Lectures on British Art of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries



How to be Good. Storytelling and Morality in Victorian Narrative Painting

Summary

Just like us, the Victorians loved a good story. This lecture examines the rise of narrative paintings – pictures that told moral stories with all the verve and excitement of modern soap operas.

Synopsis

Victorian Britain saw the rise of the affluent middle classes, a stratum of
society that expected all things to have a purpose and, preferably, a moral
message. In the era of Dickens, Trollope and George Eliot, painters also became
fascinated by narrative and morality. Here we see the results; cads, bounders
and fallen women jostle with gamblers, philosophers and honest workmen in
the wonderfully detailed canvases of mid-nineteenth century artists. This lecture
looks at the development of such paintings – initially considered profoundly
shocking, but soon relished with a delight that foreshadows our fascination with the TV
soap opera.

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Travellers' Tales – Italian Art Through the Eyes of Victorian Visitors

Summary

Italy is a favourite destination for British travellers. This talk looks at what our
ancestors thought of the country and its art – and discovers some of the pitfalls of
nineteenth century travel.

Synopsis

Italy, in the mid nineteenth century, may have been a collection of poor, fragmented states, but it was also the destination for many English travellers. Byron, Ruskin, the Brownings and Dickens all visited, along with many others, and wrote of the art and culture they discovered. In this talk we'll explore the history of Italian painting through the eyes of such visitors, discovering how they reacted to the early Renaissance beauty of Fra Angelico or the turbulent exuberance of Tintoretto. We'll also hear what they thought of Italy in general, in an age when crossing the Alps was a major - and possibly dangerous - undertaking. This sort of cultural travel was not for the faint-hearted!

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The Artist as Reporter – British Artists and the First World War

Summary

A look at the work of avant-garde British artists who were directly involved in the
First World War, producing some of the most moving images of the past century.

Synopsis

With the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, the nations of Europe were set on a collision course. Newly mechanised armies, with undreamed of power to maim and destroy, transformed the world's notions about war. This lecture looks at the work of a group of young British War Artists and considers the ways in which they recorded their own experiences of a new and terrifying form of war, in a body of work still remarkable for its ability to move and shock.

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Landscape, Poetry and Power – British Neo-Romantic Painters and the Second World War

Summary

Influenced by the visionary art of William Blake, artists on the Home Front during
the Second World War created a profoundly important image of Britain as she
battled for survival.

Synopsis

The British Neo-Romantic painters of the mid twentieth century, including such artists as John Piper, Graham Sutherland and John Craxton, form a bridge between the landscape traditions of the eighteenth century and the art of today. Looking at their rediscovery of the works of Blake, Palmer and the Pre- Raphaelites, we explore their creation of a vision of the British landscape that became vitally important to Britain's self image during the Second World War.

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Eric Ravilious and the Lure of the Everyday

Summary

Ravilious' stunning yet deceptively simple watercolours, along with images of
everyday life by other artists working on the Home Front, provide a fascinating
picture of Britain in the 1930s and 40s.

Synopsis

Eric Ravilious has been described as the greatest English watercolourist of the twentieth century and his images of the landscape and of everyday objects attract passionate devotees. He was an artist who combined a love of the landscape with a fascination for different types of transport – from trains, old cars and gypsy caravans to the aircraft and destroyers he depicted as an Official War Artist in his precise, dry watercolours. Despite his short life, (he was killed, aged 39, in 1942) he was a prolific painter, printmaker and designer and his work reflects a deep delight in the world in which he lived. This lecture considers Ravilious alongside other artists working on the Home Front – and shows their remarkably powerful images of Britain at war.

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The Not-so-Still Lives of Ben Nicholson

Summary

By the time of his death in the 1980s, Ben Nicholson was Britain's most
influential painter, but his disciplined art masked the complexities of the man and
his family relationships.

Synopsis

Ben Nicholson was born into a very creative family and became one of Britain's leading abstract artists in the years before the Second World War. Best known for his beautiful still life and landscape paintings, which combine representational and abstract elements in a disciplined harmony, he was a great champion of Modernism. His personal life, however, was not always so harmonious. Married first to the painter Winifred Nicholson, and later to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, his art challenged that of his father, the highly successful Edwardian painter Sir William Nicholson.

What was it about their relationship that drove Ben? And how does Ben's career reflect the wider conflicts between abstract and traditional art forms in the mid twentieth century? This lecture explores the development of Nicholson's beautiful images, set against a background of conflict – personal, international and artistic.

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Henry Moore – A Revolution in British Sculpture

Summary

This talk offers a survey of the work of Britain's most prestigious sculptor, whose
work moved from realism to abstraction and whose war drawings captured the
trauma of the Blitz.

Synopsis

Today, Henry Moore is considered as the 'Grand Old Man' of British twentieth century sculpture, and his works can be seen in prestigious locations around the world. But his career spans an era of remarkable artistic change in Britain, with public sculpture moving from the formal academic style of the nineteenth century to the abstraction and modernism of the Swinging Sixties and beyond. This talk considers his career against the turbulent backdrop of the mid-twentieth century, showing how he explored the art of other ages and cultures alongside the work of Renaissance masters such as Masaccio and Michelangelo. The popularity of his Shelter Sketchbooks and mining drawings during World War Two helped bring about a wider appreciation of modern art in Britain, while his sculptures – influenced by his profound love of landscape – have become some of the most popular in the country.

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Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth

Summary

A look at two great twentieth century sculptors, and the revolution they forged in
sculpture in Britain.

Synopsis

Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are two of the most popular and important British sculptors of the twentieth century. Between them they revolutionised the way people thought about the human figure and sculpture, each being inspired by the art of the past and of other cultures, as well as by the landscape of Britain. At the same time, they were at the forefront of modernism – creating a new language of sculpture, full of abstract shapes, holes and magisterial forms.

This talk looks at their lives and works, but also explores the vibrant artistic world in which they moved. We'll look at Moore's remarkable Shelter Sketchbooks from World War Two, and see how Hepworth's marriage to the painter Ben Nicholson changed both her sculpture and his painting. The legacy of these two great sculptors is a body of work that may be abstract, but is filled with a deep humanity and is rooted in the landscapes they loved.

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From Coalbrookdale to the Crystal Palace; Art, Design and the Industrial Revolution

Summary

A lecture that examines the ways in which the Industrial Revolution affected art and design, and how it was depicted in the paintings and objects of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Synopsis

In 1709, in a small riverside town in Shropshire, a Quaker industrialist called Abraham Darby set up the Coalbrookdale Iron Foundry. His revolutionary new method of smelting iron ore would make him a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution. From the beautiful Iron Bridge across the river Severn, built by his grandson in 1776, to the majesty of the Crystal Palace, opened by Queen Victoria in 1851, new forms of technology created a world of factories, railways and mass production.

In this talk we'll meet inventors, industrialists and designers like Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, Thomas Telford and the Stephensons, whose products married design and modernity and became renowned across Europe. Through the paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries, we'll see how new techniques affected design, and consider how mass production and the changing landscape affected life for rich and poor.

The apogee of this industrial age was the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851. We'll look at the building, its contents and the huge success of the Great Exhibition, as well as its legacy for art, design and architecture through the nineteenth century and beyond.

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"Don't Make Fun of the Festival!" - Art, Design and Entertainment at the Festival of Britain

Summary

Sixty years on from The Festival of Britain, this talk explores the art, design and
enormous enterprise of that created the 'Tonic to the Nation' on London's South
Bank in 1951.

Synopsis

When the Festival of Britain opened to the public on May 3rd, 1951, it was intended to offer 'A Tonic to the Nation'. In the midst of the worst weather since 1815, with strikes, disputes and a plague of rats bedevilling the site on London's South Bank, the press and the public were surprised and delighted to find an exhibition filled with ingenuity, whimsy and startling modernity.

In this talk we'll explore the origins of the Festival, including the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1900 Paris World Fair. We'll hear what people and politicians really thought of the plans as they were being made, and discover how the authorities catered for thousands of visitors in the difficulties of post-war London. We'll explore the works created for the Festival by artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and many others, and consider the lasting legacies of the Festival, in the fields of architecture and design.

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The Art and Craft of John Piper

Summary

From romantic images of British architecture, to the windows of the new Coventry Cathedral, this lecture explores the work of John Piper – one of Britain’s most versatile 20th century artists.

Synopsis

An abstract painter in the 1930s, John Piper was also a writer, critic and typographer and his love of architecture – especially medieval churches and stained glass – made him a highly sensitive observer of his surroundings. During the Second World War he became one of the best known Official War Artists, creating powerful images of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and of the city of Bath, as well as recording a wide range of buildings, from derelict Welsh cottages to the grandeur of Windsor Castle.
Piper’s friendships with figures from the worlds of literature, ballet and music led him in further creative directions. He worked on the Shell Guides to Britain with his close friend, John Betjeman and designed sets and costumes for the operas of Benjamin Britten. In his fifties he began to design stained glass, creating monumentally beautiful windows for the new Coventry Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool, as well as tiny, jewel-like lunettes for country churches near his home in Buckinghamshire. Piper’s love of architecture and landscape informed all his work, and in this lecture we’ll explore the many ways in which his interests and enthusiasms led to prolific creativity.

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More Than Meets the Eye:  British Artists and Camouflage

Summary

This talk looks at the role of artists as camoufleurs – creating camouflage to hide, mislead and misdirect in times of war – and considers some of the influences their designs have had in times of peace.

Synopsis

Secrecy, suspicion and deception have always played their part in war. With the invention of long-range rifles in the late 18th century, soldiers needed to mask their presence, or even appear to disappear. Gradually the scarlet tunics of the ‘thin red line’ gave way to the dusty tan of khaki and – with the coming of the First World War – more than just men needed to be camouflaged.

With the advent of modern, abstract art, people began to think differently about how we see and perceive the things around us. Cubism played with breaking up the picture space – could such innovative ideas help disguise and deceive in the service of war? In this talk we’ll consider the background to the development camouflage and explore the ways in which artists helped the war effort in the two World Wars. From ‘dazzle camouflage’ for ships, to the hiding of airfields and power stations, we’ll see how artists such as Hugh Casson, Oliver Messel, Julian Trevelyan and Robin Darwin worked alongside the naturalists and illusionists to mislead and misdirect on the Home Front as well as overseas. 

As well as exploring the work of these camoufleurs, we’ll look at their legacy. Camouflage patterns have appeared in haute couture and, while digital technology is now involved in creating effective military camouflage, some contemporary artists remain fascinated by its possibilities, using its forms and techniques to intrigue and surprise us.

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