nightly mail train from London to Aberdeen and how W H Auden and Benjamin Britten brought the film to it iconic status – breathtaking.

Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s Filmmaker

Like Howard Smith, I found the creative achievements of Leni Refenstahl absolutely compelling. From falling off a Berlin stage injuring herself whilst dancing, she decided to become an actress in Mountain Films, Germany’s equivalent of the American Westerns. They were filmed in the staggering Dolomites and vintage film of Leni climbing barefoot was again breathtaking. She then went on to produce, direct and star in her own film, The Blue Light, where she learnt her skills. The film was a great success and attracted her greatest fan, Adolf Hitler, who asked her to rescue Goebbels’ botched film of the 1933 Nazi Rally. This she did and was asked by Hitler to film the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. The backstory was absolutely gripping showing how Leni portrayed Hitler and the Rally – creating what is recognised as the most powerful propaganda film ever made. As a result, she was invited by the Olympic Committee to film the iconic 1936 Berlin Games. This was Leni at her innovative best with the first Torch relay from Mount Olympus, the first lighting of the Torch ceremony, the first March of the Athletes and also an explanation how Leni created the film using techniques that are still followed today in sports photography. A wonderful story of a brilliant, creative woman who lived to over 100 still filming coral reefs in her nineties.

After lunch we had a lighter note with

1950 Britain through the eyes of Picture Post

This we learnt was really a printed version of documentary films. A photographer and a journalist were sent on various assignments to cover stories in depth. The iconic pictures of the renowned Bert Hardy stand out. It was quite hard to realise how brilliant the pictures were when the subjects became increasingly more nostalgic and we were captivated by them. It was a light frothy lecture of a very austere period of Post-war Britain. The famous MacMillan comment “you never had it so good” came to mind and we chuckled and laughed our way through an enjoyable hour covering every aspect of life to the promise of the Festival of Britain to be a tonic for the nation. So many memories brought to life in the Picture Post pages, the many film clips and a lecture that brought our Study Day to a happy close.

Thursday 18 March 2021 – held online

A Half Study Day by Dr Sophie Oosterwijk
? True to life: Dutch Genre Painting in Vermeer’s Golden Age

Sophie Oosterwijk is a Dutch national who lives in the Netherlands.  She gave two fascinating lectures on the hidden meanings behind paintings, revealing that their apparent subject proved to be rarely the whole story.  Vermeer’s painting of ‘The Art of Painting’ shows the artist at work in fine clothes.  His model is wearing a beautiful blue silk dress.  This would not happen, as such clothing would be totally impractical.  And so begins Sophie’s lecture ‘? True to Life’.  Vermeer and his fellow artists of the Dutch Golden Age during the seventeenth century painted pictures of respectable Dutch society presenting an austere almost Calvinistic appearance of the people.  There were scenes of domestic interiors of the houses owned by the middle classes.  But many were not true to life.  Ordinary rooms were transformed by adding unlikely expensive furnishings: rich looking fabrics, carpets, beautiful tiled floors and chandeliers, the latter only usually seen in a Church, as well as a birdcage.  Such enhancements were added to delude the viewer and the same objects could be recognised in future paintings.  Dutch artists were also the master of perspective and clever paintings of tiled floors led the eye to the distance.  But the scene was contrived at the expense of reality to make the painting more marketable.
Artists painted scenes of ordinary domesticity: a young mother nursing her baby, children playing in the street, a young woman reading by a window or writing a letter.  Some were pictured playing a musical instrument.  Clutter in corners such as brooms and buckets which would not usually be on view in an otherwise orderly room, were added to illustrate the artists skill.  Paintings of such detail were highly sought after.
The architect, Philips Vingbooms designed elegant houses which were built on either side of the canals.  They were tall and narrow: tradespeople could only reach the entrance by leaving their vehicles and accessing the entrance via the narrow paths in between each house.  Elegant facades often hid menial rooms stretching behind each building.  Pieter de Hooch’s genre painting of the home of the Jacott Hoppsack family depicted a grand house in the country whereas the reality  was a home in a disreputable area of Amsterdam.  Jan Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen and Gabriel Metsu, to name but a few artists, all manipulated buildings to create to create an illusion with fictional tree lined avenues.
Genre paintings often had suggestive meanings: there was courtship and there was seduction.  An innocent young woman turning coyly away from a young man might indicate a seduction and not a betrothal, due to clues such as a glass of wine, lemons in a bowl, a rabbit and sometimes a plate of oysters.  An open box depicted virginity and an open empty birdcage indicated a loss of such.  Pictures of pure looking young women playing a musical instrument showed them looking at something else or out of the painting.  Was there a possible seducer or did they show a look of expectation?  The clue would be a small opening of a blouse showing a slight cleavage and would be an indication of sex.  Jan Steen’s painting of ‘The Doctor’s visit’ showed a pretty, slightly distraught young woman indicating that an assignation had led to an unwanted pregnancy.  The clue was a bowl of glowing embers and a burnt shoelace.  ‘The Procuress’ by the artist Dirk van Babaren featured an old crone with a young couple.  Despite the young woman’s air of sweet innocence, the presence of a few coins indicated that a business deal was taking place.  This subtle suggestion of sexual encounters featured in many works of other artists of the time.  The tiny and often obscure details were difficult to see.  It was only when pointed out by the lecturer that their hidden meanings became evident.  Jan Steen’s painting ‘The effects of Intemperance’ illustrates a drunken scene where the characters are slumped in a stupor with children running amok  feeding the animals with the family’s food.  Paintings such as these would be an indication of being reduced to poverty and would act as a warning.
These beautiful genre paintings created by the artists of the Dutch Golden Age indicated a respectable society with a fictional veneer of opulence.
But, was this a perception or was it ‘True to Life’?

Tuesday 5th November 2019

 ‘The River of Light’: The Cradle of Impressionism

Carole Petipher gave a lively and very interesting lecture on Impressionism.

After graduating with a degree in French and Spanish she worked in the French steel industry and quickly became Sales and Development manager for the UK industry. Deciding to take a sabbatical, she took a trip on a French barge and as a consequence, her life took a different turn.   Living on a series of boats, she travelled the rivers of France and from the Seine, the ‘River of Light’ she began her research on the works and lives of young painters who became known as ‘The Impressionists’.

To illustrate her talk, she used a combination of pictures of well known, lesser known and unknown pictures of artists interspersed with her own amusing anecdotes.

The sparkling Seine estuary attracted artists, writers and musicians alike.   Artists flocked to the picturesque harbour of Honfleur and its surroundings to capture, in particular, the estuarial light. Tourism began to develop and the resorts of Deauville and Trouville became popular for sea bathing. This was a symbol of the new age and offered new, interesting motifs to paint.

Carole continued her lecture describing the forerunners and key influencers behind the radical new wave of young artists: such as Turner, Eugene Boudin, Daubigney, Jongkind, Courbet and Dubourg. The young Monet was to take his first painting lesson in the open air under the tutelage of Boudin who had revolutionised painting outside in the open air.

The architect Baron Haussmann revitalised the city of Paris and it became one of the most elegant and outwardly prosperous cities in Europe. To the west of the city lay the Seine and a tiny loop in the river became nicknamed as ‘the cradle of impressionism’. Four artists Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley were the founder members of the group. They struggled to make a living and gain recognition: a far cry from the universal popularity which the paintings enjoy today. Monet and Renoir painted each other to avoid the cost of models and were to become great friends.

Monet moved to the small town of Agenteuil where he painted all aspects of modern life and his house was to become the meeting place for the circle of artists. The town became fashionable for sailing and annual regattas took place during the summer.

Following the Franco Prussian war, the artists had to come to terms with a radically changed and depressed market and economy. The final lecture showed how the artists continued to develop their careers and eventually formed their own independent society to be free from ‘The Salon.’ As original painters started to drift away, new members joined: Caillebotte, Manet, Seurat and Signac and later Van Gogh. Monet moved to Giverny where his friend Caillebotte helped to design the famous garden.

5th March 2019

Gardens in North and South America: A Brazilian Odyssey, Mexican Fusion and Californian Dreaming.

Marilyn Elm who trained as a landscape architect and garden designer gave a lively and inspirational study day on modernist gardens and their influence in design in America and Europe.

During the early part of the twentieth century, there was a modernist movement by artists Mondrian, Miro and Kandinsky in creating ‘cubism’ as an art form.The use of geometric shapes and strong colours were reflected in the design of gardens.The architect Mies van der Roule who coined the phrase ‘less is more’ constituting the term ‘minimalism’.As a consequence, design became more brutal using large concrete shapes and stark spaces which were offset by the use of architectural plants such as cacti.Although these strong iconic images were not necessarily conducive to the English garden, they did give fresh ideas which could be adapted to suit, and as a travalogue piece, it was superb!

Roberto Burle Marx was Latin America’s most influential twentieth century landscape architect and an internationally renowned figure in modern art.He had a broad background in all art which included music.As an amateur botanist and expert horticulturalist, he gathered an important collection of plant species.He collaborated with Brazilian architects on both the national and international scenes.These included Oscar Niemeyer, Rino Levi and Lucio Costa and also associated with Marcel Breuer and the Swiss/Frech architect Le Corbusier.When creating gardens for public spaces and parks, he used indigenous plants.Historically, during the Aztec dynasty, gardeners created floating gardens for the growth of strong colourful plants and also to be used as market gardens.Influenced by Japan and also using pre Aztec design, Burle Marx created a colourful legacy from Rio de Janeiro to the iconic Brasilia.

Luis Barragan was a Mexican architect and engineer.Influenced by Le Corbusier, he used simple forms of shape and structure combined with a creative use of light to design gardens.He was quoted as saying that a garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.

The American architect Thomas Church created gardens for a consumer society andwished to involve his clients in each design. In his book ‘Gardens are for people’ he created the concept of ‘decking’ and sort to intergrate the house and the garden with a free flow between them, so that people might enjoy outdoor living.He designed the Donell garden in Sonoma, Caifornia where he created a ‘biomophic’ (amoeboid shaped) swimming pool.

Topher Delaney who had suffered from breast cancer, was involved in the creation of the Narducci Organic farm in Napa Valley.The idea was to create a landscape for comfort, healing and faith.

The lecture ended by returning to the artist Roberto Burle Marx who wished to create spaces in which people couldexpress or renew their faith in finding a better way of living. He is quoted as saying:

“I trust that my work illustrates my intentions as an artist in creating what I believe good gardens ought to be – ‘spaces for comfort, healing and faith”

Tuesday 4th December 2018

The Legendary Lee Miller.

Witnessing Women at War

Antony Penrose gave a superb rendition of the extraordinary life of his mother Lee Miller.She was born in New York in 1907 to Theodore and Florence Miller.Renowned for her great beauty, she became a fashion model and was photographed by the great photographers of the day.At the age of twenty-two she moved to Paris and mixed with Surrealist artists before eventually setting up her own studio of photography, stating that she would rather make a picture than be one.As a freelance photographer in London at the outbreak of the Second World War, she shot images for ‘Vogue’ magazine of haute couture in London’s dark bombed out streets.She photographed and documented the important and amazing work which women contributed during the war.She showed pictures of women working in factories assembling military shells and working on vehicles.She documented the magnificent work of the Land Girls, the pilots, the W.R.V.S, the W.R.N.S, the A.T.S, the fire service and especially the nurses.Over 80,000 women joined the ranks and a great many lost their lives in service.Now an acclaimed wartime photographer and correspondent, Lee was the only women to cover the front line in Europe. She showed the shaved heads ofwomen accused of collaboration and harrowing photographs of emaciated bodies in open trucks and of starving children dying in hospitals.In 1947, the concentration camps were liberated and on the evening of the day she photographed the liberation of Dachau, there is an iconic photograph of her sitting in Hitler’s bath with her army boots by the side.Later, she photographed the burning of Hitler’s alpine fortress at Obersalzburg.This story is presented as a homage to the women whose efforts were essential to the allied victor in WW2.

Lee Miller and Man Ray.

In 1929, Lee met Man Ray.They were instantly attracted to each other and she became his student, muse and lover. In a close collaboration, they created and photographed Surrealist images.They discovered, by accident, the art of ‘solarization’ when Lee, inadvertently, turned on the lights in the studio dark room before the negatives were fully developed.This created a black line around an image giving a ghostly and luminous appearance.But Lee, in time, felt constrained by Man Ray’s possessiveness.She refused to marry him and returned to America, whereupon he fell into a deep depression and spent the next two years painting a huge picture of his lost lover’s lips.In his obsession with Lee, he created a metronome using an image of her eye cut from a photograph and attached to the swinging pendulum with a paper clip.The intention was then to destroy it with a single blow from a hammer!Some years later, Lee and Man Ray finally became reunited and remained firm friends for the rest of their lives.

In 1937 Lee met the Surrealist artist Roland Penrose and moved in with him in 1940.They married and in 1947, their son Antony was born.

Behind the scene at The Lee Miller Archives.

In 1949, Roland and Lee bought Farley Farm house in East Sussex.They created a home that was more like a perpetual arts congress, and today is a small private museum housing Surrealist images of art and sculpture.Their many friends, Picasso, Man Ray, Joan Miro, Max Ernst and others were constant visitors and much of their work is on display.There is also the kitchen where Lee cooked her own colourful gourmet dishes. On Lee’s death in 1977, some sixty- thousand images of her pictorial life were discovered in the attic and painstakingly archived and printed for display.Antony’s daughter, Ami is his co-director and an author in her own right.The family manage and run the house and gallery which receives no public funding and is therefore reliant on conducted tours for visitors and sales of books.

Farley’s House, gallery and sculpture garden is open every Sunday from April 7th until 27th October 2019

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 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.

Tuesday 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.