Saturday 15th June 2024 (CEST)

2011-12 season's lectures

October 2011

The King's Favourites - Madame de Pompadour and Sèvres

David Battie


Sèvres Porcelain
The following text was taken from the Antique China Porcelain &Collectibles' website

Sèvres Porcelain traces its roots in France to early craftsmen who had small manufacturing operations in such places as Lille, Rouen. St. Cloud, and most notably Chantilly. It is from Chantilly that a cadre of workers migrated  thumbto the Chateau de Vincennes near Paris to form a larger porcelain manufactory in 1738. French King Louis XV, perhaps inspired by his rumored relationship with mistress Madame de Pompadour, took an intense interest in porcelain and moved the operation in 1756 to even larger quarters in the Paris suburb of Sevres. Sevres was also conveniently near the home of Madame de Pompadour and the King's own Palace at Versailles.
From the outset the king's clear aim was to produce Sèvres Porcelain that surpassed the established Saxony works of Meissen and Dresden. Though the French lacked an ample supply of kaolin, a required ingredient for hard-paste porcelain (pate dure), their soft-paste porcelain (pate tendre) was fired at a lower temperature and was thus compatible with a wider variety of colors and glazes that in many cases were also richer and more vivid. Unglazed white Sevres Porcelain "biscuit" figurines were also a great success. However, soft-paste Sevres Porcelain was more easily broken. Therefore, early pieces of Sèvres Porcelain that remain intact have become rare indeed.
The Sèvres Porcelain manufactory always seemed to be in dire financial straits despite the incredibly fine works it produced. In fact, the king's insistence that only the finest items be created may have contributed to the thumbdifficulties. Only a limited number of European nobility could afford the extravagant prices demanded for such works. King Louis XV and eventually his heir, the ill-fated Louis XVI, were obliged to invest heavily in the enterprise. Ultimately, the Sèvres Procelain Factory produced items under the name of "Royal" and thus the well-known Sèvres Mark was born. King Louis XV even mandated laws that severely restricted other porcelain production in France so as to retain a near monopoly for his Sèvres Porcelain. The king even willingly became chief salesman for the finest of his products, hosting an annual New Year's Day showing for French nobility in his private quarters at Versailles. He eagerly circulated among potential buyers, pitching the merits of ownership and policing the occasional light-fingered guest. thumb
Sèvres Porcelain may have indeed given the makers of Meissen and Dresden a run for their money by the end of the 18th Century but for the French Revolution. By 1800, the Sèvres Porcelain Works were practically out of business due to the economic devastation of the new French Republic.
About the time when Napoleon Bonaparte named himself Emperor of France (1804), a new director was named for the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory. Alexandre Brongniart, highly educated in many fields, resurrected Sèvres Porcelain. Soft-paste porcelain was eliminated altogether thanks to the earlier discovery of kaolin near Limoges. For four decades until his death, Brongniart presided over monumental progress for Sèvres Porcelain, catering not only to Napoleon himself, but at last to include the more financially profitable mid-priced market in the emerging middle class.
Madame Pompadour
The following text was taken from website

mp Madame de Pompadour was born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson on December 29, 1721 in Paris. It is suspected that her biological father was the rich financier Le Normant de Tournehem, who became her legal guardian when her official father Francois Poisson, a steward to the Paris brothers--foremost financiers of the French economy--was forced to leave the country in 1725 after a scandal. He was cleared eight years later and allowed to return to France. Her younger brother was Abel-François Poisson de Vandières (who would later become the Marquis de Marigny). She was intelligent, beautiful, and educated; she also learned to dance, engrave and play the clavichord. She later claimed that at the age of nine, she was taken to a fortune teller by her mother and told that she would someday reign over the heart of a king. Apparently her mother believed the prophecy and accordingly nicknamed her "Reinette". She spent a year in a convent upon the wish of her father to be exposed to the Roman Catholic religion. Then her education at home resumed, and she learned to recite entire plays by heart, learned about botany, learned to paint, charm men, and to effectively run a household. Her parents initially found it hard to make her a good match, probably due to their own notoriety rather than any defect in their daughter.

At last, she was married in 1741 (at the age of 19) to Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Étiolles, nephew of her guardian, who accepted the match and the large financial incentives that came with it. With him, she had two children, a boy who died the year after his birth in 1741 and Alexandrine-Jeanne (nicknamed "Fanfan"), born August 10, 1744. Contemporary opinion supported by artwork from the time considered Poisson to be quite beautiful, with her small mouth and oval face enlivened by her wit. Her young husband was soon mad about her and she reigned in the fashionable world of Paris. She founded her own salon and the great philosophes soon circled her flame. Mme de Pompadour, pastel by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, shown at the Paris Salon, 1755 (Louvre Museum) Mme de Pompadour, pastel by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, shown at the Paris Salon, 1755 (Louvre Museum)

As Reinette became known in society, even the King came to hear of her. Madame Poisson, ever ambitious for the prophecy to succeed, numerous times took Reinette in their carriage to the royal forest in the hope of 'accidentally' encountering the King. At last, Reinette caught the eye of King Louis XV in 1745. A group of courtiers, including her father-in-law, promoted her acquaintance with the monarch, who was still mourning the death of his second official mistress, the Duchesse de Châteauroux. In February 1745, Antoinette was invited to a royal mask ball at Versailles celebrating the marriage of the King's son. At the chosen moment in the Grand Ballroom, eight costumed figures appeared, comically dressed as yew-tree hedges, one of which was the King in disguise. By chance or design, Reinette dressed as Diana, goddess of the Hunt, had found her prey and soon the King removed his headdress and engaged her in courtly conversation. By March, she was a regular visitor and King's mistress, installed at Versailles. He also bought her the estate of Pompadour, a marquisate with title and coat-of-arms. In July, Louis created her a marquise and she was legally separated from her crestfallen husband; on September 14 she was formally presented at court, where she demonstrated her mastery of the highly-mannered court etiquette. She was now 23, a bourgeoise by birth but nonetheless a royal mistress; however, her mother had died too early to see the prophecy come true. Now she commanded the attention of the court. Quickly, alliances, conspiracies, friends, and enemies swirled around her.
Contrary to popular belief, she never had much direct political influence, but supported the Maréchal de Belle-Isle and endorsed the Duke of Choiseul to the king. However, she did wield considerable power and control behind the scenes, which was highlighted when another of the king's mistresses, Marie-Louise O'Murphy, attempted to replace her around 1754. The younger, less experienced O'Murphy was arranged to be married off to a lesser noble and out of the royal court's inner circle. She had many enemies among the royal courtiers, who felt it a disgrace that the king would thus compromise himself with a commoner. She was very sensitive to the unending libels called poissonnades, a word meaning something like "fish stew", a pun on her family name, Poisson, which means "fish" in French. Only with great reluctance did Louis take punitive action against known enemies such as the Duc du Richelieu.
Her importance was such that she was even approached in 1755 by Wenzel Anton Graf Kaunitz, a prominent Austrian diplomat, asking her to intervene in the negotiations which led to the 1756 Treaty of Versailles. This was the beginning of the so-called Diplomatic Revolution, which temporarily lessened the long antagonism between France and Austria. This alliance eventually brought on the Seven Years' War, with all its disasters, the Battle of Rosbach and the loss of New France (Canada). After the defeat of France at Rosbach in 1757, she is alleged to have comforted the king saying this now famous by-word: "au reste, après nous, le déluge" ("After us, the Deluge"). France emerged from the war diminished and virtually bankrupt.
However, Pompadour persisted in her support of these policies, and, when Cardinal de Bernis failed her, brought Choiseul into office and supported him in all his great plans: the Pacte de Famille, the suppression of the Jesuits, and the peace of Versailles that lost Canada.
Madame de Pompadour was an accomplished woman with a good eye for Rococo interiors. She was responsible for the development of the manufactory of Sèvres, which became one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in Europe and which provided skilled jobs to the region. She had a keen interest in literature. She had known Voltaire before her ascendancy, and the playwright apparently advised her in her courtly role. She also discreetly endorsed Diderot's Encyclopédie project. After the War of the Austrian Succession, when economy was the thing the French state needed most, she drew more and more resources into the lavish court. Her influence over Louis increased markedly through the 1750s, to the point where he allowed her considerable leeway in the determination of policy over a whole range of issues, from military matters to foreign affairs. Her memorial portrait finished in 1764 after her death, but begun from the life, by her favourite portraitist, François-Hubert Drouais.
Pompadour was a woman of verve and intelligence. She planned buildings like the Place de la Concorde and the Petit Trianon with her brother, the Marquis de Marigny. She employed the stylish marchands-merciers, trendsetting shopkeepers who turned Chinese vases into ewers with gilt-bronze Rococo handles and mounted writing tables with the new Sèvres porcelain plaques. Numerous other artisans, sculptors and portrait painters were employed, among them the court artist Jean-Marc Nattier, in the 1750s Francois Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and Francois-Hubert Drouais.
DB David Battie FRSA is a notable expert on ceramics with a particular emphasis on Japanese and Chinese works.
After Art School he joined Sotheby's in 1967, there he worked in the Departments of Ceramics and Oriental Works of Art and was appointed a Director in 1976. He retired in 1999.
However he is perhaps best known for his many television appearances on the long running BBC television show Antiques Roadshow in which he has been appearing since the first series in the late 1970s.
Since leaving Sotheby's he has been editor of Masterpiece Magazine and has written many books on pottery and porcelain.

October 2011 - extra lecture

Valencia, Elche, Cartagena: the art of weaving past and present

Helen Sijsling


Birds and architects

Valencia was the cradle for one of the most poetical and birdlike architects ever. The weaver bird makes a fabulous architectural nest, Calatrava and with him many others, are inspired in Valencia to create the most poetical architecture ever seen together.

On this trip to Valencia, we are stopping in Elche and in Cartagena. It will be a quest that will take us through the art history of Spain showing us the best of Iberian art, Roman architecture, the Arab culture, the Romanesque, the Gothic, the Baroque, Modernism and modern architecture. You will see what meets the eye when travelling from Nerja to Valencia, including 3 world heritage sites, works of several prizewinning architects and several mayor art collections, including Sorolla, El Greco, Goya and Picasso. We will investigate different kinds of weaving the past and the present. Just to give a few examples:

  • The Spanish architect Moneo, in his prizewinning project in Cartagena for the Teatro Romano, renovated old buildings and gave them new functions and connected them with new modern buildings with tunnels and escalators.
  • The spectacular baroque ceramic museum in Valencia, was renovated and extended a century later in the same style: neo baroque.
  • Calatrava uses techniques paying homage to the past, to Gaudi, using broken mosaics and to the ceramic past of Valencia.
  • Japanese architects, in a prizewinning project to renovate the museum of modern art in Valencia, are putting a whole glass skin over the old building, keeping the past intact.
  • The cathedral in Valencia took 6 centuries to build, you can read the history of art in this one building, every century a new part is added to the building in a new style.

November 2011

The Cult of the South Pacific: from Cook to Gauguin

Leslie Primo

This lecture looks at the enduring Western obsession with the so-called "exotic" or "noble savage" and its invention. This started with the discovery of Tahiti in 1767.  thumbnail death O The impact of this obsession is charted through painted images of the island and its people; the English and European influence in this part of the world is explored. Sir Joshua Reynolds' involvement in these new discoveries is also traced through his paintings. The lecture ends with the experiences and discoveries of Paul Gauguin. G
Top left: Captain Cook (Nathaniel Dance); Top right: The Death of Cook (John Cleveley); Right: Omai (Sir Joshua Reynolds); Bottom: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (Paul Gauguin).
Leslie Primo
The following was taken from Leslie's website.
Leslie Primo is a graduate with two degrees in Art History from Birkbeck, University College, London. During his studies he specialised in early Medieval and Renaissance studies, including, Italian Renaissance Drawing, Art and Architecture in Europe 1250-1400 Art and Architecture in Europe 1400-1500, Medici and Patronage, Narrative Painting in the Age of Giotto, the work of Peter Paul Rubens focusing on his paintings of the Judgement of Paris, and Greek Myth in paintings.
LP Leslie Primo has not only worked at the National Gallery in London for 10 years, but has also taught a variety of art history course at Reading University, including: Medieval to Renaissance (a survey course), Reading Pictures - The Hidden Stories in Art (a course on iconography) and Masters of the Renaissance - Leonardo and Michelangelo.
Leslie Primo's lecturing repertoire and subject areas include: Early Renaissance painting, High Renaissance painting, Baroque and Mannerism, 17th, 18th and 19th century artists such as Seurat, Monet and Cézanne, which also encompasses Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.

December 2011

Christmas at Covent Garden over 300 years

Sarah Lenton

Popular Christmas shows have been put on, then as now, to pay for the serious business of the rest of the year. Even today, operas and ballets have echoes of those first Christmas shows: Columbines and Harlequins still dance in "The Nutcracker" and Cinderella dances (Ashton) or sings (Rossini) her way to the wonderful happy ending.

About Sarah Lenton

She read Theology at King's College London and has spent most of her working life in the theatre. She regularly writes articles for Royal Opera House programmes, lectures at study days, and gives pre-performance talks for both the Royal Opera House and English National Opera. She has written and directed more than 20 shows for the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and gives tours at the London Coliseum. She does live commentary for BBC Radio 3 Opera broadcasts and writes scripts for BBC Radio 4. She is also a cartoonist.

January 2012

David Bomberg - a British Cubo-Futurist

Alan Read

The following text was taken from the Tate Collection website.
David Bomberg
Bomberg was the most audacious painter of his generation at the Slade. His treatment of the human figure, in terms of angular, clear-cut forms charged with enormous energy, reveals his determination to bring about a drastic renewal in British painting.
The direction taken by his art brought him into contact with Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, but Bomberg resisted Lewis's attempts to enlist him as a member of the movement.
Vision of Ezekiel, 1912
With the advent of World War I, everything changed dramatically. By November 1915 Bomberg had enlisted in the Royal Engineers, and his harrowing experiences at the Front brought about a profound transformation in his outlook.
Bomberg never again returned to this dogged and limiting idiom, but he did explore a radically different path during the 1920s. His disillusion with the
Bathing Scene, circa 1912-13
destructive power of the machine at war led to a few years spent experimenting with ways of making his stark pre-war style more rounded and organic. Throughout the 1930s Bomberg's art became broader and more impassioned as he sought to convey the essence of his response to landscapes in Scotland and Spain. This work met with little approval in Britain, and during World War II his outstanding series of Bomb Store paintings did not lead to further commissions from the War Artists Committee, despite his repeated requests. His last years were darkened by the realization that his art remained overlooked and even belittled in Britain. His final landscapes and figure paintings include some of his most powerful works.
The Mud Bath, 1914
Tregor and Tregoff, Cornwall, 1947
Ju-Jitsu, circa 1913
in the gorge of the Tajo

January 2012 - extra lecture

Barcelona ancient and modern - city of dreams realised

Rafael Anderson BA(hons) Arch, Dip Arch, RIBA


Brenda Challis

Barcelona is a place where, as one visitor in 1999 put it "virtuosity fuses with delirium". The various political epochs from the Visigoths onwards have been marked by times of cultural transformation, full of change and breaks with the past. Barcelona has been a crossroads of cultures and traditions, a great financial and commercial centre in the high middle ages and one of the most important cities in the Mediterranean. It sits between worlds, individual and independent. We will be looking at significant periods in the city's history, some of the ways this dynamic culture has expressed itself in architecture and the life of the people.

About Rafael Anderson & Brenda Challis

Rafael and Brenda have delivered joint lectures over the past two years on aspects of culture and history in Andalusia, and as a counterpoint to this are now extending their field of research to cover their original sphere of interest which is the very different culture of Barcelona. Brenda is fascinated by Barcelona, particularly its Roman and Medieval aspects as she had lived for many years in Canterbury where you cannot escape constant reminders of Roman and Medieval life. Rafael first visited Barcelona in 1980 to carry out an undergraduate research project on the work of Gaudí and has long established links with the country mainly through family. He has had an Architectural practice in the Alpujarra for the last 8 years and now practices in Granada, specializing in the careful restoration of the historic building fabric.

February 2012

An Evening with Lord Byron: Monsters, Vampires and the Gothic Imagination

Liz Merry

Elizabeth Merry has over 20 years experience lecturing to adults in the UK and Germany on various subjects including literature and poetry, classical art and architecture, and aspects of the visual arts. Liz Merry
Visit Elizabeth's webpage.

March 2012

Cuban Architectural Panorama

Mervyn Miller

The rich architectural heritage of Cuba ranges from Spanish Colonial to Art-Deco and Revolutionary functionalism, an eclectic mixture, concentrated in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Havana.
cathedral art deco Havana Cuba yellow door
Visit Mervyn's website.

March 2012 - extra lecture

Joachin Sorolla "The artist who dipped his brush in sunlight"

Liz Cochrane

The following was taken from Wikipedia.

Joaquin Sorolla was born on 27 February 1863 in Valencia, Spain. Sorolla was the eldest child born to a tradesman, also named Joaquin Sorolla, and his wife, Concepción Bastida. His sister, Concha, was born a year later. In August 1865, both children were orphaned when their parents died, possibly from cholera. They were thereafter cared for by their maternal aunt and uncle.

He received his initial art education, at the age of fourteen, in his native town, and then under a succession of teachers including Cayetano Capuz, Salustiano Asenjo. At the age of eighteen he travelled to Madrid, vigorously studying master paintings in the Museo del Prado. After completing his military service, at twenty-two Sorolla obtained a grant which enabled a four year term to study painting in Rome, Italy, where he was welcomed by and found stability in the example of F. Pradilla, the director of the Spanish Academy in Rome. A long sojourn to Paris in 1885 provided his first exposure to modern painting; of special influence were exhibitions of Jules Bastien-Lepage and Adolf von Menzel. Back in Rome he studied with José Benlliure, Emilio Sala, and José Villegas.

In 1888, Sorolla returned to Valencia to marry Clotilde García del Castillo, whom he had first met in 1879, while working in her father's studio. By 1895, they would have three children together: Maria, born in 1890, Joaquín, born in 1892, and Elena, born in 1895. In 1890, they moved to Madrid, and for the next decade Sorolla's efforts as an artist were focussed mainly on the production of large canvases of orientalist, mythological, historical, and social subjects, for display in salons and international exhibitions in Madrid, Paris, Venice, Munich, Berlin, and Chicago.

His first striking success was achieved with Another Marguerite (1892), which was awarded a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid, then first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was acquired and subsequently donated to the Washington University Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. He soon rose to general fame and became the acknowledged head of the modern Spanish school of painting. His picture The Return from Fishing (1894) was much admired at the Paris Salon and was acquired by the state for the Musée du Luxembourg. It indicated the direction of his mature output.

Sorolla painted in 1897 two masterpieces linking art and science: Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the microscope (seen at right) and A Research. These paintings were presented at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts held in Madrid in that year and Sorolla won the Prize of Honour. Here, he presents his friend Simarro as a man of science who transmits his wisdom investigating and, in addition, it is the triumph of naturalism, as it recreates the indoor environment of the laboratory, catching the luminous atmosphere produced by the artificial reddish-yellow light of a gas burner that contrasts with the weak mauvish afternoon light that shines through the window. These paintings may be among the most outstanding world paintings of this genre.

After his death in 1923, Sorolla's widow left many of his paintings to the Spanish public. The paintings eventually formed the collection that is now known as the Museo Sorolla, which was the artist's house in Madrid. The museum opened in 1932. Sorolla's work is represented in museums throughout Spain, Europe, and America, and in many private collections in Europe and America. In 1933, J. Paul Getty purchased ten Impressionist beach scenes done by Sorolla, several of which are now housed in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

In 2007, many of his works were exhibited at the Petit Palais in Paris, France, alongside those of John Singer Sargent, a contemporary who painted in a similar style. In 2009, there was a special exhibition of his works at the Prado in Madrid, Spain. In 2010, an exhibition at the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, in Curitiba, Brazil.

April 2012

The Dollar Princesses

Anne Sebba

From Anne's website:
Anne Sebba Anne Sebba is a biographer, lecturer, journalist and former Reuters foreign correspondent. Her first job was at the BBC World Services in the Arabic Department. She has written eight books, several short stories and introductions to reprinted novels. She is a member of the Society of Authors Executive Committee and is working on a biography of Wallis Simpson.
The following is a short extract from Jewels for the Dollar Princesses, an article in The Beading Gem's Journal:
"The Gilded Age was the post-Civil War period when a new generation of powerful industrial magnates emerged in America. These captains of industry became phenomenally wealthy. They could buy all the gold and the glitter for their families but not social status. In the 19th century, the nouveau riche were not accepted in the old Knickerbocker New York society and soon turned further east to realise their social ambitions.
Jenny JeromeJennie Jerome (mother of Winston Churchill)

From 1870 until the first World War, throngs of incredibly rich, beautiful and smartly dressed American girls dubbed the "Dollar Princesses" crossed the Atlantic in search of titled husbands. 454 landed their quarry but only 100 managed to marry into the British peerage. The rest settled for Continental European aristocrats. The biggest catches were the British peers of the realm (in descending order of rank) either a Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron.

You'd think from all the romance novels there was an abundance of Dukes. But there are actually only 27 Dukedoms and at any one time, just 2-3 heirs are "available". Six American girls did marry Dukes- five were heiresses (the sixth was a showgirl). In turn, the peers not only gained wives to begat their heirs but more importantly to refill their empty coffers. Keeping up appearances and owning a castle or two was expensive business."
Visit the website for the rest of the article.

You can read more in an article from 2007 on the Daily Telegraph website. The article discusses an exhibition in that year at The American Museum in Britain.

May 2012

The Benin Bronzes: Masterpieces of African Art

Claire Walsh

PhD MA BA(Hons)
Claire Walsh has a doctorate from the European Union University, Florence. She has worked at the V&A, lectured for the Universities of Warwick and Teesside, and currently lectures for the Open University. She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Retail and Distribution at the University of Wolverhampton.
From Wikipedia:
The Benin Bronzes are a collection of more than 1,000 brass plaques from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin. They were seized by a British force in the Punitive Expedition of 1897 and given to the British Foreign Office. Around 200 of these were then passed on to the British Museum in London, while the remainder were divided between a variety of collections.

The seizure of the Bronzes led to a greater appreciation in Europe for African culture. Bronzes are now believed to have been cast in Benin since the thirteenth century, and some in the collection date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The Bronzes depict a variety of scenes, including animals, fish, humans and scenes of court life. They were cast in matching pairs (although each was individually made). It is thought that they were originally nailed to walls and pillars in the palace as decoration, some possibly also offering instructive scenes of protocol.

Nigeria, which includes the area of the Kingdom of Benin, bought around 50 Bronzes from the British Museum between the 1950s and 1970s, and has repeatedly called for the return of the remainder, in a case which parallels that of the Elgin Marbles.

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