What Really Happened at the Yellow House in Arles in 1888 a lecture by Julian Halsby

What Really Happened at the Yellow House in Arles in 1888 – a lecture by Julian Halsby


Julian opened his lecture by comparing the very short time scale covered by  his talk  to the usual lectures which will cover decades – if not centuries!

He told us that there are many theories about what happened in Arles in 1888 between Gaugin and Van Gogh, but that the theory he will be putting forward may be quite controversial.

Julian told us how different in character the two artists were; Gaugin very confident

contrasted to Van Gogh who had a very insecure childhood shown below in Hatrick’s portrait of Van Gogh in 1887.

Gaugin’s grandmother was an early feminist and when he was a young boy Gaugin’s parents took him with them to live in Peru. They returned to Paris when he was 7. As a young man he joined the navy and saw much of the world before returning to take up work as a stockbroker. He was happily married to a Danish lady and started to collect impressionist paintings before deciding to paint himself. In the recession of 1881 he lost his job and decided to paint full time. This did not earn him enough to support a family and his wife decided to go back to Denmark with the children.

Gaugin joined an artist community at the Pension Gloanec in Pont Aven in Brittany where he became the centre of the commune.

One of his paintings from that period is ‘Breton Girls Dancing’ which he painted in 1888

By the time Gaugin goes to Arles he is well known. His paintings were full of Symbolism like the paintings of Klimt – painting from dreams, painting from imagination,which is shown in his painting ‘Vision After the Sermon’ (1888) where we see again the Breton ladies but in a fantasy setting

Meanwhile Van Gogh had been sacked from the family business for being too argumentative . They sent him to England to work as an art dealer but whilst he was there he took up art teaching. He had no idea what he was to do in the future and his brother Theo invited him to Paris where he met Toulouse Lautrec . He stayed in Paris for 18 months and as a result of seeing the work of the impressionists his work changed and became lighter and gentler.

Nobody really knows why Van Gogh went to Arles but at the beginning it was the happiest time for him but not necessarily the time when he did the best painting.  To begin with he stayed at the Hotel Carrel where he did many paintings.

Van Gogh was a very fast painter- often completing a painting in a day, paintings full of light and happiness as in ‘The Bridge at Langlois”

Then he discovers the Yellow House and makes this drawing

It was an uncomfortable house with no bathroom but it was the first house he had owned.

and his painting of his bedroom is one of his most famous

He invites Gaugin to join him and he arrived on October 23rd. 1888.

To begin with things went well but Gaugin tried to change the way Van Gogh painted. Julian showed us two paintings of the same scene one by Van Gogh and one by Gaugin to illustrate the difference in styles of the two artists.

VanGogh painting what he sees

whilst Gaugin painted what he wanted to be there

Van Gogh then begins to be influenced by Gaugin

About two months after his arrival Gaugin writes to Theo (Van Gogh’s brother ) that although he respects van Gogh’s intelligence he can no longer stay with him as for three days they had argued and argued. Gaugin books into a hotel . Van Gogh cuts off his own ear and sends it to a girl . Gaugin thinks that this action must have killed Van Gogh but he had gone to hospital and they had patched him up. At this point Van Gogh paints a self portrait with the bandaged ear.

The question asked is why did he cut off his ear““? Was it a cry for help? Theo is sent for and Gaugin goes back to Brittany feeling very guilty as is shown in his self portrait where he portrays himself as a devil

Van Gogh is moved to an asylum and though he said that Gaugin had no influence on him , the influence can certainly be seen in ‘Starry Night’ – more torrid and more introspective. 

In 1890 Van Gogh moves back up north, which is a real disaster and the loneliness he felt can be seen in ‘Wheat Fields’

Julian raised the question about Van Gogh’s ‘suicide ‘ Was it an accident? Where did he get a gun from? Why did he get a gun?. Most suicides shoot themselves in the head, but Van Gogh’s was in his stomach and the small bullet hole suggests that the shot was from a distance. Was it an accident?

Theo died three years later and the brothers are both buried outside a graveyard..

When he left the yellow House he said  ‘the end of a dream had come’

So the intriguing and informative lecture ended with Julian leaving  us to consider ‘What Really happened at the Yellow House in Arles ?’

Breaking Glass – Britain’s Post War Big Four – a lecture by Mark Hill

Breaking Glass – Britain’s Post War Big Four – a lecture by Mark Hill

Mark began his very interesting and informative lecture by setting the scene for us. He explained that he would be focussing on the 60s and 70s when glass was bought to be used, when there was greater prosperity and the beginnings of commercialism.

Stourbridge was the backbone of the industry at the end of the 19th century . The rules were very conservative and by the beginning of the 20th century they had still not changed -i.e.colourless cut glass.! This continued until the 1950s, although Stuart of Walsh and Walsh had introduced slight modernisation with the work of Farquarson ?????

Then suddenly Scandinavia appeared on the scene and style and design changed dramatically

In the 50s we see glass with cool coloured curves – no straight lines

In the 60s texture is introduced  and in the 60s and 70s the focus is on colour.

Examples of Scandinavian artists are shown below.

1964 ‘Finlandia’ by Timo Sarpaneva – showing the texture

1952 Holmegard ‘Duckling’ demonstrating cool curves

and the vibrant colour of  ‘Emma’ vase by Helena Tyrell in 1968

The key personalities at this period were Frank Thrower at Dartington Glass, Domhnall O’Broin at Cathness Glass, Geoffrey Baxter at Whitefriars and Ronald Stenett-Wilson at Kings Lynn. What untied these four was an altruistic streak and they were not controlled by the Stourbridge regulations- they were thinking beyond it.

Whitefriars was founded in 1680 and they became known in the 60s for delivering fast and effective glass.

Their ‘Drunken Bricklayer was part of their textured range

another of their work was Double Diamond

Much of their work was with cool colours like the fjords.


Mark showed us three examples of their work which he graded as good, better and best.

Good was Blown Soda

better was ‘Bark’ showing how effective the texturing was


and best was ‘Banjo’


Domhnall visited Scandinavia and his design became linear- neat and controlled though the key to it was colour focused on the Scottish landscape 0f the lochs, heather and peat.

For the ‘better’ example of Domhnall’s work Mark chose the 1961 Ring Vase which was very difficult to make so there are not many about


Kings Lynn Glass was set up in 1967 and sold to Wedgewood in 1969 !

A good example of his work are the Sheringham candle holders from 1967 where each part was made separately

Though he had a strong leaning to Scandinavia he gave his work U.K. names.

For the ‘good’ piece Mark chose the 1967  ‘Top Hat’ vase with its vibrant colour.

  • ‘better was the ‘Brancaster vase’ with its delicate hollow stem

and the ‘best’ was the deceptively complex Ariel Studio vase


Dartington Glass was founded in 1967 and Frank Thrower created many interesting designs – including the ‘Face ‘vase from 1967-71

and the ‘Polo Neck ‘ from 1968-70

He produced over 700 designs and had ‘Rock Star ‘ success. In 1982 Wedgewood bought into Dartington Glass.

Mark chose his good example of Thrower’s work as the FT1 Tankard


better was the FT4 decanter


and best the FT58 – Greek Key vase


Christmas at Covent Garden : 300 Year of Christmas Shows

Christmas at Covent Garden: 300 Years of Christmas Shows-  a lecture by Sarah Lenton

Sarah clearly had an extensive knowledge of her subject and she delivered the lecture with great humour.

She began by showing us the construction of the huge Christmas tree at Covent Garden and showing how the audiences are deceived as there is no middle or back to the construction. Sarah went on to tell us that the corridors at the Opera House  are always full of ‘stuff’ but much  more so at Christmas. There is a real atmosphere of family on stage and the cast feel very bonded to the show they put on. They all work extremely hard especially with the costume changes.

The first theatre on the site was very tiny and very well lit with candles and oil lamps, which were always on. In those days if the audience was displeased they would riot and go onto the stage and rip out any scenery, so as a result spikes were placed in front of the stage as these would slow them down !

John Rich – who was the director and theatre manager from 1732-1761 – geared his theatre to success and didn’t want to play to empty benches so he decided to do Christmas Shows and Harlequinades.

He defined an English harlequin – for example he stylised the patches of the Italian harlequin into the triangles that we see today. . The English harlequin had a stick with which he would bang scenery to indicate that it needed moving – and this was the beginning of the term ‘slapstick.’ The Christmas period was extended from Advent to February and this was when he made the money.John Rich spent £2000 a year on the Christmas shows but then they financed the rest of the year.

Handel was a good friend of John Rich and so he allowed him to put on shows in Lent.

During this time the backdrops were rolled up by stagehands and they used sailors as they were particularly skilled at rolling up canvas.

The theatre was burned down in 1808  and they built a second theatre

but this one sadly did not last long. . As it was much bigger than the first theatre the gestures had to get bigger and action more violent .The new theatre manager – John Kemble was the complete opposite of John Rich and hated the Christmas shows but was obliged to put them on because of the money they made. . Harlequin had been in existence for 60 years so there was a need for another character and so they created the clown. who was acted by Grimaldi.

However he thinking was that there was no place for a clown in Opera so they created the Dame.

By the Victorian era the middle classes were the audiences so they behaved in a much gentler way.

In the 1830s the Christmas shows had to have a fairy as Caraboss in Sleeping Beauty.

In the 1850s a third theatre was built

and during this time they made the performances gentler by creating a heart and emotion for the heroine.

Sarah ended this fascinating lecture by telling us that all their Christmas Shows have a happy ending. And we did.


And So To Vauxhall – Music and Culture at the Celebrated Gardens

And So To Vauxhall – Music and Culture at the Celebrated Gardens

a lecture by Peter Medhurst

This fascinating lecture was further enhanced by Peter’s piano playing and singing and though he apologised for a croaky voice, we heard no evidence of it and found the whole presentation totally delightful.

Many of us knew little about the story of the Vauxhall Gardens. Peter began by explaining that during the early 17th century there were over 600 pleasure gardens in London and they were known as the nursery of English song.

Peter showed us on John Roque’s map of London from 1745 the position of the Vauxhall Gardens bordering the Thames in the South East.

John Tyers purchased the gardens in 1732 and spent four years transforming them. He nearly failed in the first year  as he organised a Redotto al Fresca at which he displayed 5 large paintings illustrating the evil consequences  of self indulgence and drink. This clearly did not go down well with the visitors!

Entry was through a small turnstile which can be seen in the painting above. It cost 1/-, and was fixed for 60 years. Leopold Mozart commented that the entry cost was not high but once inside you would spend much more money on food and activities.

In 1751 Canaletto was in London and painted the Grand Walk in Vauxhall gardens, though it is not an accurate representation, it shows the grand tree lined walks.

After 3 years Tyers realised that music would play an important role in the gardens. Handel said that he would play an organ concerto and organs became very popular so Tyler built and organ house which can be seen in the painting below, behind the open  areas  where  the orchestras  played.  This  area for  the orchestras  was  very small.

There was a dome structure as you entered – for when  it rained.

There were two equally popular gardens – Ranelagh Gardens  in Chelsea and the one in Vauxhall. The Vauxhall gardens became more popular for evening activities and would open about 5pm and remain open until the last guest left in the early hours of the following morning. The season for the gardens ran from April until September.

In 1751 supper boxes were built but the food was variable and expensive. This painting by Rowlinson in 1854 shows how the seating in the boxes was arranged so all the diners could look out from the boxes. 

Another of the attractions were the Classical Ruins where everything was an illusion designed to titilate and please as shown in the painting by Rooker after Canaletto – the ‘ruins’ were painted canvas stretched over frames.

In 1737 a statue of Handel by Roubiliac was erected by the supper tables and Tyers used this as a great advertisement. It was a very interesting statue as it showed Handel in a very informal pose and was the first stature to be created of a famous person still living.

Tyers began to display paintings which he had purchased specifically for the Vauxhall Gardens.

In 1749 Handel’s Royal Firework music was to be performed in Green Park but it was rehearsed in Vauxhall Gardens and in return Tyers loaned his lamps. There were 12,000 visitors to this event.

Though the entrance fee went up to 2/6  this did not deter the people and the queues to enter were incredibly long.

The Prince of Wales became a patron of the gardens and the prince of Wales Pavilion was built.

From 1745 singers were constantly employed at the gardens and all performing musicians were always British.

After his death his family continued to develop it adding fireworks and fire balloons to the festivities.However  by 1840 the owners were bankrupt and the gardens closed. The moving of Crystal Palace in 1854 was the final nail in the coffin for Vauxhall gardens and in 1859 there were several farewell events.

We had been taken on a fascinating visit by Peter giving us an insight into the entertainment of the period.



Dame Zaha Hadid

Dame Zaha Hadid. A lecture by Anthea Streeter

Anthea began her fascinating and informative  lecture saying that Zaha Hadid died suddenly in 2016 when she was at her peak – having 36 ongoing projects in 21 countries ! An incredible success story. She had been awarded a gold medal from the RIBA – awarded to people who have made a major influence on architecture. One of the distinguishing features of her designs was her  use of diagonals rather than the conventional right angles and this made architecture more exciting.

She was born in Baghdad to a wealthy family. At school she excelled at Maths and her family sent her to a boarding school in England. From there she studied maths at the American University of Beirut and then in 1972 she went to the Architectural Association School of Architecture, where she studied under Rem Koolhaus who found her an inspirational student. Her 4th. year project was a painting of a hotel in the form of a bridge,  inspired by the Russian suprematist artist, Kazimir Malevich. During the 1920s Malevich had made some white structures which he called Architecton which was a source of inspiration to Zaha.

Zaha came top of all the students passing out from the School of Architecture in 1977 with this painting. The  hotel was designed to be on Hungerford Bridge and the links with Malevich’s Architecton are clear.


She was given a lectureship at the School of Architecture and in 1982 she achieved her first milestone by winning her first competition with a design for the Hong Kong Leisure Club on The Peak in Hong Kong (although it was never built)

The use of diagonals in this design are clear to see.

In the early 1980s Zaha set up her own practice and in 1990 she received her first commission – to build a Fire Station for the Vitra Furniture Company in Weil am Rhein in Germany.

It was one of her first designs to be built but when it was completed in 1993 there was no longer a need for a Fire Station so a concrete wall was added where the Fire Engines would have been .

In 1994 Zaha designed the Opera House in Cardiff, but it was never built as the government decided not to put forward the money.

In 1997 Zaha won a competition to design a Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati.

For this design Zaha won the Pritzer prize for Architecture.

In 1998 Zaha won a competition to design a Contemporary Art Museum in Rome which became known as the Maxxi.

Where the interior is as breathtaking as the exterior. The theme throughout is one of a sense of movement and flow.


Zaha’s design for a new ski jump at Innsbruck was rather controversial as it stood out in strong contrast to the surrounding mountains. It was designed not only as a ski jump but also a cafe with a 360 degree view of the mountains. The design gives a sense of movement and speed.

In 2000 Zaha designed another building in Germany – the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg. Zaha wanted the space underneath to be full of activity and each of the cone shaped pillars that support the building contains a shop, a cafe or an entrance.

Then in 2003 -2010 her design for the Gangzhou opera House was built. Throughout  the whole design there were no right angles.It was comprised of two buildings – one contained the theatre whilst the other housed the restaurants and shops.

and again the interior was as spectacular as the exterior.

Zaha was commissioned again by Innsbruck to build 4 stations on the Nordpark Cable Railway – 2004-2007 The design  shows how Zaha’s buildings often had just minimal contact with the ground.

In 2001 Zaha designed the Maggie Centre at the Victoria Hospital in Fife. The hospital was for cancer sufferers and Zaha was keen to ensure that her design instilled calm and peace.

Another design by Zaha in Scotland was the Riverside Muse in Glasgow – with its non-uniform peaks and troughs.

In 2006 Zaha was commisioned to design the Aquatics centre for the London Olympics. 

The building looked like a wave but extra seating had to be added for the Olympics but these were removed once the Olympics had finished.

In 2008 Zaha deigned a building for the University of Economics and Business in Vienna, with  walls  sloping  at  35  degrees

The wonderful interior was beautifully lit and the acoustics were very clever which meant that inside the building it was incredibly quiet.

Probably Zaha’s most famous famous building was the Heydar Allayer Centre in Baku in Azerbaijan – designed in 2007. It was called her Queen of Curves. The people of Azerbaijan  were so proud of it and kept it beautifully.

Part of the design incorporated wedges of landscaping . There was also a very unusual staircase with slithers of light, probably inspired by the work of Malevich.

Another amazing interior was designed by Zaha for the Hotel Puerta in Madrid. Anthea concluded her lecture showing us images of the Zaha Hadid Gallery in London

and her apartment in Miami.

Anthea’s lecture gave us a very comprehensible insight into the work of an amazing architect. The lecture was made the more instructive by Anthea shoving us pictures of the buildings from many angles.

Zaha Hadid, as Anthea concluded, died suddenly at the peak of her career and was a great loss to architecture around the world. I am sure many of us will look further into Zaha Hadid’s work and if possible visit some of the buildings

Leonardo’s Women

Leonardo’s Women – A Lecture by Shirley Smith

Shirley began her fascinating lecture by reminding us that this year is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.

Self Portrait

He was born on April 15th 1452 in Vinci. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Florence, where the power was in the hands of Medici – a big supporter and promoter of Art. By the time he was 14 he was working in the workshop of Andrea de Verachio. At this time he lived in a house with several other young men and this led to suggestions that he was homosexual, though most of his portraits were of women.

Shirley then began to introduce us to Leonardo’s women.One of his earliest portraits was his portrait of Ginevre da Banci.

This painting shows how Leonardo was always wanting to create new approaches and in this portrait he has turned her to face the viewer, whereas up to now portraits were always in profile. On the back of this portrait he wrote ‘ She adorned her virtue with beauty.’ Another new approach was to use oil, rather than tempura, which dries slowly and therefore allows the artist to build up layer upon layer .

Leonardo made the surprising decision to move to Milan which was not a city renowned for its art. Ludovico Sforza who was Duke of Milan at the time was a warlord and Leonardo’s letter to Sforza contained drawings of military vehicles, which clearly would have pleased him.

In 1489 Leonardo painted one of his most famous portraits – ‘Lady with Ermine’.

The lady was Cecelia Gallerani – the mistress of Sforza. Her hairstyle with the knot was very Milanese in style. It is also interesting to see the position he painted her in – with her head facing one way and her body facing the other. This gives a sense of vitality to the portrait. Though at this time Leonardo was still not painting the portraits with the ladies facing forward. It was an interesting choice to paint the lady with an ermine as they were renowned for their cleanliness. The fact that he painted the hands of the ladies was also quite a new idea.. On her face there is just a hint of a smile.

‘La Belle Perroniere ‘ (1490) was another portrait in which the subjects head faced one way whilst the body faced another..

Though Leonardo is now painting the lady looking more forward towards the viewer, but he kept her virtue by painting a ledge in front of her. With this portrait Leonardo had produced the most startling painting of a woman.

In 1499 after Leonardo had been in Milan for 18 years it was seized by Louis X11 of France and Ludoviquo was captured. Leonardo went back to Florence, and in 1503 he painted his most famous portrait ‘The Mona Lisa’ .

She is simply dressed and her hair is not braided. Vassari said of the smile that Leonardo had employed jesters to keep her amused. As with all his paintings it was painted on wood not canvas. Another innovation in this portrait was that Leonardo no longer used a dark background but painted a landscape.

His painting in 1480 ‘Madonna of the Carnation’ shows the brilliant way Leonardo has used oil to give texture to the clothing. The landscape also shows perspective disappearing.

In the Vigin and Child, the Madonna points to John and has her arm on him whilst Jesus is blessing him.

In the preliminary sketches there is a real glow to Her face and the palm of Her hand is in shadow. He has produced a really revolutionary painting with no wings, no halos and no thrones.. There is an infusion of human form and nature. The painting in the Louvre is the original whilst the one in the National Gallery is quite different. It is thought that the latter has been painted by his students.

The painting of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne in 1507 shows an extension of mother/child relations as it also has Mary’s mother Ann.

Again, in this painting the upper body of St. Anne is facing one way whilst the lower body faces a different way. The Virgin’s sad expression seems to show that she knows what will happen.

Leonardo only painted 4 portraits of women but they were all hugely influential. His greatest – The Mona Lisa has been copied many times and raised the question of the role of beauty.

Historic Gardens of the Italian Lakes

Historic Gardens of the Italian Lakes – lecture by Steven Desmond.

This very witty and entertaining lecture was just what we all needed in grey January.

N.B. Please note that the pictures used in this review are not the ones used by Steven in his lecture as they were from his private collection. I have found similar pictures to illustrate what he was talking to us about. 

Steven set the scene with a beautiful image of Lake Como in the early morning and explained that the climates in the two lakes he was going to talk about were not always as visitors expected. In the winter it was dry.cold and sunny; whilst the summer months could be very wet. He showed us how the light on the lake is often theatrical and mysterious as it is surrounded by mountains and therefore there is very little sun –  particularly so in the early morning.

We were then taken on a beautiful tour of the villas and gardens of Lakes Como and Magiore.

Belagio on Lake Como is home to Villa Melzi built in the early 1800s for Francesco Melzi who was Vice President of `Italy.  The villa was completed on 1810 and the gardens were created in terraces a few years later at the side of the house. They were in the English style and with an English statue even though at the time they were at war with England .


We then travelled to Villa del Bambinello which was built in the late 16th century. This magnificent villa is known for its picturesque gardens featuring flowers and trees which are the colours of the Italian flag: green, white and red, and it is only reached by boat.



Then on to the Villa D’Este which was built in 1580 and its gardens have been described as ‘appearing to hang in the air.’ From the gardens this path leads directly up to the villa.



The next villa – Villa Cicognaga the garden and the villa were built simultaneously to have continuity between outside and inside,

The garden has a  with a famously long double staircase (156 steps) lined with cypresses and rising to a grotto.

It also has a large rectangular sunken garden.


It is designed with a living garden (seen here on the right ) and a dead side (on the left) 


and the retaining wall is made from stalactites.


Steven then took us to Lake Maggiore and to the 17th Century Palazzo Borromeo surrounded by its magnificent terraced gardens. 


As you enter these gardens the baroque style in intended to knock you off your feet with the power it represents. There are statues representing the four seasons.


Our beautiful  journey ended at Villa San Remigio

The Villa owes its existence to two lovers determined to create their “dream garden”: the Marquis Silvio della Valle di Casanova, a Neapolitan poet and musician, and his wife, the Irish painter Sophia Browne. They were determined to renovate a ruined villa owned by Sophia’s grandfather.

Flights of steps, avenues and narrow passages,  lead to the garden of the Hours, recalling memories of happy times past, the garden of Joy, full of bright colours, the garden of Sadness, with no flowers and no water, the garden of Memories, symbolising nostalgia for the past, and the garden of Sighs, where the spirit merges with the surroundings. The garden of Scent has a lawn made of thyme and the shrubs are myrtle. The park also has many  fine statues.

The villa became a meeting point of the Arts.

Steven concluded his captivating lecture with a view of the lake at Sunset and for a while the greyness of January had been banished.

Singe Ye Yule -A Musical Portrait of a Medieval Christmas

Singe Ye Yule -A Musical Portrait of a Medieval Christmas –

A lecture by Sarah Deere-Jones.

Sarah began her lecture by giving us the sad information that unfortunately there were no original medieval instruments left therefore all the instruments she had brought with her were reproductions. Throughout her captivating lecture we were enthralled by Sarah playing to us on these medieval reproductions.

She then set the scene   for us – we were in woodland area along a muddy track ; we can hear the sound of chopping wood and ahead we can see a Manor House . It was  beautiful and peaceful time so the people are getting excited on hearing lively music. The peasants would spend much of their time chopping firewood  and caring for animals. They would come in from outside for soup at mid-day and at the end of the day they would just have a chunk of bread and cheese before going to bed. So it is no wonder that the 12 days of Christmas were so special.Everyone gathered evergreens for symbolism and to decorate their homes.Mistletoe had special fertility powers, whilst holly symbolised Christianity with white flowers , red berries and everlasting leaves.

The main part of the festivities was feasting. The main meal was served at 11 because of the need for light. This was essential for peasants and the wealthier you were the later you could eat. There was particular food for each course. Generous lords of the manor would invite one or two of the peasants to join the lords and ladies at the table.

Hunting was a very popular activity in the winter. After a day’s hunting they would return to the Manor for food and entertainment. The entertainment would be mummers and disguisers. The entertainers would often be out of work agricultural workers which is why they would disguise themselves.

One of the musical entertainments would be the Hurdy Gurdy – rather like a mechanical violin. Skating and kurling were also popular activities . At one time the Thames was frozen for 14 weeks. Skates were made from animal bones. Other games included backgammon, quoits, cards and chess.

The music played at these festivities would  include town musicians playing bagpipes very early in the morning whilst heralds would play loud brass instruments!!                                 Whilst the guests were eating, quieter music would be played by minstrels who would then accompany the dancing afterwards. Much of the rustic dancing originated from pagan dancing  i.e. in a circle. Slow dances like the Pavanne were introduced by the wealthy.

The earliest medieval carols started as elements in plays and not in churches.

we were sad as this lecture closed as we could have listened for much longer especially as now we could place the music and the instruments into context. We were most grateful to Sarah for setting the scene for us to begin to celebrate our Christmas.


Spencer Goes to War

Spencer Goes to War – a lecture by Carolyn Leder.

This lecture was well timed as it was just one  day after the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, so our minds were full of images of the war and  how the country was celebrating 100 years since the armistice. We were full of anticipation and expectation and we were not disappointed.

Carolyn began with a short introduction to Spencer’s early  life. He was born in Cookham in 1891 where his father was an organist and a rather bad painter and his mother was rather unconventional. He was educated at home by his sisters so he became quite a solitary individual. Both he and his brother received art lessons from a local artist and Stanley developed a passion for drawing. He then studied at the Slade from 1908-1912 under, amongst others,Henry Tonks.

Spencer was short and spoke rapidly, volubly and non-stop. He also wrote a lot.

In 1914 he painted this self portrait and interestingly he never painted himself in military uniform unlike some of his contemporaries .

Stanley’s attitude to war is remarkably different from other artists. He does not have the bitterness, nor does he glorify it. His aim is not to vilify but to redeem it, to make it whole. It is interesting how very accurate his paintings are, as in this painting of the travoys


In 1914 he was keen to enlist but his mother persuaded him to volunteer for ambulance duties because he was not robust. He was placed in Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol. He had been brought up at home and he found this placement very hard. He was bullied and shouted at. After 13 months at Beaufort he was transferred to overseas duty in Macedonia.

All of his war pictures were suffused with spiritual feeling. He spent a lot of time reading the Bible. Spencer’s writing was at times waspish and at others quite poetic. Interestingly he wrote a lot about the mules used in wartime. Paintings by his contemporaries were much more brutal and harsh as this one by Sargeant entitled ‘Gassed’

and Nevinson’s ‘La Patrie’


and Paul Nash’s ‘Menine Road1919 ‘

Although Spencer never painted himself in uniform other artists of the time did as Erst Kefner’s – ‘Self Portrait’ 

though much of this ‘self portrait’ was fiction as for one thing he didn’t have an arm amputated.

Max Beckman’s painting ‘ The Way Home’ from Hell shows just what Berlin was like after the war. 

Spencer painted this self portrait in 1923

Spencer was commissioned to decorate Burghclere Chapel in 1927 and he wrote of the chapel – ‘they are all portraits of me but not self portraits.’

In the ‘Resurrection of Soldiers’ is at the end of the chapel  Spencer imagined the Resurrection of the Soldiers taking place in Macedonia with soldiers rising out of their graves and handing in identical white crosses to a Christ figure towards the top of the wall. Spencer said that working on the Memorial Chapel has been a six-year process of remembrance and exorcism. “I had buried so many people and saw so many bodies that I felt death could not be the end of everything.”..

Caroline ended this fascinating lecture with the rather strange story of Spencer’s second marriage. In 1937 he divorced his first wife Carline and married Patricia Preece but he never lived with her and she continued to live with her girlfriend Hepworth. Seen below in the wedding photograph – with Spencer in the glasses. 

Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Legacy

Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Legacy

a lecture by Alan Read .

Alan opened his lecture by asking us what image came into our minds when we thought of Burne-Jones – knights in shining armour? ethereal beautiful ladies?or monsters ?  Images that could mesmerise and repel in the same instant. He explained that he wanted to challenge the idea that Burne-Jones was the last of the pre-Raphaelites but more the beginning of the modernists.

A Portrait of Burne-Jones painted by Alphonse -Legros in 1879

Burne-Jones was described as the most intellectual of artists – but neurotic and melancholic. His studios were full of ‘unpainted masterpieces’, sketches and drawings which he would return to in time and work on them as he felt inspired. Some would lay for years before he completed them.

He was born in Birmingham into the ‘Jones’ family. He added the Burne from his aunt in order to give himself status. His mother died when he was only six days old and throughout his life he carried the burden of the hurt that he did at his birth. He read voraciously at school and had some art classes. He planned to go into the church but when he went to Oxford he met William Morris and thus began a lifetime of friendship and support. They both travelled to France and whilst there they decided on their careers – art for Burne-Jones and architecture for Morris. Burne-Jones in fact,  left Oxford without taking a degree.

When he saw ‘The Maids of Elfen Mere’ by Rosetti (1855) he said it was the most beautiful painting he had seen and sought to meet Rosetti.

They all collaborated on these murals (1857-9) in the Oxford Union Debating Hall   based on La Morte d’Artur by Tennyson. Jane Burden was persuaded to sit for them. She later married William Morris, whilst Burne-Jones married Georgiana MacDonald– who became his rock and indulged him throughout his life. The two families were very good friends as shown in this photo from 1874.


Burne-Jones said he could never have lived by his pictures alone and it was his work in stained glass that allowed him to lead a comfortable life.

Burne-Jones’ stained glass window ‘ The Good Shepherd’ in Birmingham Cathedral.  (1884-9)

This drawing of ‘The Knights Farewell ‘ (1858) shows Burne-Jones’ fascination with medieval manuscripts , though it caused him to be unwell as he couldn’t cope with the smell of turps.

The Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi 1861

This watercolour which looks almost like an oil painting met with considerable criticism and it seemed as if it was going back to old beliefs. As a result it was displayed high up in what was known as ‘the naughty boys corner.’

Sir Edward Burne-Jones – Le Chant d’Amour

Burne-Jones first painted this in black and white inside a piano and then returned to work on it much later. 

‘The Prioresses Tale painted by Burne-Jones is at the very heart of his association with medievalism.

and ‘The Lament’ (1865)

which has no real subject but was an excuse for a demonstration of harmony.

  Phyllis and Demophoon again was criticised for several reasons. Firstly because it showed a woman making an advance to a man and also that it showed private parts. Burne-Jones  was asked to cover up them up and Burne-Jones refused and as a result he resigned from the Royal Academy   and had what he described as the best seven years of his life !! The painting had also been criticised because it was ‘too green!’

The opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street  in 1877 was a big event and pictures were given ‘room to breathe’ compared to the space allocated to paintings in the Royal Academy. Burne- Jones had 7 or 8 paintings exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery.

In ‘The Beguiling of Merlin’ which he painted in 1873, Burne-Jones compared it to his own position with his total infatuation with one of his models – Maria Zambaco

There is no story – it is a picture for arts’sake and thus is so different from the work of the pre-Raphaelites

George Howard – 9th earl of Carlisle commissioned a painting ‘The Last Sleep of Arthur ‘ but when, after he had worked on it for many years, the Earl saw how much it meant to Burne-Jones he gave it to him.  Burne-Jones worked on this painting for 17 years and in fact was working on it the day before he died.

Alan concluded this very interesting lecture with a quote from one of Burne-Jones’  critics describing him as ‘a mediocre artist indulging girlish dreams.’ Was he just this ? Burne-Jones said of himself – ‘I want big things to do and large spaces in which to do them and for people to say on seeing them – Oh and only Oh ‘

Alan’s final  question – ‘was he the beginning of surrealism as his work was all about imagination and dreams and the subconscious? certainly gave us food for thought.Was he not the last of the pre-Raphaelites but the first artist of the 20th.century. With all his passion he was surely a modern of the moderns.  Alan had certainly given us plenty of evidence to support this view.