End of Term Art Shorts

Amelia Curran’s portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We usually end the term with a series of short presentations on a literary or arts theme followed by lunch. Today did not disappoint – on 20th March we had a very varied programme followed by a delicious lunch in Wapping.

Tony began with a reading of Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”, which was inspired by the British Museum’s acquisition of a seven and a half ton portion of a statue of Rameses II from Thebes in 1816. It offered Shelley an opportunity for reflection on greatness and its passing. His poem is well known – unlike the poem written by his friend and rival poet, Horace Smith. Tony drew our attention to this poem as a comparison with Shelley’s. Interestingly, Smith’s poem is related to London and envisages a time when the great city no longer exists – all is impermanence – a melancholy but sobering thought perhaps…..

Sarah discussed an art installation created by Stephen Willats in 1978 sponsored by the Port of London Authority and bought by the Museum of Docklands in 2006 – displayed until recently on Floor 2 of the Museum. This work was commissioned at a time of great change in the Docks (and Britain). The traditional industries were disappearing and the impact on communities – like those in the Docklands – was hugely significant. The old landscapes would disappear for ever.  Willats believed that art should be created in the community and that the community should participate in its creation. This work – like the parallel work involving the women of the Ocean Estate in Stepney/Mile End – made use of hours of oral interviews. For this work entitled “Concerning our Present Way of Living”, he interviewed dockers as their industry was coming to an end. He produced 4 large panels 5ft tall x 2ft overlaid with photos, quotations and geometric designs still in the Museum’s ownership and occasionally displayed elsewhere – for example in the Whitechapel Art Gallery at exhibition in 2014.

Lorries Transporting Landing Craft, Royal Albert Docks, London (1945) by Rupert Shephard (Imperial War Museum ART LD 5293). Source: Wikipedia

Continuing an art theme, Fran introduced us to two examples of the work of Rupert Shephard (1909-1992). Shephard trained at the Slade and became part of the Euston Road School for a while with Pasmore and Coldstream. He spent some time in South Africa and during WW2 he was on the Artists Advisory Committee. The two shown were “Lorries Transporting Landing Craft, Royal Albert Docks, London” – a watercolour – and a lino cut from 1975 of the River Lea from the “London: the Passing Silence Series.”  His grandson is the newly appointed Director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt.

Ian gave us an excellent quiz on artists visions of London Bridges from Canaletto’s “Westminster Bridge” (1746), via Fox Talbot, Whistler, Atkinson Grimshaw, Pisarro and Monet, Brangwyn and William Wylie to André Derain and Hugh Casson. He finished with the startlingly colourful John Duffin’s “Albert Bridge” from 2014.

Sue followed up her excellent presentation on Royal Navy Victualling with the unexpected treat of home baked ship’s biscuit and a further discussion of this very basic naval fare!

Barry took us along the Thames from central London to Richmond on a leisurely 18th Century boat cruise. Samuel Leigh was a publisher of travel books and itineraries – his illustrated panorama, some 50ft long, gives a rare, illustrated view of both banks of the Thames as it was developing in the 18th Century. We see the Millbank Penitentiary, the colour works at Chelsea, Mark Brunel’s Saw Mills and the beginnings of a number of industrial manufacturers and isolated villas on the almost empty banks of the River towards Richmond.

Peter concluded the morning with his own panorama of photographs which he is producing as part of his ambitious and continuing plan to walk across London from east to west.

We begin our own series of walks and visits with the Group in the Summer Term on Mondays from 8th May.

Canaletto’s Westminster Bridge with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames. Source: Google Art Project


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