Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Royal Academy of Arts –

a talk by Pamela Campbell-Johnson

Pamela led us on a fascinating and informative walk through the history of the Royal Academy.

The Royal Academy was founded by James lll  in December 1768 by an act of parliament and to this day it remains true to its origin and purpose  i.e. to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate.

Many know it from its Summer Exhibition, but it is much more than that. It is unique and Britain’s oldest gallery and the only one that is privately funded.

Its original home was in Pall Mall and then in 1771 it moved to temporary accommodation in Old Somerset House. In 1780 it was installed in purpose built apartments in the new Somerset House. This painting by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin (1800) shows the Exhibition Room at Somerset House and how important the position of the paintings was – above or below the line  and there were many debates about the density of the hangings.Many of the people attended the exhibition to be seen rather than to view the paintings. The exhibition was very important to artists as this was the way most of them sold their work. Another aim was to show paintings of young ladies about to be introduced to society.

In 1837 it was moved to the National Gallery but after just a few years the space proved to be too small for two institutions so in 1868 it made the move to its current home in Burlington House in Piccadilly.

There were 40 founding artists and over the years the number of Academicians  has increased until in 1991 it was set at 80 and Associated Academicians were abolished. Academicians must be professionals and active in the U.K. Amongst this 80 there must always be 14 sculptors, 12 architects, and 8 printmakers with the remaining places being filled by  painters. They are voted and elected by their peers. Once they reach the age of 75 they move to become ‘Senior Academicians’ who can still display their work but are no longer involved in the day to day running and leave their place to younger artists.

The sculpture of Joshua Reynolds  is in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in honour of his role in establishing the Royal Academy.

The summer exhibition has many traditions including the consuming of beef tea and the parade behind a steel band to the church. For 150 years the only exhibition open to the general public was the summer exhibition

Artists submit their work for the summer exhibition and the hanging committee look at all of them and decide which should be hung and where. Once the sanctioning day has happened nothing more can be changed or moved.

This photograph shows the 1914 Hanging committee

Academicians can show up to 6 of their paintings at the Summer Exhibition and their paintings do not need to be approved by the ‘Hanging Committee’. Artists can submit up to 3 pieces of work. Last year 13000 entered but only 1200 were chosen.

In 1870 a Winter Exhibition was set up celebrating the work of the Old Masters. In 1931 they started to embrace European Art and Cultural Exhibitions. These have included Exhibitions of Chinese Art in 2002, Living Bridges in1996 and one of the most beautiful in 1991 – ‘Icons of Russia’

Some exhibitions attract large numbers. In 1991 the Monet exhibition had more than 807,000 visitors.

In 1997 an exhibition entitled ‘Sensation’  displayed the work of 42 young British Artists – put together by Saatchi. This exhibition showed that the Royal Academy can display cutting edge art as well as the more traditional.

The Royal Academy also held the first 24 hour exhibition as a way of coping with the large numbers of people who wish to visit the galleries. This can not happen all the time as paintings need times ‘to be put to sleep’

In 2015 the steps of the R.A were painted as part of the Summer Exhibition

One of the most prized possessions is Michael Angelo’s Taddei Tondo which was bequeathed to the Academy by Sir George Beaumont. It was carved in Florence in 1504 and is the only marble by Michael Angelo in the U.K. and shows the Virgin Mary and Child with the Infant John the Baptist 

Galleries also borrow and lend between themselves. Temporary loan exchanges may last months or even longer. No money changes hands apart from the costs of installations. The Royal Gallery also lend from their permanent collections as every Academician must leave a painting. For example Constable left his painting ‘Leaping Horse’

Sir Joshua Reynolds set up the first  training for artists at the Royal Academy  which still flourishes today offering three year graduate courses. In 1769 seventy seven  students enrolled and there was an average intake of 75 students a year.  These included Blake, Constable and Turner.

It was 1860 before women came to the school but two women were amongst the 40 founding artists but it was to be another 154 years before a woman became an Associate Royal Academician.

Sir Hugh Casson was a much loved director who bridged the gap in the 1970s between Modern art and the traditionalists.

Pamela concluded by telling us about the current plans for development. They will be building a link bridge to the schools and the Burlington gardens and new galleries. It will be the largest development since the Royal Academy moved to Burlington House.

The Royal Academy is aware that it needs to constantly rethink and remain relevant ‘ a reflection of who we are, where we came from and where we are going to go’

An interesting insight into the Royal Academy.

As Good As Gold

As Good As Gold  – a lecture by Alexandra Epps

This lecture was planned to be part of our celebration of the Golden Anniversary of the Society. Alexandra began by saying how gold shimmers and reflects light and stirs our emotions, how we have a timeless fascination for all things golden and how it appears eternal. She then began to take us on a  very interesting and informative journey through ‘gold’ in art.

Alexandra began with images of Ancient Egypt. Moving onto early Christianity she explained how gold was used to represent the  ‘immaterial’ as opposed to the  material. In Basilica San Vitali one of the masterpieces of the Byzantine we saw how  golden tessare are used and set at an angle to catch and reflect the flicker of candlelight and bring the whole interior alive almost as a glimpse of heaven.

The Arena Chapel by Giotto (1305) shows golden halos and the introduction of blue allows us to enter into the space of the  painting and portrays more feeling and emotion. At this point in history blue is a more expensive pigment than gold and used to represent heaven. This is why we always see mary clothed in blue as the Queen of Heaven,

Looking at theThe Wilton Diptych (c1395)  in the National Gallery which was created as a portable altarpiece for Richard II  is like looking into a jewelled casket. It is a complicated mixture of  the secular and religious symbolism. It shows Jesus giving the banner to King Richard thereby re enforcing the divine right of kings.

The San Pier Maggiore altarpiece  by Jocopo di Cione (1370) and workshop also in the National Gallery is the other end of the scale at originally 5metres in height. The middle tier representing  ‘The Coronation of the Virgin’ showed many of the intricate gilding methods of the time.

Fra Angelica’s ‘Annunciation’ altarpiece shows both interior and exterior with both Gabriel, Mary and the Garden of Eden. This  is when Gothic meets the new language of the Renaissance. The golden burst in the corner shows the hands of God and contains a dove as the representation of the Holy Spirit. A work of great devotional beauty.

The Book of Hours of Louis XII (1498) which would have been a a medieval best seller was an illustration of how finely gold details would have been used in manuscripts.

Madonna of the Magnificat by Botticelli (1481) celebrates the writing of the Magnificat . In this circular painting covered in fine gold we see a golden crown lowered onto Mary’s head, rays of gold coming down from the crown and golden tones on the face. It was probably a commission as there is so much gold.

Also by Botticelli -‘The Birth of Venus we see again the entire canvas covered in fine golden highlights -so much gold – in the hair, in the eyes, in the flowers, the shell  and in every detail. It is a symbol for the  Renaissance itself as the  rebirth.

 Titian’s painting of ‘Danae Receiving the Golden Rain’ (1650) shows darkness all around the cloud but Danae is suffused by gold as she is showered in the golden rain of Zeus

Gold also is shown as greed as in Matsy’s painting of the ‘Moneylender and His Wife’ where the wife is clearly more interested in the gold her husband is counting than the scripture she is reading ! As in many Dutch paintings there are several hidden messages.

This connection between money and power is shown again in Vadim Zhakarov’s contemporary installation  ‘Danae ‘

Klimt’s painting of ‘Danae’ shows again the great power of gold. In the most famous painting of his golden phase Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’  is so very golden. They almost make one shape and within their own halo. The shapes on the male side are hard whilst those on the female side are round and soft.In this painting Alexandra pointed out that Klimt has used at least 8 different types of gold.

In Judith Holofernes Klimt shows women being taken over by ornament. This was Klimt’s first painting in his golden phase and the model   Adele Bloch-Bauer who also appears in his famous painting Adele Bloch Bauer – this was coined the Woman in Gold and is all about the shimmering properties  of  pattern and wealth.

Japanese art was a great influence on the work of Klimt as well as on the artist Whistler and we saw how he created the Peacock Room to the designs he wanted in the home of Frederick Leyland and how he interpreted gold in his own atmospheric landscapes.

The importance of gold representing the  power of royalty is best seen on the coronation portrait of Elizabeth I where everything is totally gold – the dress, the crown, the shoes etc. Again in  ‘Queen Victoria Receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation’ seen wearing the golden Imperial mantle and bathed in a shaft of golden light.

At the end of last century (1982) Roni Horn created ‘Gold Field’ more interested in the the physicality of gold she created a golden mat ‘a volumeless sculpture’ that inspired another artist – Felix Gonzalez Torres to create his own gold field out of 1000s of golden sweets representing ideas of life,love and transience. The audience is invited to take the sweets so they become part of the work.

Alexandra concluded with paintings of the gold of nature – Houses of Parliament ‘ by Monet Autumn Gold by John Atkinson, and finally the huge installation by Olafur Eliasson -‘ The Weather Project’ where he created the sun and sky inside the Turbine Hall at  Tate Modern which made viewers relate back to the awe of the ancients when seeing the sun rise and set.


Christopher Marlowe – Poet and Spy

Christopher Marlowe – Poet and Spy   A talk by Giles Ramsey on March 12th.

This is possibly one of the only remaining portraits of Christopher Marlowe dated 1585 – with the inscription ‘That which nourishes me , destroys me’ which was rather apt considering how Marlowe died.

I think many of us who attended this lecture  were rather unsure about the theme – not sure whether it was something which would inspire us. However it was a most fascinating, intriguing and informative lecture which left many of us buzzing.

Giles began by giving us some of the background to Christopher Marlowe’s life and times and explaining the significance and important role they played in shaping the path he took.

Christopher Marlowe was born in 1564 and lived through the Elizabethan Golden Age until 1593.

On August 23rd 1572 the Catholics turned on the Protestants in what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre. Elizabeth I was now living in great fear and needed eyes and ears everywhere. As a result brother turned on brother. Sir Francis Walsingham (Kings College Cambridge) had seen much of what Catholics could do, as he said  ‘There is less danger in fearing too much  than too little.’ The threat was very real in England because of Mary Queen of Scots. Walsingham became one of Elizabeth’s most trusted allies and to show her appreciation she gifted a painting to him. This was a clever piece of propaganda.

Walsingham  needed agents all over England and the rest of the world. One of these was Robert Poley – described as ‘a very bad fellow’  ‘a notable nave’ Sir Anthony Babington was sending messages to Mary through Poley but Poley was in fact a double agent and was working for Walsingham.

The English Ambassador in Madrid was a drunk and a gambler and he fed information to the Spanish. He was rumbled by Walsingham, but Walsingham left him there and fed him endless wrong information !

Into this world Marlowe was born in Canterbury and went to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge where he began to write poetry.His poetry was breaking all the boundaries including bringing in blank verse. Shakespeare was born in Stratford a few months after Marlowe and both writers showed what  inventive artists they were.

Marlowe placed his plays in exotic places.            Tamburlaine was so successful that he wrote Tambourlaine II.

At this time Marlowe spent so much of his time away and saying how he supported the Catholic Church. In fact he was setting up his cover – ensuring that he was accepted and trusted by the Catholics.

Thomas Walsingham became a patron to Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nash and George Chapman and lived in Seedbury in Kent, and it was there that  Marlowe continued to write.

Two other noted men were working with Walsingham – Ingram Frizer (his business agent ) and Nicholas Skeres ( a government informer) These two were also engaged in ‘coney catching’  – lending money to soft, gullible gentry who had lost money gambling.

At this time Marlowe wrote ‘Doctor Faustus’ and ‘Edward II and His Lamentable Death’  It raised the question – why did Marlowe write about the death of a monarch when the Queen was in danger? Was it asking the question -‘where do your loyalties lie- with state or religion?

His final play ‘Massacre at Paris’ included praise for the Queen who rejected papistry.

The Rose Theatre  simultaneously put on  plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare.

In 1593 a libel goes up suggesting that Protestant Englishmen should drive out Protestant foreigners.

On May 10th. the Lord Mayor offered a reward of 100 crowns for information on who was the author of this libel.  Kyd ( a writer,friend and former roommate of Marlowe) is arrested as the apparent author and tortured and he tells all about Marlowe. Marlowe is apprehended on May 18th and put on bail. At this point Richard Baines (informer and ordained  Catholic Priest ) began to rubbish Marlowe’s reputation with the so called ‘Baines note’

On May 30th Marlowe was invited for lunch by Ingram Frizer. Also at this lunch were Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. After lunch an argument  began which resulted in a fight and Marlowe’s death. His body was put into an unmarked grave in the church next door.

‘Cut is the branch which may have grown full straight’ (Doctor Faustus’)

The question we ask – ‘Was it a set up or just a drunken fight ?’ The other three received pardons and pensions and Kydd and others continue to destroy Marlowe’s reputation. Friends rallied to his support saying he was ‘ one of the wiliest knaves that ever God made’

After the death of Marlowe the door was open to Shakespeare.

Many of us left the lecture with a greater  knowledge about the life and death of Marlowe and his role in the Elizabethan Golden Age with its circles of espionage and conspiracy,which seemed so similar to 2018! The lecture had been presented to us with such enthusiasm, knowledge and humour that many of us could have listened for much longer.


Mdina Glass and Isle of Wight Studio Glass – a lecture by Mark Hill on January 8th 2018

Mark enthralled us all with his  enthusiastic and informative lecture featuring the work of Michael Harris  whom he described as ‘A studio pioneer’

He divided his talk into the various major developments in the life and work of Michael Harris.

The Early Years –  Prior to the 1950s glass had to be made in factories, so opportunities to find a job were very limited. It was a two part process – designer then producer. Decorating the glass was mainly done by cold working – i.e. working on the glass after the piece had cooled down. Michael had become very skilled at tapping onto glass, so much so that he became known as ‘Tapper Harris’. In 1957 he joined the Royal College of Art in London. It was a time when its graduates were producing a groundswell of innovation. After he graduated Michael was not sure what he wanted to do but he produced some really good work  such as this work from 1959 – Calypso Chance glass :

and the piece called ‘Ionian Bank’ in 1964 which took him 300 hours to create.

The next stage of his life was The Turning Point. In 1963/4  Michael went to Yugoslavia where he was able to handle the glass for himself. All over the world at this time there was an interest in using nature in creative works. In 1966 Sam Herman arrived from America and together he and Michael worked out a formula for making glass in small furnaces not in factories. Michael could see the commercial side of this rather than the academic. It is at this point he goes to Malta and begins the next stage of his life

Mdina Glass – Michael was very skilled at marketing and he began to use Mediterranean colours as he felt this was what people would want to remind them of their holidays. He also opened his workshop to the public.

Austere Scandinavian Modernism had replaced Victorian cut glass and Michael realised the potential for putting art into glass. By 1970 he began to see the export  market across the world.

These two examples of his work from the 1970s in Malta demonstrate his use of Mediterranean colours.

As the business became very successful he brought over two glassblowers from the U.K.

The ‘Fish’ was the next period of his life. To create these pieces it was a very complex method which involved dipping coloured glass into clear glass to create a surround. The works have very ‘comfortable’ curves and are very tactile. Once he had developed the ‘Fish’ he went on to develop ‘Crizzle’ (or cracked) glass. Again it is very complex to make. Pieces of ‘Crizzle’ signed by him are very rare and therefore very valuable.

Forced Changes – When Mintoff became Prime Minister of Malta he tells Michael he has to leave the island. Michael looks around for another place to site his studio and decides upon the isle of Wight. He starts completely from scratch replicating the Mdina studio but with one change – he makes only clear glass and adds colour afterwards.

Mid 70s In 1973 Michael produced the Seaward range and moves away from the Mdina style . He looks again at what people might want but he didn’t always get it right as with his  ‘pink and blue swirls’

Azurene 1978. This was a major breakthrough. He set a competition for the for the final year students at the Royal College.  One year the winner was William Walker and one of the prizes was that Michael would produce the winning design. So together  they produced the vase with silver and gold leaf applied.

1980s – During this time Michael developed Azurene colour and finishes and also introduced pink. Azurene became incredibly successful, thus he was able to experiment and develop further ideas. He set up companies in Ireland (1978) Jersey and Guernsey (1980s) and Isle of Man (1982-5). Work signed by Michael -as seen below  is clearly much more valuable 


Michael  then starts doing other things with gold and silver leaf and then experiments with colours like painting on glass.

Meadow garden produced in 1983 and Undercliff in 1987A

At this point  he reached his peak of painting on glass –  almost like Monet.

In 1980 his son Timothy joined the firm and in 1987 his wife and younger son Jonathan  also joined.

The ‘Scapes’ series were produced by all four and were made by blowing the glass and then smashing it to give shards.


Flower Garden (above) was produced in 1989 and the vase below is from the Ribbons, Lace, Satin and Silk collection.

The late 80s saw Michael retreating from the works. He had huge global success and his sons had brought new ideas. In 1989 he retired to Gozo where he set up a small business with his wife.

Timothy continued hot working with his collection – Jazz, Rythm and Blues

whilst Jonathan developed his cold working and linear designs. 

Michael died in 1994 but Timothy and Elizabeth continued working together  but moved the studio to Arreton where it still is today.

Mark summed up the life and work of this great glass worker by reminding us that Michael was the first studio glassmaker who combined commerce, marketing and aesthetics. He enabled studio glass  to be produced on a wider scale and helped others to achieve this. His determination and willingness to take risks in pursuit of excellence make him a true pioneer.

The number of questions asked at the end of the session showed how Mark had generated such interest and enthusiasm in our audience and I am sure many of us will look afresh at glass works in antique shops and at our own collections.

The Art Of Christmas

The Art Of Christmas – a talk by Valerie Woodgate on December

Valerie began by telling us that she endeavours to use paintings from Galleries that we can visit and see the paintings for ourselves. Valerie then took us through a fascinating story of  how the Christmas story is shown in art throughout the centuries and with different interpretations.

The birth of Jesus is relayed in only two of the gospels so painters had only these two accounts to use.

The early painting by Duccio in 1311 ( in the National Gallery ) is part of a larger painting . The wings are purely symbolic. Duccio tells the story through body language and colour. The angel has ethereal colours and  the colours of Mary are very earthly. The divide between Mary and the Angel appears very often in Italian art.


There are similarities with the Fra Angelica painting of 1435 (currently in the Prado ) – the blue robe and the expression of humility On the left can be seen Adam and Eve – a mixing of the Old and New Testaments. Augustine said that the Old Testament is the New Testament covered in a veil, and the New Testament is the Old Testament unveiled. Mary was known as the new Eve and Jesus was the new Adam


The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi from the 1440s (currently in the National Gallery ) shows Mary with a book. The dove has golden rays coming from it .


The altarpiece attributed to Thomas Camin is set indoors in comparison to the Italian paintings. Instead of a dove we have a child himself. The clear glass symbolises the virgin’s womb and the child is coming through the glass. The white lily shows purity.


The Annunciation by Grunewald 1512-16 depicts Mary still reading


Whilst the ‘Madonna de Paro’ by Piero de Francesco shows Mary heavily pregnant and her face full of sorrow.


In the ‘Census at Bethlehem’ by Jan Bruegel the Elder from the 16th century was painted at a time when people were expected to pay half of their monies and crops to the Hapsburgs of Spain and this can be seen in the painting.


St. Francis was responsible for moving the story away from divinity to humanity. The Madonna and Child – a mosaic – depicts the divinity 


Whereas the ‘Birth of Jesus ‘- a Persian miniature from the 18th century shows a baby who is hungry so the palm is shaken for food 


The Russian icon dating from the 16th. century is not to scale. In this size is related to sanctity. At the front we can see Joseph being tempted by the devil.


The ‘Mystic Nativity’ by Boticelli (National Gallery ) was painted at a time when people were afraid that the world was ending thus the Virgin was painted very large- too large in fact for the stable.


The ‘Holy Family’ by Rembrandt  1640 (currently in the Louvre) contains no symbolism –



Valerie then talked to us about  the paintings of the visits by the shepherds. Paintings of the shepherds did not appear until 1500.

‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Bassano in the1500s. It is set in a ruin which symbolises the end of the old religion and the birth of the new. The lamb is often used to represent Christ.


The ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Poussin in 1634 shows how Poussin has used composition very well. The people at the front appear like an arrow leading to the baby 


Compared to Poussin’s painting, the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’  by Rembrandt – 1646 shows how the artist has used light to draw attention to the baby. There is also a feeling of humility which is not in the Poussin painting.


Valerie then concluded her lecture with paintings of the Kings.

The Adoration of the Kings by Jan Gossaert from the early 16th century  (in the National Gallery) is a most beautiful painting where the kings represent the ages of man and different parts of the world.


The painting of ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is so very different – the kings are wearing glorious robes and the child is shrinking away as myrrh is being offered (which depicts death) 


We were all enthused by this  very fascinating and comprehensive study of Christmas art.

Vivaldi in Venice – a Special Interest day

November 6th 2017

Vivaldi in Venice.

A Special Interest Day led by Peter Medhurst

What better way to begin the day than by floating  down the canals of Venice to the music of Vivaldi’s Psalm 109. Peter then posed the question ‘What is it about Vivaldi’s music that is so indicative of Venice in the 18th. century?’ Vivaldi was born in Venice in  1678  and the entire structure and atmosphere of Venice was intertwined with Vivaldi’s music.

Canaletto’s painting   ‘Views of Venice ‘ show this  very well.

Vivaldi uses more instruments than other baroque composers and this creates colour and the Venetians adored colour. Vivaldi also uses delicate lines in music just as Canaletto does in Art.

Venetians also loved liveliness and dazzle in their music . Theme and variation is as core to the music of Vivaldi as it is to the architecture of Venice. Vivaldi appreciated that if you have an energetic baseline the singing seems to go faster . Venetians realised that  to entertain on the inside of the homes  needed to be the focus because there was no room to do it outside in squares etc. Pietro Longhi was a famous painter of the time and many of his paintings showed interiors of upper class homes and showed the important role that music played as in –

‘The Music Lesson ‘ by Pietro Longhi 1760.

A hallmark of Vivaldi was the necessity to create melodies to entertain the ear.

We know little about Vivaldi’s life. His father was a barber but he gave it up for music –he played the violin. Vivaldi was a sickly child . He was ordained a priest but never had sufficient breath to run a mass, so he took a position at the Ospedale della Pieta for gifted girls, where he taught the violin. These institutions were set up for orphans where the boys received instruction in the trades and the girls in music. Vivaldi and his contemporaries in Venice developed the use  of solo performers. This all fitted in well with the Venetian’s love of show and spectacle.

Vivaldi writes his sonatas in ritornello form ( a theme to which one returns ) He is bold and dramatic with his music . He stands out as writing music  which tells a story and paints a picture. The early 18th. century  painting ‘A Gallery of Women Singers’ shows the chapel where Vivaldi worked and shows the girls for whom he wrote much of his music.

The painting ‘The Concert by Four Ospedali in Honour of Visiting Russian Nobility’ shows all the girls from all the orphanages– not just the ones from Ospedali della Pieta where Vivaldi worked

Peter played piano pieces from several other composers to demonstrate how they were influenced by Vivaldi.

Rome prided itself in offering a cerebral experience, whilst Venice was for fun and amusement. A popular time to visit Venice was at carnival time, but they were not happy that people went for the two weeks of carnival  and then left; so they decided to extend the carnival to six months. There are few clocks in Venice as part of their wish for a suspension in time. With everyone in disguise and masked, an air of mystery was created. La Notte – Phantoms is so very atmospheric. however the very reason we love Vivaldi – the unexpected, was the very reason that Vivaldi fell out of favour. He had found his musical voice and style and he never really changed it, whilst his contemporaries were changing and developing. Listeners to his works would have difficulty dating it.

Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741

At the end of the day we were all very much more aware of how Vivaldi and Venice were so intertwined, and were more able to answer the question posed by Peter at the beginning of the day – ‘What is it about Vivaldi’s music that is so indicative of 18th century Venice ?’ How Vivaldi’s music was such a reflection of 18th century Venetian life.

An incredibly enjoyable and informative day.

I am sure that many of us went home and listened to music by Vivaldi with a much more informed and appreciative ear.

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture –  a lecture by Rupert Willoughby  -November 13th.

We were all fascinated to hear how Rupert was going to address the title of this talk. He began by saying that Basingstoke is a phenomenon and is one of the most derided towns- with nicknames that include ‘Boringstoke’ and ‘Basingrad’. In 2004 a PR campaign was launched to improve its image. Rupert then identified some of the reasons why the town is notorious, including  its succession of pointless roundabouts and its huge boring and seemingly pointless wall – known as the ‘Great Wall of Basingstoke’

It is often erroneously assumed that Basingstoke is a post war creation, but Rupert informed us that this is not so- it appears even in the Domesday Book.

Cosimo, 3rd. Duke of Tuscany  visited Basingstoke and took with him Magalotti to record their journey with sketches and writings. Magalotti  writes that they ‘ set out to explore it on foot but its wretchedness prevented them’

In 1830 there were two or three working farms right in the middle of town and in a painting of Basingstoke in 1831 it appears as quite an attractive town. 

In the Highway and Byway book Basingstoke is described as ‘a town to be hurried through’

In 1966 it was written of as ‘a town devoid of style though John Betjeman wrote that Basingstoke typified England at its best.

Basingstoke’s main problem is that it was developed in a coarse and brutal manner as a show piece in the south of England.  There was a lack of post war planning and Council Housing was the key. Sir Patrick Abercrombie – a very successful 20th Century architect  was approached by the government to develop ‘The Greater London Plan’ to move 1.330.000 Londoners to new towns like Stevenage and Harlowe and and  for it to be a show piece in the South of England.  Town planners at this time were very left wing and their theory was that council housing and mass production brought about a middle class structure for all. Hook was the original choice for this development but members of the Royal family objected as it would take up a favourite hunting area. Tragically the plan involved destroying many historical and interesting buildings in order to create a raised concrete monstrosity containing shopping malls and offices and but no trees.

So where once quaint cottages, interesting homes such as those of Jane Austen and her relatives and grand houses of families like the Merton family (who founded Merton College ) and Thomas Burberry ( inventor of the gabardine raincoat ) had once stood, there now were soulless concrete structures.

A Charming Place – Jane Austen and Bath –

A Charming Place – Jane Austin and Bath – a talk by  Elizabeth Merry on September 11th.

Elizabeth opened her talk with the quote from Jane Austen ‘Who could ever be tired of Bath?’ Bath was described as a ‘valley of pleasure’ at the time of Jane Austen. Elizabeth began her talk with an introduction to  the history of Bath and its sacred spring – its Roman origins and its demise after the Romans left. During the 12th. century it was used as a curative bath and then during the 17th. century Bath began to develop as a place to visit, a place with royal approval, especially the approval of Queen Ann. The development of Bath was especially due to Beau Nash. Hoare, who was a famous painter based in Bath painted this portrait of Beau Nash in 1705.
In the early 18th Century there were many  improvements in Bath. These included putting lighting in the streets and creating wide boulevards.  John Wood the elder established the city’s architectural style. John Wood the younger completed the first circular street  – The Royal Crescent. Development then went on apace

Jane Austen and her elder sister would have spent time as  young women  with their uncle and aunt in Bath. Her aunt was described as a lady who ‘ looks about with great success for inconvenience and evil’

In Spring 1799 Jane went to Bath with her brother who was taking the waters. She wrote very animatedly about shopping and  also attending a concert in Sydney Gardens which are the only Pleasure Gardens that remain to this day.

1805 – drawing of Sydney Gardens by Jean-Claude Nattes

When her father retired in 1800 they moved to Bath.

The fashion and frivolity of Bath was an excellent inspiration for Jane’s novels, especially Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

J.C. Nattes – The Pump Rooms

After her father’s death the family moved to Hampshire and here her career as a novelist really took off. In 1817 she died.

Cassandra’s Painting of Jane Austen 1810

Heritage of Storms -Lord Byron -his Romantic Inheritance and his Artistic Legacy

by Richard Westall, oil on canvas, 1813
Byron by Richard Westall1813

Our January lecture was given by Elizabeth Merry, who  delivered a fascinating and informative lecture on Lord Byron.

Her lecture began with a description of Byron as ‘a child of his times ‘ who lived his life against a backdrop of the developing romantic era. Described by one of his lady friends as ‘mad,bad and dangerous to know.’

He lived through a time of great political unrest. The revolution in France caused great concern in England, concern that a similar revolt would occur in Britain, as depicted in this cartoon by James Gilray in 1792

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Punch and Judy



Etching of Puccinella by

Bartolomeo Pinelli 1815



A fascinating and most entertaining talk was given by Bertie Pearce on December 12th. 2016.

He opened the lecture by surprising us all with the information that in 2006 there was an Icon Debate to find the 12 cultural icons who represented ‘Englishness,’ and Punch was 6th.

History tells us that in May 1662 on the piazza in Covent garden , Pepys passed an Italian puppeteer with a puppet he called -Puccinella,

“Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants.” Continue reading “Punch and Judy”