Art Lectures and Courses

Art Lectures

I am happy to give lectures on art historical subjects. Recent topics include John Singer Sargent, German Renaissance Art, Reynolds and Gainsborough, an overview of Modern Art and an overview of Art Historical styles. I am happy to prepare new talks so contact me to discuss what you need.


I offer courses on the history of art in art galleries. Depending on your requirements we could spend five sessions of about 2 hours each of tour and group discussions in different art galleries, either focussing on a specific time period, or getting a general overview of the history of art. Each course can be tailor-made to suit your needs, but below are a couple of suggestions to give you a sense of what might be possible:

The Development of Western Art

Suggested visits include National Gallery, V&A, Tate Britain, Courtauld Gallery covering Medieval, the Renaissance, the Baroque, Rococo to Romanticism and Early Modernism (Impressionism and Post-Impressionism)

What is Modern Art?

Suggested visits include Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Courtauld Gallery, perhaps the Saatchi Gallery or a selection of Commercial or Temporary Exhibitions. Topics to cover might include Impressionism and Post Impressionism, Early Abstract Art, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, Conceptual Art and Postmodernism.

I have taught courses on British Art and Architecture, Renaissance Art, Baroque and Rococo Art, 19th century Art, Modern Art, The History of Museums and Galleries and the History of London with a focus on art in London.

Lectures I offer:

The Transformation of British Art: Tudor and Stuart Painting in Britain

The Reformation of the 1530s, in which the religion of England changed from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism under King Henry VIII, transformed painting in England. We will examine how and why painting from the 1500s to the late 1600s transformed from a realistic, Renaissance style as seen in the work of Hans Holbein, to an odd, stiff and at times ‘primitive’ style in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Then in the 1600s King Charles I, a great patron of the arts, came to the throne and painting transformed again when he invited to England the superstar portrait painter Anthony Van Dyck, who can be seen as a catalyst for the coming of the Golden Age of British Art.

British Baroque: Bombast and the Monarchy in the 1600s

This lecture looks at how the Stuarts int he 1600s and early 1700s used the Baroque style to either underline their power, assert their power, or give the illusion of power. We will look at works by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Sir Peter Lely and lesser known Italians such as Antonio Verrio and see how they raised Kings, Queens and Courtiers to the level of Gods, Goddesses and even romantic shepherds with hidden messages which reflects the turbulent politics of the time.

William Hogarth and the Rise of English National Identity

William Hogarth is one of the major 18th artists representing the Golden Age of British Art. He was not a man to flatter his sitters, so he was never too successful at portrait painting and instead turned to what became very popular paintings and prints exploring political and social issues, in which he criticised and poked fun at anyone and everyone. He was very proud of being English and his worked both incorporated and generated new stereotypes of what ‘being English’ meant, some of which still exist today. He was also a major promoter of British artists which helped a younger generation of English artists achieve greater successes than had been seen before.

The Profitable Art of Flattery: Reynolds, Gainsborough and Portraiture in the 18th Century

By the latter half of the 1700s British artists were making their mark and if they wanted to make money then portraiture was the genre to focus on. The two most successful portrait painters of the day were Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Both worked in very different styles which reflected different modes of flattery as well as fashionable aspects of 18th century society and culture. The other key ‘portrait’ painter we will look at is George Stubbs, who did not paint portraits of people but animals – he was the horse painter par excellence who showed us, with scientific exactitude, that animals could be a worthy subject for art.

The Struggle of History Painting: Politics, Propaganda and Revolution in the 18th Century

In the 1700s history painting was considered the highest, most noble and most intellectual form of art because the paintings dealt with stories from history, the Bible or literature, so they were not only compositionally more complex but they also dealt with political and/or philosophical issues. However this meant that history painting was fraught with potential problems as they could contain messages of radical thinking, challenges to the status quo, religious controversies or even revolution! Few artists were brave enough to paint history paintings and in this talk we will hear about their stories, look at their works, unpick the politics and begin to understand why it was so hard to be a successful history painter!

Transforming Nature: Turner, Constable and the Rise of British Landscape Painting

Landscape painting had long been regarded as one of the lower genres of art – understood as merely topographical, it was seen to lack the drama, narrative, complexity and intellectual content of history painting. In the early 1800s however two young Romantic British artists challenged many of the ideas around what a landscape painting could be about. J.M.W Turner made his landscapes dramatic and lifted them to the level of history painting, while John Constable’s landscapes were idyllic with a strong focus on the observation of nature. One was successful, the other less-so, but both radically transformed the possibilities of landscape painting.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Art World Rebels.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were a group of young artists who came together in 1848 to shake up an art world they considered stultified and untruthful, because artists were encouraged to copy only the Old Masters, especially the art of Raphael. So the Pre-Raphaelites looked for inspiration from artists that came before Raphael (hence Pre-Raphaelite) and looked for more truthful and honest subject-matter. Not only were they art world rebels, but they also produced works of art that enjoy great popularity today, which we will explore in this talk.

Leighton: Follower and Breaker of Rules

Alfred Lord Leighton was a bastion of the Establishment and Academic Art in the later 1800s, but he was also an experimental artist who explored the possibilities of the radical Aesthetic Movement which adopted the critic Walter Pater’s idea that ‘All the Arts aspire to the condition of music’. We shall look at his Academic Paintings, his Aesthetic Movement works as well as his pioneering work in raising the status of the decorative arts, in particular by collecting Islamic tiles which we see so beautifully displayed in his purpose-built studio-home – itself a work of art.

Manet: An Unintentional Revolutionary

Édouard Manet (1832-1883) is one of the key artists to challenge the great art traditions of the past as laid down by the Art Academies in Europe, the arbiters of taste. His early works such as The Luncheon on the Grass, 1862-3 and Olympia, 1865 both paid homage to the Old Masters so respected by the Establishment, however controversially brought them up to date so they became paintings of modern life –attracting younger, experimental artists who saw Manet as a father figure of a new age of Modern Art. Manet’s paintings were revolutionary and changed the direction of art – but was he an intentional or unintentional revolutionary?

The Enigma of Cézanne and the foundations of Modern Art

Pablo Picasso called Cézanne ‘the father of us all’, referring to how Cézanne’s paintings inspired both Picasso’s Cubist paintings made up of different, flat facets, and Matisse’s Fauvist paintings with their emphasis on bright colour, which in turn influenced many other artists to either explore structure (from Cubism) or colour (from Fauvism). We will explore these aspects of Cézanne’s work and how it influenced Modern Art, as well as try to work out what Cézanne’s work was really all about – was it about finding “something solid and lasting like the art of the museums”, as Cézanne said, or was he instead, as Andrew Graham-Dixon calls him, “A master of doubt”?

Dada and Surrealism: Ridiculous art for a ridiculous world.

The Dada and Surrealist movements came out of the horrors of World War I. Called the Great War, or the War to End all Wars, to many it reflected the cruelty of humanity and marked the end of the Enlightenment project promising that reason, logic and scientific inquiry would lead to a better world through the invention of new technologies that would make life better. Instead chemical warfare, machine guns and tanks led to mass killings on the battlefield, an extended stalemate resulting in nothing but the deaths of millions. To the artists of Dada and Surrealism this was ridiculous, so they made ridiculous art to reflect a ridiculous society, but that could perhaps also help build a new and better world.

Marcel Duchamp: Con Artist or Genius?

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp bought a urinal from a plumbing shop, put it on a plinth, called it Fountain and said it was art. Most did not agree with him then, and it still divides opinion today, although it has become one of the most influential art works of the 20th century. In this talk we will look at the work of Marcel Duchamp and decide whether we think he was a con artist, or a genius.

Art after World War II: The Existentialist Crisis

World War I was called the Great War or the War to End all Wars, no-one thought there could be another war like it, but then we had World War II, followed by news of the Concentration Camps and the devastation caused by atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Suddenly faith in human nature was lost, while people questioned the existence of God – if there was a God how could he let such things happen? Perhaps he was a distant God unconcerned with what happened to us, or perhaps God did not even exist? The conclusion was the same regardless – if no higher being was concerned with us, then what? We will explore how artists’ responded to this Existentialist crisis in different ways as they tried to make sense of this new world and new understanding of humanity.

Pop Art: Superficial or Political?

Pop Art was a movement in the 1950s and 60s that celebrated popular culture and used it as inspiration for art, asking us to consider why we value Leonardo da Vinci more than comics, for example. It is often said that Pop Art superficially and passively represented imagery from our consumer culture with no real message, however many of its artists explore some quite political ideas, questioning our society, our politics, our media and how we, in turn, are shaped by them, with many ideas that still resonate today in the age of social media and the tabloid press.

Art and Feminism: Making a new world.

In the 1970s some remarkable female artists started to challenge an art world that was dominated by men, as well as audiences who favoured men. They produced radical works of art which related strongly to the contemporary Feminist movement which was fighting for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. We will look at their works which were, and still are, challenging and difficult, and see how their fearlessness helped make the art world, and perhaps the world, a more equal place.

The Art of Politics: Some Contemporary Artists.

Art and Politics have always had an interesting relationship, some say politics should stay out of art, some think art has a moral duty to be political and challenge us, and other believe everything in art is political no matter how unpolitical it seems. This talk will look at some contemporary artists who are overtly political, from the Chinese artist-activist Ai Wei Wei, Kara Walker who explores the legacy of slavery, Mona Hatoum who explores her own identity as an exile amongst other things, and Anselm Keifer who deals with the Holocaust – challenging stuff, but great art is often challenging!

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: an overview.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism are two of the most popular art movements in the story of art, with famous Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir Degas and Cezanne, and a younger generation of Post-Impressionists including Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Not only are their stories fascinating, their art diverse and their ideas challenging, but a good understanding of these key artists helps explain many of the artistic changes that came after them.

20th Century Art in two hours!

This is a whistlestop tour of major artworks, key themes, important ideas and stylistic changes in Modern and Contemporary Art from the late 1800s to today to serve as an introduction to the myriad of styles in art in the 20th century. This can also be done as a more in-depth series of talks, depending on your requirements.

An introduction to Western Art History - from the Early Renaissance to the 19th Century.

This is a series of talks (the number of talks can be decided in consultation with your requirements) that introduce key periods, artists, artworks and ideas to give you an overview of the development of the history of western art.