North of England Art Club
incorporating the Newcastle Society of Artists 


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This page records presentations from February 2023

To see 2022 presentations illustrated record select link presentations 2022 

To see our full archive of presentations select link presentations to 2020

Recent Presentations

June 2024

Ian Hancock gave an excellent presentation on the history of Scottish landscape painting. As he explained, in the late 18th century the Scottish Highlands were remote and access was difficult. Paintings from this period are mainly topographical representations seeking to show the landscape as it is.
By the mid 19th century, the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Queen Victoria’s love of Scotland had made paintings of the Scottish landscape very popular throughout society. Many thousands of prints were sold. The works often romanticised the scenes and the Scottish weather.
With the development of the railways, and eventually improved roads, Scotland became more accessible to tourists and the art became gradually less representational. Ian took us on a fascinating journey from Peploe and Ferguson with their bold strokes capturing the feel of places, via the sometimes whimsical William Gillies and Joan Eardley’s vigorous portrayals of Catterline, to the more abstract challenges of Barbara Rae and Patricia Sadler.


May 2024

Jon Old took members on a fascinating history tour from 1400AD to the present time, explaining the evolution of painting materials and techniques. The earliest works were tempera paintings on wooden panels, with under drawing on a white ground, then colour gradually built up in layers. Oil painting came to the fore around 1430 with Jan van Eyck. It was a laborious and labour intensive process with pigments ground by hand to the right consistency and then mixed with oil, usually linseed or walnut. Artists needed studios with several assistants and apprentices to prepare all the materials.
A hundred years later canvas on stretchers was replacing the wooden panels. Jon posited that this may have originated in Venice where damp would affect wooden panels and canvas would be readily available. This enabled artists to create much larger works as they could be taken off the stretcher and rolled for easy transportation.
By the c17th specialist artists were hiring themselves out, to fill in details such as background landscapes or ladies’ gowns, while the master artists would paint the portrait and then move on to the next work.
The c19th brought big changes with industrial developments such as new and cheaper chemical colours, and critically, the development of the metal ferrule to hold the bristles of the brushes that enabled artists to have flat brushes and wider brushes rather than being restricted to a round brush. That change, combined with the invention of metal tubes that would keep paints fluid and make them transportable, enabled artists to explore en plein air painting and experiment with bolder brush strokes. As Jon said, “without these inventions, the Impressionists would not exist.”
Jon concluded with an overview of modern painters being influenced by new materials such as acrylics, and even Jackson Pollock’s use of ordinary house paints.

Sur la Plage by Monet

April 2024

The April talk was by Ian Davison on artists who are best known for their illustrations. He showed examples of work by five artists: E H Shepard; Aubrey Beardsley; Mervin Peake; Paul Hogarth and Ralph Steadman. Ian introduced the background of each artist, explained their motivation and explored the diverse character of their works. He also included some amusing facts. Shepard, towards the end of his life, resented the fame of his Pooh drawings as he felt they distracted from his “proper” art. Beardsley wrote to his publisher from his death bed and implored him to destroy all of his erotic drawings, thankfully his publisher ignored him. Peake designed the logo for Pan books and was offered £10 flat fee or one farthing per book. On Graham Greene’s advice, he took the flat fee and missed out on a considerable income. Steadman accidentally left his drawing materials in a New York taxi and illustrated “The Kentucky Derby” with a Revlon make up sample kit.


March 2024

Keith Gray gave a talk entitled ‘Doing the Laundry’ which was inspired by the purchase of a remaindered monograph written about a 1761 painting called ‘La Blanchisseuse’ by Jean Baptiste Greuze (pictured below)

From an initial description of the academic hierarchy which dominated European art in the 18th and 19th centuries, the presentation explored Genre Painting. The laundry was done in both public and private settings, and examples of each were shown, from many parts of the world. Club members were astonished at the number and range of images of people (almost always women) doing laundry work in a wide variety of settings 

February 2024

Cliff Lawrence started the 2024 series of talks, and seventeen members braved unpleasant weather to attend. Cliff’s subject was the use of camera obscura in art. He began by explaining how the camera obscura works, with a pinhole creating an inverted image of the view on the back wall of a darkened space. Cliff explored the use of this device, and subsequent more sophisticated versions, by Canaletto, Vermeer and Joshua Reynolds. There were remarkable comparative images of Canaletto’s Venice paintings and his sketches of the canal side buildings, that Cliff concludes show evidence that Canaletto did use a camera obscura. The case of Vermeer is more contentious and has been examined extensively by several researchers. The conclusion appears to be that, if Vermeer did use the device, the paintings are still brilliant and maybe he was only secretive to prevent rivals from copying his technique. Joshua Reynolds possessed a camera obscura disguised as a large book when it was folded away. He never admitted using it and it’s possible that he did not use it for his society portraits. The discussion amongst members was mainly on the question: “is it cheating”? The general view was that it is not.

November 2023

Alison Sidney gave the final talk of our 2023 series: The Joy of Acrylics. Alison’s love of acrylics had a dark beginning. As a teenage girl living in Halifax at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper, the freedoms of Alison and her friends were severely restricted for three years, and they were mostly confined to home. After struggling with watercolours, Alison made a breakthrough when someone bought her a set of acrylics. The talk was illustrated with examples by Hockney, Lichtenstein, Roland, Barns-Graham and Bridget Riley, whose work was felt by several members to be disturbing. Alison ended with a money saving idea for a stay wet palette.

October 23

Judy Appleby and Ian Davison did a double act on the art of whisky. Judy talked about the artistic appeal of large and distinctive industrial forms in dramatic landscape settings, interspersed with Ian explaining how whisky is made. Judy also showed examples of new distilleries that have become a fashion trend employing good and imaginative architects. After reviewing the design aesthetic of whisky bottles and glasses, including The Macallan’s collection of bottles by Lalique, Judy showed the labels by Sir Quentin Blake to adorn the collection of 52 different whiskies representing all of the characters in Macbeth. The session ended with a blind tasting of Highland, Island and Speyside whiskies.

September 23

Twenty one members were in the studio to hear Wendy Ranadé’s talk on "Dance!". This was also an introduction to the next competition. Wendy began with the ballet dancers of Degas, the familiar paintings mainly of dancers at rest, but she also showed how Degas had sought to capture movement in his sketches, perhaps the greatest challenge for an artist. Moving through examples by Toulouse Lautrec, Matisse and Kandinsky, Wendy introduced us to the lovely drawings of Douglas Hamilton Fraser. The talk ended with examples of work by three of our members, Alasdair Sibbald, Alan Mason and Wendy herself, based on their visits to Dance City. Alasdair demonstrates astonishing ability by working only from life without any photographs. Alan and Wendy had used photography to good advantage in creating works that captured the vitality and movement of the dancers.


July 23

Ian Davison stood in for Kevin Paton who was unable to give his presentation. Ian gave us another chance to be fascinated by his entertaining presentation, first given in Feb.2017, on 'Art Forgers'. 

Ian concentrated on ten artists who created work that was then passed off as a valuable original by a famous artist. In most cases, these forgers were very talented artists who found that the art market and gallery owners did not value their own original work. For some the act of forgery was an act of revenge on the art establishment that ignored them.
Others were definitely motivated by money. Of these there were examples of forgers who had been unmasked, served time in prison (commonly about four years), and come back into society with a reputation and able to command high prices for bespoke “forgeries” signed in their own name!
The strangest forger in this talk was Mark Landiss, a not very talented American artist, who disguises himself as a Jesuit priest and tries to donate his work to small museums and public galleries. He was eventually caught out but could not be prosecuted because he had never sold any of his work.

June 23: Sixteen members turned up in a very warm studio to hear Monica Shaw talk about the life and work of Marc Chagall. Born in a rural Russian Jewish community in 1887, Chagall lived to be 97, surviving two world wars, the destruction of his home village and its population, and personal tragedy, yet his paintings are full of optimism. Monica explained that the familiar Chagall image of a couple flying through the air represents Chagall and his first wife, Bella, rising above everyday problems and speeding towards a happy future. They are often accompanied by a rooster, a symbol of fertility, and other images in his complex compositions frequently reference his home village and its traditions. His early work was regarded as surreal but he did not consider himself a surrealist. He experimented with many techniques, notably engraving and lithography in his bible illustrations, sculpture, ceramics and stained glass, as well as stage set and costume design. His biographer Franz Meyer (‘Marc Chagall’, 1964) wrote: ‘Pablo Picasso stood for the triumph of the intellect, Chagall for the glory of the heart.’

May23: Jon Old, formerly a conservator for the Laing Art Gallery and the Bowes Museum, treated members to a fascinating insight into the work of conservators and curators. He explained the challenges and risks involved in packaging, wrapping and transporting paintings, especially when the artist had not allowed enough time for the paint to dry! Then the problems for conservators in trying to make good any damage while liaising with sensitive artists. Jon particularly highlighted the difficulties of dealing with mixed media experiments of artists who like to push the boundaries, with  amusing anecdotes from his personal experiences.

April 23 unfortunately Ian Davison was ill. However, with some home coaching Judy was able to make his presentation for him. "Danger! Men (and Women) at Work".
Two great favourites "The Floor Scrapers" by Caillebotte and "A Hind's Daughter" by Guthrie started the slide show with familiar images. 
A brief history contrasting the portrayal of workers as the property of the landowner in c18th paintings, with the dramatic, atmospheric images by Wright of Ironworking of the Industrial Revolution.
Ian's research (with reference to Art UK website) brought the work of three artists c20th to our attention. Prunella Clough, Tony Evans and Vladimir Lebedev.
The importance of wartime in documentation of the activities, particularly of women, in the war effort led to some realistic images such as "The Munition Girls" by Stanhope Forbes showing women workers alongside men (for the first time). Other paintings showed women engaged in technical work on Hurricane aircraft, and aircraft repair. Stanley Spencer's "Shipbuilding on the Clyde" triptych brought a new understanding of the sheer effort and awkwardness of the dangerous work of the 'Riveters'. 
'The Shipyards or the Pits' was the topic of the final section of Ian's talk. This illustrated the vast scale of shipbuilding contrasting with the frighteningly claustrophobic work of the miners. Of course the Pitmen Painters are well-known in the area for their record of life in the collieries. Lachlan Goudie's amazingly detailed pen and wash images of shipbuilding bring images of work into the c21st. 

Hilary Franks spoke with passion about the work of her three chosen artists: Kathe Kollwitz, Paula Rego and Sylvia Sleigh.

The German artist, Kollwitz, was born in 1867 and saw the effects of poverty, hunger and war on the working classes. She produced series of prints, including the revolt of The Weavers and The Peasants War, that could be sold cheaply and distributed widely as a protest against the exploitation of the workers and particularly the harsh conditions imposed on women and children.

Hilary concentrated on Paula Rego’s depictions of abortion, “born from indignation that women are blamed for abortion”, showing that these women are strong and not victims. Her later series of line drawings based on the paintings were used to campaign for abortion rights in her native Portugal.

Sylvia Sleigh was part of a women’s art movement in New York and Hilary selected examples of her paintings of nude men, intended to counter the representation of nude women as objects. There was much lively discussion amongst the eighteen members who attended.  

Cliff Lawrence opened the 2023 programme of talks with a fascinating exploration of Pre-historic Art, concentrating on examples from four cave systems in Northern Spain and Southern France. Cliff explained that there are examples in many parts of the world, as far apart as Indonesia and Central America (although none yet discovered in South America or the Middle East), and they share many characteristics. The audience was impressed by the realistic representation of animals, emphasised by Cliff’s illustrations of the real creatures alongside the paintings, with considerable accuracy in body structure, proportions, colouring and sense of movement. The example we show here was one of the oldest pieces, around 32,000 years old. There was a lively discussion as the art raised many questions. Not only why did they paint these works, but who taught the artists, what is the significance of the concentration on animals, why are there no similarly realistic representations of humans? Much food for thought.