Lecture Reviews

22 July, 2020 – A Virtual Walking Tour of The New East End: Bangladesh to Banksy, with Pepe Martinez

Pepe was born in London and has lived there for almost all his life and he qualified as a London Blue Badge Guide in 2011. Using slides and Google Pepe took us on a fascinating tour explaining how what was, historically, the poorest area of London has changed and developed. This is just a “taster” and you can find out more about the area on-line.

Our first stop was at The Whitechapel Gallery. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, it was opened in 1901. Its location surprised many as they believed that the working classes did not have the capacity to appreciate art and culture. The gallery has been famous for several “firsts”, notably being the first to receive Picasso’s Guernica in 1938 as part of a touring exhibition. In 2009 the gallery almost doubled in size by incorporating the adjacent former Passmore Edwards library building. British artist Rachel Whiteread created a new work of art for the building’s façade. 

Crossing the road, we entered Altab Ali Park.  Formerly known as St Mary’s Park, it is the site of the old 14th-century white church, from which the area of Whitechapel gets its name. The park was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998 in memory of a 25-year-old British Bangladeshi clothing worker, who was murdered on 4 May 1978 by three teenage boys as he walked home from work. At the entrance to the park is an arch created by David Petersen, developed as a memorial to Altab Ali and other victims of racist attacks. The Shaheed Minar, which commemorates the Bengali Language Movement, stands in the southwest corner of the park. The monument is a smaller replica of the one in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and symbolises a mother and her martyred sons

Next a walk along Brick Lane an area that has seen many immigrants come and go. Today the area has come to be known as “Banglatown” but prior to this the area was a Jewish district, and before that a Huguenot area. All this is reflected in the use of buildings, shops, and restaurants. The Brick Lane Mosque was originally a Huguenot Church, then Methodist, Baptist and a Synagogue. Many Bangladeshis came to this country to escape conflict and find work, most being employed in low paid jobs. Although many were unskilled and illiterate, they could cook and began to open “Curry Cafes”. Today there are 53 curry houses in Brick Lane. The Truman Brewery was opened in 1666 and closed in 1989 and is now a thriving artistic and media community. 

Pepe described Redchurch Street as the trendiest shopping street in the world – Tracey Emin and Sarah Luca once had a shop there, – and it has two Michelin starred restaurants. In 1998 Banksy met King Robbo and having failed to show proper respect began the graffiti wars each overpainting the other’s work until King Robbo died from injuries sustained during a fall. Banksy reinstated King Robbo’s original masterwork as a memorial.

Approaching the end of our “walk” we arrive at Old Street Roundabout now known as Silicon Roundabout. The area had 15 tech companies in 2008 – there are now 32,000 and what has come to be called The Flat White Economy contributes significantly to our economy.

… Lindi Reynolds

7 July, 2020 – Undressing Antiques, by Mark Hill

Mark is an antiques expert, TV presenter, author and literary publisher. After graduating from the University of Reading Mark pursued a career in the antiques industry. Beginning as a porter and then a specialist at Bonhams and then Mark moved to Sotherby’s. He became a specialist in 18th, 19th and 20th-century objects before becoming the Director of an Antiques website. Mark also became a publisher to produce books on antiques, art, and history, focusing mainly on glassware and ceramics. He has been a specialist in the miscellaneous and collectables teams on the BBC Antiques Roadshow since 2007.

An enthusiastic and energetic speaker Mark reassured his listeners that antiques are still relevant today, their value is not just in terms of money but also in the story behind them. The antiques market is for ever moving forward and there are new collectors in each era. 

In the past antiques were displayed in glass cases or “put on pedestals”, today you are more likely to see them arranged in “room settings” mixing items from different centuries which link and contrast through shape or colour and demonstrating how antiques can be used in our daily lives. Many people feel that antiques are beyond their budget but there has never been a better time to buy. He gave the example of a Regency style sofa selling at half the price of a modern, and much less attractive modern piece.  Antiques are green – recycling and upcycling. 

The way in which antiques are sold is also changing – there has been a “rebranding” to the term vintage and many antique shops have now moved to online selling and buying. This gives them a window on the world not just a shopfront on the High Street. If you are worried about authenticity BADA has a code of conduct which sellers must abide by.

The antique/vintage market is ever changing, and Mark gave the example of the bureau which is not practical as a workspace for computers and laptops and so the price has dropped. On the other hand, a Chinese Porcelain vase recently sold for £53mil – following the whole sale destruction of historical pieces the Chinese are “buying back” their history. This price is only relevant in the context of China whereas a $1mil diamond ring can be taken anywhere and will have the same value. There are always winners and losers in an ever-changing market – the value of a vase increased by 300% while a porcelain figurine has dropped by 50%, Star Wars memorabilia is up and cowboys down.

Mark’s top tips –

  • Think of and tell your story
  • Buy the best you can
  • Read around and talk
  • Handle everything
  • Use reputable sources
  • Take a tape measure
  • It IS still out thee
  • Don’t let regret hit you
  • Enjoy your journey

… Lindi Reynolds

17 June, 2020 – Beethoven at 250, by Sandy Burnett

Sandy Burnett is one of the UK’s most authoritative broadcasters in the field of classical music. His varied career has seen him as author, bassist, conductor, broadcaster, and presenter, sharing his passion for music. After studying music at St Catharine’s College in Cambridge, Sandy worked as music director for the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and in London’s West End. For more than a decade he was a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3, and his radio series for Irish radio station RTÉ Lyric FM won silver in the Specialist Music category of the PPI Radio Awards. Sandy is the author of the Idler Guide to Classical Music. He also devises and leads cultural lecture holidays across Europe. 

Using slides and excerpts of music Sandy took us on a cradle to grave journey through Beethoven’s life. The following is a very brief summary of the three main periods in Beethoven’s life. He was born in Bonn in 1770, his grandfather was a Kapellmeister and his father a rather second-rate musician who was alcoholic, violent and a harsh teacher. Beethoven was then taught by Gottlob Neefe and became his official assistant age 16. In 1783 Beethoven published his first work in the style of Mozart. 

The First Period – Moving to Vienna in 1792 he worked under the direction of Haydn, who it is said was “proud to have been his teacher”. Beethoven began to make his name in Vienna’s salons and according to Sandy made enemies of other pianists, described by one as an “unlicked bear cub”. Pianos at that time were very delicate instruments and Beethoven’s piano Sonata dedicate to Haydn is a delicate piece but as Sandy points out – has some growls. At this time Beethoven had several very generous patrons and many of his pieces are dedicated to them. 

In 1802 Beethoven realised he was losing his hearing and contemplated suicide, however he decided instead to live for his music. 

The Middle or Heroic Period. Beethoven admired Napoleon and initially dedicate his Symphony no3 to him. However, he felt betrayed when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor and scratching out the dedication on the manuscript renamed it Eroica.

The Late Period. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony. The words sung in the final movement were taken from Ode to Joy a poem written by Friedrich Schiller. 

Beethoven died in 1827 and his funeral was attended by thousands of mourners as can be seen in Franz Stober’s painting.

… Lindi Reynolds

19th May, 2020 – Raphael, by Sian Walters

Well! We did it – we held our first “virtual” lecture on 19th May – after a few teething troubles, about 100 members either logged in or watched the recorded version later in the day. All the trials and tribulations were well worth it. Our lecturer was Sian Walters and the subject was Raphael – it is his 500th Anniversary this year. Sian is an art historian and lectures for the National Gallery, The Arts Society, and many other art societies and colleges. She is well known for her enthusiastic, structured yet informal approach. Her lecture style was much appreciated by members as evidenced by the positive feedback we have received. 

Sian’s lecture traced the development of Raphael’s style of painting and using an excellent selection of slides showed how he was influenced by other artists. Born in Urbino in 1483 Raphael’s father, Giovanni,  gave Raphael his first instruction in painting. Giovanni died in 1494 and at the age of 11 Raphael inherited his father’s workshop. Raphael’s early work shows many similarities with his father’s work – linear figures, black outlines and symmetry.  

From around 1500 Raphael worked as an assistant to Perugino and the influence of this artist is again very clear, both in style and technique. Compare Perugino’s and Raphael’s’ “Espousal of the Virgin”. This closeness of style and using other artists’ work as inspiration was not plagiarism – artists needed others to paint in their style in order to finish commissions. In 1502 he went to Siena at the invitation of Pinturicchio, to help with the cartoons and designs for a fresco series in the Piccolomini Library .

Raphael’s next move was to Florence where Raphael again took inspiration and learned from other artists and continued to develop his own style. His work became less rigidly symmetrical, he used light and shade and began to study the human form, introducing movement in his figures. In this and other aspects he was influenced by and learned from, among others,  Leonardo da Vinci. Comparing the “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” and the “Mona Lisa” Leonardo’s influence is clear, however the former is clearly the work of Raphael. Sian believes that Piero della Francesca was also a big influence leading Raphael to use mathematical proportions. Raphael also took inspiration from Michelangelo; his figures became more muscular and as can be seen in “Entombment of Christ” depict tension and emotion as opposed to the calmness of his early paintings.

In 1508 Raphael was invited to Rome by the new Pope Julius II and immediately commissioned to fresco the Pope’s private apartments “The School of Athens is probably the best known of these. In 1511-12 he painted a portrait of Julius II which influenced the future of Papal portraiture. Before his early death aged 37 Raphael completed a sequence of three rooms, each with paintings on each wall and often the ceilings too.

In this short review it has only been possible to touch on the themes Sian developed in her lecture – to hear more from Sian log in to www.arthistoryinfocus.com/courses where she delivers 20 minute lectures every Monday morning at 9.30 am.

… Lindi Reynolds

4 Feb, 2020 – The Art of The River, by Alexandra Epps

This was a fascinating lecture comparing and contrasting the work of various artists inspired by views and the history of the River Thames. Our lecturer, Alexandra Epps is an Official Guide and Lecturer at Tate Modern and Guildhall City Gallery. She is also a lecturer, History Tutor and a Qualified Guide to the City of London. Her lively lecture was illustrated with a wide selection of slides of the paintings which not only reflected great historical events but also the working and social life of the river.  The lecture was so full of information and insights that this report can merely scratch the surface.

Until fairly recently the Lord Mayor’s Day procession opened with a magnificent regatta – as depicted by Canaletto (c1746) hundreds of boats accompanied the procession filling the river with life and colour. Contrast this with Hockney’s interpretation of ‘The End of The Regatta’ painted in 2012 an iPad drawing that again is full of colour but on first viewing seems to have only one barge bearing The Queen and Prince Philip – closer inspection reveals hundreds of small boats streaming toward Tower Bridge.

‘Funeral Procession of Lord Nelson on the Thames’ 1806 contrasts sharply with Anthony Gross’s ink and water colour depiction of ‘Crowds on London Bridge, Sir Winston Churchill’s Funeral’ (1965). The opening of bridges across the Thames were cause for great celebrations illustrated by William Wyllie’s Opening of Tower Bridge and John Constables Opening of Waterloo Bridge, while the annual boat race brought spectators in their thousands as can be seen in Walter Greaves Hammersmith Bridge on Boat Race Day 1862.

‘The Great Fire Of London’ by Waggoner (c1666) and ‘Pool of London Docklands Air Raid’ by Charles Pears 1940 are painted almost entirely in red. While the cool colours of ‘A Frost Fair on The Thames at Temple Stairs’ by Abraham Hondius (1684) depicts the severity of The Little Ice Age. 

The busy and noisy day to day life of the working river is depicted by many artists in very contrasting styles and ‘isms’ – Fauvism, Pointillism and impressionism to name but a few. While many still depict the familiar curve of The Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral other focus on less familiar areas such as ‘Brymay Wharf’ by Walter Steggles (c1943).  The social and human relationship with the river was not forgotten. What stories lay behind such works as ‘Boulter’s Lock, Sunday Afternoon’  E.J Gregory, ‘The Last Evening ‘ (1873) or ‘On The Thames by James Tissot (1876) and “Found Drowned’ by GF Watts (c1850).

‘Nocturns in Blue and Silver’ by J.A.M Whistler ‘Nightfall Down The Thames’ John Atkinson Grimshaw and the work of many other artists bring a different perspective to the story as do the black and white paintings – ‘Landscape iv, London Paintings’ 2003 by John Virtues. The Thames is a River that continues to inspire artists with most recently an installation by Antony Gormley ‘Another Time’ and the ‘Illuminated River Project’ – Leo Villareal. 

This lecture has received excellent feedback from members.

… Lindi Reynolds

7 Jan, 2020 – Painting Winter: Snow Scenes in Art, by Stella Grace Lyons

This talk explored the variety of interpretations of this season through the works of Bruegel, Caspar David Friedrich, Monet, and Andrew Wyeth.

The lecturer, Stella Grace Lyons is a relatively new lecturer for The Arts Society. She gained her BA in the History of Art with a 1st class in her dissertation from the University of Bristol, and her MA in History of Art at the University of Warwick. She spent a year studying Renaissance Art in Italy at the British Institute of Florence, and three months studying Venetian art in Venice. In addition, she attended drawing classes at the prestigious Charles H Cecil studios in Florence. Stella also works as an artist’s model for the internationally renowned figurative artist, Harry Holland.

Wintry and snowy landscapes are not seen in early European painting since most of the subjects were religious. Stella began her lecture with a slide showing February in the famous cycle of Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry made by the Limbourg brothers 1412 -1416. Close inspection caused many chuckles as it depicts two labourers warming their naked nether regions at the fire. A close inspection of Avercamp’s vibrant painting of Winter Landscape with Skaters (circa 1608) also reveals several amusing details such as fallen skaters and naked buttocks.

It was early in the frigid winter of 1565 that Bruegel created The Hunters in the Snow, regarded as the first true winter landscape painting and illustrating how hard life was for villagers during ‘The Little Ice Age’.

Stella used slides of the work of various artists to trace the development of subject matter and techniques. Reaburn’s ‘The Skating Minister’ (1790) is unusual in both its composition and its setting. Friedrich’s ‘Winter Landscape’ 1811 needs close scrutiny to discern the church, the man and the cross through the gloom of a winter day. In contrast Monet’s ‘The Magpie’ 1868 depicts the light of the sun shining upon freshly fallen snow creating blue shadows. The painting features one of the first examples of Monet’s use of colored shadows, which would later become associated with the Impressionist movement.

… Lindi Reynolds