Our 2019-2020 Lecture Programme

Below is a list of lectures and a brief synopsis of each. You can download a Printable Copy of the lecture programme.


The art of the kimono

Suzanne Perrin

Suzanne Perrin explained how kimonos, designed for special occasions and everyday wear, denote the rank, class and age of the wearer through the patterns and symbols woven and dyed into the kimono.


The field of the cloth of gold

Jo Mabbutt

In June 1520 Henry VIII and Francis 1 meet to ratify an Anglo-French alliance and celebrate the betrothal of Henry’s daughter Mary to the Dauphin. The two handsome ‘Renaissance Princes’ are in their 20’s with similar reputations in military prowess, sport and patrons of the arts. Both have imperial ambitions and are eager to display themselves as magnificent nobleman and warrior kings. Each brings an entourage of 6,000 to a field south of Calais for 18 days of various events and entertainments staged to display the skill and splendour of each King and country.

The logistics of transporting, accommodating, ordering, feeding and watering, protecting and entertaining the English contingent for this spectacular event is staggering and the supply chain, often through the City of London Guilds, is equally fascinating. 3,217 horses shipped across the ‘Narrow Sea’ to Calais; a vast quantity of wood sourced from Flanders and floated along the coast; a huge temporary palace is built on stone foundations with brick and timber-framed walls reaching to 40 feet.

Royal palaces were virtually emptied of their silver, gold, tapestries and furniture to decorate the temporary palace, other principal tents and a chapel (with an organ); gold and silver cloth, velvet and sables, jewels and pearls were imported to ‘dress and impress’. How was it all achieved? 2020 is the 500th Anniversary of this extraordinary event.


Double Dutch: symbols, emblems in “double entendre” in Dutch genre painting.

Lynne Gibson

The merchants of seventeenth century Holland filled their town houses with paintings. A favourite subject was scenes of everyday life: depicting behaviour both good … and bad. But these upright Calvinist citizens rejected Catholic Baroque melodrama.

They wanted nothing to alarm the in-laws or corrupt the children. Innocent objects hint at adult themes: plucked chickens and lap dogs, lutes and virginals, oysters and artichokes, foot warmers and bed warmers. This is a world of subtle hints and double-entendre, spoken through a language of symbols, emblems and motifs.

We explored the hidden meanings in everyday scenes and became fluent readers of ‘Double Dutch’.


Salvador Dali: draughtsman and designer. A Renaissance artist in the twentieth century

Julia Musgrave

Like the Renaissance artists he admired, Salvador Dalí did not restrict his creative output to painting but was also a writer, poet, engraver, sculptor, architect, photographer, theatre designer, and jewellery designer.

As well as designing the latter, Dalí selected the materials to be used, focusing not just on the colours or the value of the material, but also on their symbolic meanings. Jewels such as ‘El cor reial’ (1953, The Royal Heart) have become iconic works and are considered to be as exceptional as his paintings.

He also was an omnivorous reader who was as interested in science as he was in art and in this his work also reflects the Renaissance artist he admired.

This lecture explored the work of Dalí the designer and science enthusiast – a Renaissance artist in the 20th century.


The magic of pantomime

Ian Gledhill

This talk took a light-hearted look at the history of this enduring and peculiarly British institution, from its origins in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte through the influence of 19th century music hall, to the family shows that are still much loved today.

On the way we examined the origins of some of the stories used in pantomime as well as such traditions as the (female) principal boy and the (male) pantomime dame.

The talk was interspersed with personal anecdotes from the speaker’s years of working (and appearing) professionally in pantomime.


Images of the British Empire

John Stevens

At the turn of the twentieth century, the British Empire held sway over approximately one quarter of the total population of the world. British imperial power was projected through a variety of artistic mediums, from fine portraiture and grand imperial buildings to more popular forms of imagery.

British artists also produced countless images of people from all over the globe who had become subjects of British rule.

Through considering a variety of paintings, buildings and objects from across the Empire, this lecture provided a fascinating insight into the ways in which the British viewed themselves and their subjects in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Imperial Easter eggs of Carl Faberge

Toby Faber

Between 1885 and 1916, Carl Fabergé made fifty jewelled eggs – Easter presents from Russia’s last two emperors to their wives. They have become the most famous surviving symbols of the Romanov Empire: both supreme examples of the jeweller’s art and the vulgar playthings of a decadent court.

Given almost total artistic freedom, Fabergé and his designers had to conform to only three rules: that each year’s Easter present should be egg-shaped, that it should contain some surprise to amuse or delight its recipient, and that it should be different from any predecessor. The result was a series of creations demonstrating ingenuity and creativity for which there are few parallels in any other field.

Their styles range from traditional Russian to Art Nouveau, and their materials from carved hardstone to exquisite enamelled gold. Their maker’s relentless search for novelty also means that they provide a fabulously quirky illustrated history of the decline of the Romanovs. Toby Faber wrote Fabergé’s Eggs: One Man’s Masterpieces and the End of an Empire, described by P.D. James as a ‘fascinating story which combines unique decorative art, contemporary culture, history and the murder of the Romanovs with the excitement of a crime novel’.

The lecture is illustrated with pictures of the Romanovs and their palaces, and, of course, with photographs of the eggs themselves.


Proliferation of pattern wallpapers 1920 - 2000

Joanna Banham

This Meeting was cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The widespread misconception that Modernist interiors eschewed pattern and ushered in a fashion for plain walls is belied by the fact that the taste for wallpaper flourished as never before in the inter-war and post-war periods.

Patterns included brightly-coloured geometric Jazz-Age designs, traditional florals, and pictorial panels as well as ‘Contemporary’-style and Op, Pop, and Psychedelic designs. Decorators like Laura Ashley, Colefax & Fowler and Sandersons created popular new styles and the more recent introduction of digital design and statement walls has seen a revival of wallpaper today.

This talk surveys the development of wallpaper production and design across the twentieth century.


The British Landscape tradition: Thomas Gainsborough to Richard Long

John Francis

This Meeting was cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

This wide ranging survey starts in 1749 with Mr and Mrs Andrews. Portrait artists like Gainsborough were beginning to gaze out towards the countryside. Turner and Constable could be said to portray our national identity through images of peace and plenty while sometimes ignoring unrest and poverty.

Later, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash used landscape as a search for inner knowledge, fantasy and religious values. The photography of Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy documented modern urban landscape. Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long chose to move from the studio and use the physical material of the landscape itself.


Mad men and artists: how the advertising industry exploited fine art

Tony Rawlins

This Meeting was cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Fine art has provided advertisers and their agencies with a great deal of material to use in their creative campaigns.

Tony describes some of the processes by which these advertisements have been created and why the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo have been a particularly rich source. From the Renaissance through to the present day fine art continues to provide opportunities to enhance Brand imagery with admiration, humour, satire and irony.

In an entertaining and informative lecture Tony uses a wide range of visuals and video to show examples of the original works, the creative process and the (not always entirely successful) advertisements that are the end result.