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Zoom Art History Lectures

Spring 2023 lecture series

9th January      Introduction and art quiz

This session will give us a chance to ensure all will run smoothly for the lectures. It is also an enjoyable introduction to some of the themes we will meet this spring term.

The quiz is just for fun! All you need are the old-fashioned tools of a pencil and sheet of paper to jot down answers.

16th January      'A Topsy Turvy World': Bruegel's Proverbs

Netherlandish art is full of moralising idioms, proverbs, and morals. Perhaps it is a Northern European trait? My Lancastrian grandmother had one for every misdemeanour: "Layo'ers for meddlers", any-one?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's fascinating painting illustrates approximately 126 proverbs and idioms; many of which have survived to this day, for example: 'armed to the teeth', 'to lead someone by the nose', 'to put a spoke through the wheel'. Others are fun to guess: 'horse droppings are not figs', 'to have tooth-ache behind the ears'.

Join me to discover 'there is more to it than an empty herring' in Bruegel's topsy turvy world.

23rd January      A History of Oil Paints

When we walk around a major art museum: perhaps the National Gallery, Uffizi or Louvre, most of the paintings we see are oil on canvas. It seems as if oils have been the preferred medium throughout the history of Western art.

However, oil paint dates back only to the early 15th century. Prior to that, egg tempera was the medium of choice.

The writer and artist Georgio Vasari claimed oil paint was invented by Jan van Eyck. This isn't true but it was in the Netherlands its use began.

What could oil offer artists, and their clients, that made it the dominant medium through to the 20th century? From Jan van Eyck to Lucien Freud, we will discover the history of this important paint.

30th January      Take one painting: 'The Ambassadors' by Hans Holbein

Today we will be spending time in the company of a favourite painting from the National Gallery.

'The Ambassadors' is popular for good reason: the life size figures make for a powerful double portrait. Yet the subject matter is enigmatic - not least the curious collection of objects on the table between the men and the mysterious shape in the foreground.

Our approach is called 'slow art' but we'll zip along at the usual jolly speed, discovering Holbein's techniques and exploring related images, to help examine the work in detail.

I will be making good use of my strategy for looking at art to demonstrate how you can enjoy Art to the full.

6th February      Being Human: The Figure in Art

The human figure has been central to art for thousands of years: from cave paintings of hunting scenes, to the statues of deities and heroes, to the telling of stories and to portraits.

At academies and art schools, life drawing and anatomy studies were considered central to the curriculum. However, the 'life room' has been abandoned since the second half of the 20th century.

The importance placed on the body, and the manner in which it is depicted, tells us about a society's attitudes towards the human condition. They tell us also about a society's ideals of physical beauty.

We are all adults here but, a warning: this lecture does contain some nudity!

13th February      A History of Watercolour

Watercolour, gouache and tempera all belong to the same family of media. But watercolour, as a technique in its own right, has a relatively short history. It gained popularity in the 18th century as the Brits began to appreciate our beautiful landscapes. What better way to capture a scenic view?

However, although portable and quick to use, watercolour is a notoriously difficult medium to conquer. Amongst the greats are Paul Sandby, John Sell Cotman and JMW Turner. These pioneers invented techniques still used today: line and wash, classic watercolour, loose technique and blocked technique.

We will discover the history of this delicate, transparent, paint.

20th February      The Start of a Love Affair - with our British Landscape

British Grand Tourists first fell in love with landscape when crossing the Alps into Italy. Once in Rome, they purchased Claude's picturesque vistas of the Roman campagna. These paintings served as inspiration for a new style of garden design: the Landscape Garden.

When the Napoleonic wars put a stop to foreign travel, eyes were opened to the beauties of the Peak District, Snowdonia, and the Wye Valley. Both the wildest countryside and the most humble rural scenes, once considered unworthy of an artist's attention, became subjects in their own right. Landscape painting became a British passion.

We will explore the beautiful paintings of Richard Wilson, JMW Turner and John Constable.

27th February       Take one painting: 'Bathers at La Grenouillère' by Claude Monet

Today we will be spending time in the company of another favourite painting from the National Gallery.

Monet's view of La Grenouillère depicts weekend trippers relaxing at a popular bathing and boating spot on the Seine. The scene is full of sun-dappled colours and dancing light. To capture this new lifestyle, Monet explores radical ways of painting in oils: working en plein air and alla prima.

Our approach is called 'slow art' but we'll zip along at the usual jolly speed, discovering Monet's techniques and exploring related images, to help examine the work in detail.

I will be making good use of my strategy for looking at art to demonstrate how you can enjoy Art to the full.

6th March      The Female Gaze: Women Impressionists

When the Impressionists exhibited their work as a group for the first time, critics complained their paintings were 'feminine'. There were no heroic historical events or stately portraits, but domestic interiors, trips to the beach, picnics in the park, visits to the theatre: slices of everyday life.

No wonder women artists were attracted to the movement!

And there were aspiring women painters in Paris at the time, travelling from across Europe and North America to take advantage of the new teaching ateliers.

Join me to explore the stories of Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Marie Bracquemond, and friends.

13th March      Standing on the Promontory of the Centuries! Futurism

Futurism exploded onto the scene on 5th February, 1909 with a strident manifesto composed by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

It was an art manifesto like no other. No style or technique was suggested: it was a call to arms. 'Sing the love of danger!', 'Glorify war!', 'Hymn the man at the wheel!', 'Destroy the museums!'.

Giocammo Balla, Umbert Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and Gino Severini were amongst the artists who translated the violent energy into paint.

We will discover the youthful excitement of Futurism, its international impact, and its reappraisal after the sobering realities of the Great War. Are we 'back to the future' now? I hope not!