Programme Aug – Dec 2018
Theme: Realism in Art
Illustrated Seminars and Group Visits
Wednesday 22nd August 2018: Visit to Tate Britain, London
All too Human
A visit to Tate Britain for this exhibition, featuring works by Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer and other painters of the human figure. We will travel independently to London and meet at Tate Britain at 11am. After coffee, there will be a private illustrated lecture, exploring exhibition themes and providing an in-depth analysis of key works. A buffet lunch will be provided followed by entry into the exhibition. A detailed schedule will be provided prior to the visit.
Wednesday 5th September 2018, 10.30 – 3.15pm, Winchester Discovery Centre
Study Day led by Steve Petford
In this study day our speaker will explain and analyse the nature of “realism”, outlining the aesthetic issues and questions involved when we use this and similar terms in relation to artworks. There will be opportunities for discussion based on a range of works from Giotto onwards in which we can examine our responses to “realistic” representations. We will also look at the role “realism” plays in the meanings attributed to these works in their cultural context. How does it affect what we see and make sense of?
Coffee, tea and lunch will be provided.
Wednesday 26 September, 10.30 -12.30, Winchester Discovery Centre
Illustrated seminar by Prof. Sam Smiles
Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) is often considered to be the instigator of Realism in French painting. The work of his early maturity, in the 1840s and 50s, is marked by his refusal to idealise his subjects, painting unflinching records of aspects of contemporary life and often on a large scale, so affording them the same seriousness as was traditionally reserved for historical or religious painting. In 1855, the works he submitted to the Exposition Universelle in Paris were rejected and he launched his own exhibition, the Pavilion of Realism, accompanied by a declaration in which he summed up his approach: ‘To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my time, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art – this is my goal.’ His sympathy with the political philosophy of his contemporary Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his socialist sympathies were marked features of his career. This lecture will concentrate especially on the key Realist paintings in Courbet’s oeuvre, but will also consider some of his less contentious works to ask whether or not Courbet’s definition of Realism in 1855 can apply to them as well. We will also examine some of the work of his contemporaries, both his academic opponents and those artists, such as Millet and Daumier, whose approach shared some of Courbet’s goals. Courbet’s legacy, in the Realist tendencies in French art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century will also be briefly reviewed.
Friday 12th October, 10.30 to 12.30, Winchester Discovery Centre
Note change of day.
Manet and Realism
Illustrated seminar by Belle Smith
Edouard Manet (1832-1883) was a little older than most of the Impressionist generation of painters and his stubborn individuality and innovative subject matter were an important influence on them. He was an upper-middle class dandy who craved success and admiration yet he was staunchly republican politically and refused to retreat from his radical subject matter. He addressed a range of subjects including History painting and portraits, but also images of his own rapidly changing world, paintings of modern life as his friend the writer Charles Baudelaire exhorted artists to do. Not only were his enigmatic and sometimes acerbically witty views of the tensions in modern society unsettling to conservative critics, but his formal means were also shocking. His suppression of conventional space, apparently crude mark-making and abrupt transitions from dark to light seemed to contravene the ‘rules’ of painting established from the Renaissance. Yet he often used the art of the past as a touchstone, particularly the Spanish artists, Velasquez and Goya.
We will look at a range of his works from scenes set in cafes and café concerts, including the Bar at the Folies Bergere; his depiction of women including two paintings from his early career, Dejeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia which marked him out to conservative critics as the producer of the coarse and ugly work associated with Realism. To critics, this correct and well-dressed young man was a paradox.
Wednesday 17th October , 10.30-12.30am, Winchester Discovery Centre
Nineteenth-century British realism
Illustrated Seminar by Prof. Sam Smiles
Realism in British art offers some connections with its French equivalent but also some crucial differences, most notably with respect to the fact that British artists produced no manifesto defining their approach as Realist. Moreover, in British art it is harder to distinguish realist approaches from other tendencies, such as naturalism and genre painting, that offered a more complacent or sentimentalising approach. Nevertheless, although realism in British art may not have achieved the prominence and definition of the French example, this is not to say that nineteenth-century British paintings are entirely devoid of similar concerns. The lecture will initially analyse some works produced in the early nineteenth century and their depiction of aspects of urban and rural labour. In the next generation members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood treated social situations on occasion as did some of those who followed them. From the 1860s artists such as Hubert von Herkomer, Luke Fildes and Robert Walker Macbeth, associated with The Graphic illustrated newspaper, found subjects in the plight of the poor. In the 1880s and 1890s painters working at Newlyn, in Cornwall, depicted the hard lives of that remote fishing community. Simultaneously George Clausen painted monumental pictures of English field labourers. We will review this body of work as a whole and will also consider broader social and aesthetic developments which helped ensure that such subjects were deemed appropriate for fine artists.
Wednesday 31st October, 10.30 – 12.30, Winchester Discovery Centre
Photography, Photo-realism, Hyper-realism and the Real.
Illustrated seminar by Beth Taylor
In the first part of this seminar we will consider photographic works, particularly, portraiture and city scapes, from the early days of the medium, in works by Fox Talbot, Daguerre, Nadar to Atget in the 19th century. In the 20th century we will look at the development of “straight photography” of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, and the documentary works of Walker Evans, Cartier Bresson and Lee Miller. Our focus will be on reviewing the expectations of “realism” which they were considered to convey.
In the 1960s American artists Chuck Close and Richard Estes, began to make paintings based on the use of photographic images, with the intention of making them look as much like a photograph as possible. The British artist, Ben Johnson, works in this tradition, making hyper-realist works, depicting whole cities or architectural interiors. These photo- and hyper- realist works require us to ask both why this development took place and what type of reality it is that we are looking at.
We will also reference the essential contribution photography made to the Land Art movement, before concluding with contemporary photographs by Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky which are displayed as art objects, but which use developments like digital photography to make manipulated images of some scenes of contemporary life and work. We see these images as “real” but does it matter that they have been manipulated? Or does their status as art put them into a different critical framework?
Wednesday 14th November: Visit to the V & A Photography Centre, London
Travelling independently, we will meet at the Victoria and Albert Museum for coffee before a Curator-led tour of the newly opened Photography Centre. This has been developed to display the Museum’s much enlarged Photography Collection, following the transfer of the photographic archives held by the Bradford Media Museum to the V & A. There will be time to explore the Centre independently before lunch (which is included in the visit). In the afternoon, we will split into two groups of 12 for visits to the photography Collection Study Room, led by the Curator. This will allow time for visiting other museum displays before we conclude out visit.
A detailed schedule will be issued nearer the date.
Maximum numbers: 24
Wednesday 21st November, 10.30 to 12.30, Winchester Discovery Centre
Realist art in 20th Century America
Illustrated seminar by Barry Venning
It is often assumed that the most important American art of the twentieth century was the avant-garde work produced in New York after World War II by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock or Neo-Dadaists like Robert Rauschenberg, but for much of the century, Realism was the dominant artistic mode in the USA. It was well established by the turn of century in the work of the influential artists and teachers, Thomas Eakins and Thomas Anshutz, whose careers helped to shape the anti-academic, radical and uncompromising work of the Ash-can School, a group that included Robert Henri, William Glackens, Everett Shinn and John Sloan. Their gritty, unflinching depictions of life in the poorer districts of New York, along with those of the great George Bellows, constituted a vigorous expression of politically motivated Realism in the tradition of the French painter, Gustave Courbet. Not all forms of American Realism, however, were politically radical: during the Depression era, the socialist and anarchist leanings of the Ash-can School were largely superseded by the more conservative, romantic and nationalist work of the Regionalists, Grant Wood (particularly famous for his American Gothic, 1930), John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton. They celebrated what were taken to be traditional American values in scenes that were more often rural than urban.
In addition to these polarised forms, American Realism was significantly affected by the mural work produced by the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, in Detroit and New York. Rivera’s assistant, Ben Shahn, became an internationally renowned painter and photographer who, like many notable American artists, produced socially conscious imagery for the Federal Art Project, a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal programme. Some of the most striking American Realist painting, however, resists easy classification by grouping or politics. This is certainly the case with Edward Hopper, whose highly individual vision has proved enduringly popular; it is also true of the much less celebrated, idiosyncratic but brilliant George Tooker, who became the poet of American anxiety, or Archibald Motley, the African-American chronicler of the Jazz Age. American Realism may have been overshadowed by the avant-garde after WWII, but it remained a significant current in American art for the rest of the century, in the anti-war paintings of Leon Golub, the powerful portraits of Alice Neel and the ‘Contemporary Realism’ of Philip Pearlstein, Alex Katz, Wayne Thibaud and Louisa Matthiasdottir.
Thursday 13th December, 10.30 to 12.30, Winchester Discovery Centre
Note change of day
Realism in 20th Century British Art
Illustrated seminar by Barry Venning
For much of the twentieth century, Britain had the reputation of being fairly conservative where the visual arts were concerned, and a nation in which the avant-garde struggled for recognition and acceptance. The figure of Sir Alfred Munnings, the reactionary President of the Royal Academy, is often cited in this respect. His reputation has declined quite considerably; more perhaps than he deserved because he was a fine painter whose naturalistic art was more aligned with British taste than the work of the experimental artists he so disliked. Realism was popular with the general public and it played a significant part in British life, particularly during and between the two world wars, when artists like Henry Tonks or Stanley Spencer depicted the war effort abroad and at home, and Dame Laura Knight recorded the Nuremberg trial for posterity. Others, such as the less celebrated but nonetheless interesting artist, Charles Spencelayh, caught the mood of the nation at the time of the Munich Agreement in his Why War? of 1938.
In twentieth century Britain, as in most other countries, there were many different forms of Realism and they frequently served different purposes, including advertising (such as Fortunino Matania’s Blackpool, 1937, for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway), the recording of ordinary lives (for example, the work carried out by William Coldstream and Julian Trevelyan on the Mass Observation project) and the depiction of political radicalism (as in Richard Hamilton’s extraordinary The Citizen of 1981-83). And, of course, there are those who were just obsessed with appearances, and although Lucien Freud is undoubtedly the most famous representative of this last category, there are many others, such as George Shaw, who may be lesser known, but who still makes us see the overlooked and the everyday in a difference light.