Programme 2019-2020

Meetings start promptly at 2.30pm and usually last for 1 hour.

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11th September 2019
A decorative Art: History of Wallpapers
Lecturer: Jo Banham

Wallpaper is often regarded as the Cinderella of the Decorative Arts – the most ephemeral and least precious of the decorations produced for the home. Yet, the history of wallpaper is a long and fascinating subject that dates to the 16th century and encompasses a huge range of beautiful patterns created both by anonymous hands and by some of the best-known designers of the 19th and 20th centuries. This lecture explores the history and development of this product from earliest times up to the present day. It includes a discussion of the changing ways in which wallpaper was made and a survey of designs from the first black and white patterns, the creation of elegant flock hangings, the fashion for Chinese hand-painted papers, the introduction of machine-printing, the designs of Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the taste for Modernist and Contemporary designs in the 20th century. It also includes a discussion of the ways that wallpapers were used within grand and more ordinary homes and hopes to justify the claim that they were indeed a truly Decorative Art.

9th October 2019
Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes
Lecturer: Rosamund Bartlett

This lecture tells the remarkable story of the fabled Ballets Russes company which Diaghilev established in Paris in 1909. Building on the achievements of Tchaikovsky and Petipa, Diaghilev and his associates brought about nothing less than a revolution in classical dance, which was dazzling to the eye and would have a lasting impact not only on all the arts. The lecture will discuss how artists of the calibre of Bakst, Goncharova, Picasso and Matisse, worked with composers such as Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, choreographers such as Fokine and Balanchine, and dancers such as Pavlova, Karsavina and Nijinsky to create ballet stagings of genius

13th November 2019
Cezanne: the greatest of all?
Lecturer: Michael Howard

A deliberately provocative title – Paul Cézanne struggled all his life to achieve an art absolute beauty that would act as a revelation – helping himself and those who stand before his paintings to savour the full richness of experience that we can so easily lose sight of in our daily lives. He sought to make all things new, to re-discover the familiar and the original freshness of vision that Adam or Eve might have felt on looking at Paradise for the first time. We might glimpse such moments in our own lives now and then, Cézanne, like Bach in music, makes it solid and durable – a joy for ever.

Original works by Cézanne and other relevant artists will be available for viewing at the lecture

11th December 2019
The Bauhaus
Lecturer: Anthea Streeter

Where did mixer taps and fitted kitchens come from? Angle-poise lamps and strip lighting? The answer is The Bauhaus. This is the story of Germany’s most famous design school, bitterly attacked in its day during 1920s, but one which has had a profound effect on modern buildings and their interiors ever since.

The Bauhaus (translated literally as ‘Building House’) was founded in 1919.It was closed in 1933 on the orders of the Nationalist government. Its teaching promoted Modernism, and, despite its short life, the school became one of the most influential sources of modern design. Leading modern painters from across Europe were attracted to teach at the Bauhaus, and with practical instruction from local craftsman too, the students received a thorough grounding in form and colour theory as well as the use of materials. The result of this in-depth teaching was the development of such iconic designs as tubular steel furniture, strip lighting and fitted kitchens, which we now take for granted yet which at the time, in the 1920s, were at the cutting-edge of design. In the years following the school’s forced closure, many of the teachers and students involved either fled abroad or were exiled. The result is that the Bauhaus has had a worldwide impact on art, architecture and design trends ever since

8th January 2020
Frost Fairs on the Frozen Thames
Lecturer: Nicholas Reed

There were four major Frost Fairs held on the Thames between 1621 and 1814. They were depicted by distinguished foreign and British artists, sketched in prints and drawings, and described in detail. They are also depicted in a modern mural and described in a modern novel. A wide variety of remarkable, enjoyable or scandalous activities went on at the Fairs. Various winter sports were arranged, after which one could eat or drink at coffee-houses or taverns set up on the ice. Bonfires were lit on the Thames to roast meat; souvenir leaflets were printed, and a rich variety of Christmas food was on offer. Now that Somerset Households skating events in the quadrangle every Christmas, a look at previous Frost Fairs gives us an interesting glimpse of one of the most dramatic events witnessed by our ancestors.

12 February 2020
The Dowager Empress Cixi (1835 1908)
Lecturer: David Rosier

This lecture seeks to provide a balanced insight into the life and achievements of one of the most important women in Chinese Imperial history.

From relative obscurity as a low-ranking consort we explore the events that led to her confirmation as Dowager Empress Cixi in 1861 and her strategy to preserve, then revitalise, imperial rule after a series of humiliating military defeats by Western Colonial Powers plus several brutal ethnic uprisings. We will trace the distinct cycles of Cixi’s power, as Emperors came and went, whilst the Dowager Empress moved periodically from a position of influence to full authority and then into times of enforced retirement. Looking beyond Cixi’s desire to force China into the modern world we will gain an insight into her life within her beloved Summer Palace with a focus on her passion for painting, embroidery, fashion design and the extensive gardens. A location where Cixi forged some extraordinarily close relationships with leading western women.

11th March 2020
How New York stole the idea of Modern Art
Lecturer: Barry Venning

Clement Greenberg, the noted American art critic, observed that when Hitler occupied Paris in 1940, the art world’s centre of gravity shifted to the USA, and to New York in particular. This lecture looks at the way in which America came increasingly to dominate the making, marketing and selling of art between 1940 and the early 1980s. These developments are set against the social and political changes of the period, including the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the growth of the consumer society. The work under consideration ranges from the realism of artists such as George Tooker, through the abstract work of Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Jasper Johns (the only artist ever to appear on The Simpsons), Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close and Jeff Koons, as well as a host of lesser-known but impressive figures. It looks at the international power exerted by art dealers such as Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Parsons, Leo Castelli and Harry Gagosian (once described by Time magazine as the most powerful man in the global art market).

The Planned lectures below have been postponed to the start of nest year’s programme due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

  • Packing up the Nation: storing art before the Nazi invasion
    Lecturer: Caroline Shenton


This is the gripping and sometimes hilarious story of how a band of heroic curators and eccentric custodians saved Britain’s national heritage during our Darkest Hour. As Hitler’s forces gathered on the other side of the Channel to threaten these islands, men and women from London’s national museums, galleries and archives forged extraordinary plans to evacuate their collections to safety. Utilising country houses from Buckinghamshire to Cumbria, tube tunnels, Welsh mines and Wiltshire quarries, a dedicated team of unlikely heroes packed up their greatest treasures in a race against time during the sweltering summer of 1939, dispatching them throughout the country on a series of secret wartime adventures, retold in this talk.

  • Antony Gormley : a body of work

         Lecturer Rosalind Whyte


Antony Gormley’s career spans nearly 40 years, during which time he has made sculpture that explores the relationship of the human body to space, often using his own body as his starting point. His work has been shown throughout the world, in galleries including the Tate in London and the Hermitage in St Petersburg, but is also often on open display, as public art, such as Another Place at Crosby Beach, near Liverpool. As well as works that he is well known for, like the iconic Angel of the North, this lecture will look at some of his earlier and less well-known works, to give an overall view of the development of his work across his whole career, up to the present time.