Below is a list of lectures and a brief synopsis of each. You can download a Printable Copy of the lecture programme.
This lecture looked at ordinary working people: skilled and unskilled workers in both urban and agricultural environments, craftsmen, artisans, shopkeepers, domestic servants, entertainers, prostitutes, beggars, paupers, slaves. Throughout the history of western art, they have always been there: for centuries as mute observers, background detail or comic relief. But as the world changes, art changes, and this talk will discuss the move of low-life subject matter from the despised and vulgar fringes of popular taste into the respectable mainstream; and out again into political radicalism and avant-garde edginess.
This lecture dealt with among other things the work Grinling Gibbons undertook for royal palaces. It showed in detail the technique by which the world famous lime wood carvings, realistic to the point of deception, were made and fixed in place, The lecture contained an analysis of the changes made by Gibbons to the décor of the Queen’s Chapel of St James’s Palace (Inigo Jones) together with an account of his development as a designer from 1670-1699.
Picasso told his biographer, John Richardson, that his work was like a diary – “To understand it, you have to see how it mirrors my life”. This lecture examined the way Picasso’s emotional life influenced what he painted and how he painted it. His response to each new love in his life can be seen in the different styles in which his many women were represented. When he fell out of love, that fact would be revealed first in his paintings. The lecture concentrates on the seven most important women in his life (two of whom he married).
Edward Lear’s “Book of Nonsense” has never been out of print, but what isn’t realised often is that he made his living producing topographical watercolours of great delicacy. “A man of original and versatile genius”: ornithologist, diarist, musician, traveller- this warm and delightful human-being expressed his simple philosophy through timeless humour. An illustrated lecture that focussed on his biography with quotations from his writings throughout.
Celtic Art is one of the most spectacular examples of human response to natural forms. From cups and weapons to the covers of sacred books, the rhythms and shifting, near-abstract forms express concepts and beliefs as well as a functional response to the shape and use of the objects themselves. The lecture concentrated on the distinctive development of the Celtic style in Britain, where it survived after Roman expansion extinguished it elsewhere. Starting around 300BCE with the earliest examples of characteristic British design, it traced the interaction of pure Celtic ideas and techniques with elements from Roman, Pictish and Anglo-Saxon cultures, culminating in the great Christian flowering of the 7th century AD.
This lecture examined the provocative and often beautiful work of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the context of dissident art in China, Europe and South America, and examined some of his sources of inspiration, including the Russian Constructivist, Vladimir Tatlin and the leading Dada artist, Marcel Duchamp. Ai Weiwei collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron in designing the Beijing National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) for the 2008 Olympics, but the following year was arrested and beaten by police, necessitating emergency brain surgery.
While his Sunflower Seeds installation was still on display in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2011, he was arrested again and detained in prison for 81 days, during which he was subjected to mental torture. Part of the problem of course was the provocative nature of his work. Between 1995 and 2003, he produced an extensive series of photographs, each of which was called Study in Perspective, in which he made an offensive gesture in front of famous locations. Those relating to the White House and the Eiffel Tower caused no problem in China of course, but that in Tiananmen Square (on the fifth anniversary of the notorious demonstration, when hundreds of people were killed) was clearly highly contentious.
Ai Weiwei still lives in China and continues to be a thorn in the side of the political establishment.
The careers of two American expatriate late 19th century artists equally well known in England, Europe and the United States. John Singer Sargent’s personality was both charming and enigmatic, and he had a flamboyantly successful career as a society portraitist. More innovative, less ingratiating, Whistler’s art is that of the evanescent atmosphere; he signed his paintings with a butterfly, but he was just as much a gadfly.
This lecture explored the artistic culture of Vietnam. It included the architectural legacy of French colonialism in the cities, especially Hanoi, with its superb French opera house, belle époque villas, colourful markets and Old City of 36 Streets where you can buy everything from coffee to coffins. It also highlighted Saigon’s French opera house and cathedral. It touched on the vibrant modern culture, revived since the turbulent events of the 20th century, revealed in the stylish costumes of Vietnamese women and, most especially, in contemporary painting, in both oils and lacquer, a fusion of eastern and western influences. The lecture looked back to the ancient ruins of the Cham kingdom, through the French scholars who uncovered them, and shows the sculptural heritage of these war-like yet profoundly artistic people in central Vietnam during the 2nd -14th centuries who repelled the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan. First Hindu, then Islamic, they carved sanctuaries dedicated to the god Shiva. Finally, it explored the art of the Nguyen dynasty at Hué, with its Imperial Palace, a replica of the Forbidden City in Beijing, under restoration since the damage of the war and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the emperors’ imperial tombs laid out along the banks of the evocatively named Perfume River.
Calouste Gulbenkian was born in the mid-nineteenth century of Armenian parents resident in the then Ottoman Empire and was given an international education culminating with a first degree in engineering from King’s College, London in 1887. Amongst the earliest to realise the importance of oil to the 20th century, Gulbenkian played a pivotal role in the formation of many of the world’s major oil companies and thereby rose to become one the richest men in the world between the two world wars. Always discreet and self-effacing, he never flaunted his wealth but throughout his life he amassed a magnificent, wide ranging collection of works of art. When Germany invaded France in the 2nd World War, Gulbenkian was living in Paris and in 1942 he sought refuge in Lisbon where he then remained contentedly until his death thirteen years later. Providing handsome bequests for family and friends, he left the bulk of his wealth, including his collection of works of art, to a Foundation established in his name for charitable, artistic, educational and scientific purposes and in 1969 the museum housing his collection was opened in a park acquired by the Foundation in the centre of Lisbon. The lecture traced the background of this extraordinary, fascinating, mysterious man as well as his Foundation, today one of the most significant in the world, but concentrated on the supremely beautiful works of art in his museum. In his lifetime, Gulbenkian is on record as saying that “only the best is good enough for me” and to wander through the museum is confirmation of this. Whether the object is an ancient Egyptian mummy case, a Grecian coin or a silk Persian carpet; an exquisite item of Chinese jade, a Rubens or a Renoir, or a fragile work of Lalique jewellery, everything you look at is perfect, a delight to the eye and balm to the soul. Recommended Reading: Calouste Gulbenkian: Collector by José de Azeredo Perdigăo (Lisbon, 1969) Catalogue of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. (Lisbon 2002).
This lecture explores contemporary Cornish art through a Curator’s eyes. The coastline and landscape of Cornwall feature in John Miller’s figurative/spiritual paintings, Neil Pinketts’ expressive works, and Kurt Jackson’s mixed media paintings. Paul Lewin’s plein air views are analysed alongside those by Robert Jones. The super realism of Diane Ibbotson and Ashley Hold RWA contrast with the abstraction of Martin Grimshaw and Neil Canning. Naïve artists Bryan Pearce, Joan Gilchrest and Christopher Tate are also included. The sculpture of Tim Shaw RA and Reece Ingram and humorous automata by Paul Spooner, Keith Newstead etc complete this personal tour.