'Thank you for your wonderful illustrated lecture at the Bankside Gallery on Thursday.' Isla Hackney, Royal Watercolour Society
‘Vigorous applause from a packed audience was evidence enough of the calibre of the museum lecture last Thursday by James Russell…’ Wiltshire Gazette & Herald
‘Alfriston put yet more gloss on its artistic credentials with a sell-out talk celebrating the work of Eric Ravilious.’ Sussex Express
‘Thank you for such a great talk on Saturday, and for signing the books. People thoroughly enjoyed it and we've had great feedback...’ Sara Cooper, Towner Gallery
‘Thanks again for the talk, it was a great start to our proposed autumn series of lectures.’ David Oelman, Fry Art Gallery
‘Like many other people, apparently, I could have gone on listening to you for a lot longer!
Thank you so much for making the effort to come all this way.’ Catherine Bingham, Rye Arts Festival
On this page you will find a brief outline of the lectures I am offering for NADFAS societies, arts festivals and museum friends' groups. Each one is based around a Powerpoint presentation of high quality images, featuring artworks, archive photos, ephemera and my own photos. Where possible I tailor lectures to the location, for instance by including paintings created locally. I can also be flexible about the length of talks, which usually last between forty-five minutes and an hour; time permitting, I'm always happy to answer questions or chat for a bit afterwards.
The lectures listed below can be combined or extended to create a three-part Study Day; just get in touch and we can discuss what you need. At the bottom of the page I've included some details of previous public lectures, along with a few reviews. I've lectured in lots of different places, from independent bookshops to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I aim to enlighten and entertain in equal measure. I am sometimes available at short notice, so if you have a cancellation I may be able to help. For further information, NADFAS members can look me up on the Directory. Otherwise, please email:
jdrussell2(at)hotmail.com, changing (at) to @.
ERIC RAVILIOUS: A LIFE IN PICTURES
Ravilious in Pictures, this lecture explores the life of the multi-talented British artist through a selection of his mysterious, emotionally charged watercolours. From his student days at the Royal College of Art to his disappearance in 1942 while serving as a war artist, we meet the people and visit the places that inspired him, drawing on private correspondence, archive photos and original research to create an intimate portrait of the artist and his world. At the same time we look closely at the paintings, examining subject, design and technique. The paintings are a delight, the story funny, moving and full of surprises.
RAVILIOUS, DESIGNER: WOOD ENGRAVINGS, CERAMICS & LITHOGRAPHY
During his short life Eric Ravilious was acknowledged as a brilliant wood engraver, designer of ceramics and lithographer, and today his designs and illustrations are widely available once more, on china, cards and stationery. In this lecture we explore the making of his most familiar work, from wood engravings of winter scenes to the lithographs featured in ‘High Street’, his 1938 book of shops, and the Alphabet design created for Wedgwood. We also see how his work has influenced contemporary designers like Angie Lewin and Mark Hearld, and there are plenty of tips for collectors.
ERIC RAVILIOUS: TRAVELS IN 1930s BRITAIN
As a landscape painter Eric Ravilious travelled far and wide in search of new subjects and inspiration. Through the 1930s and into the first years of the war he explored the coast and countryside of England and Wales, focusing on lighthouses and abandoned buses, greenhouses and chalk figures. His explorations gave us not only a wonderful body of paintings – the best of which are examined here in some detail – but also, thanks to his skills as a correspondent, an unusual and compelling portrait of Britain between the wars. With cameos from John Piper and Edward Bawden, and featuring both archive and contemporary photos, the lecture offers entertaining insights into 1930s Britain.
EDWARD BAWDEN AND ERIC RAVILIOUS: AN ARTISTIC FRIENDSHIP
They say that opposites attract, and this was certainly true in the case of Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, the former fun-loving and gregarious, the latter painfully shy and a workaholic. What they shared was a deliciously waspish sense of humour, an admiration for artists of the past and a determination to make their mark, and when they met on their first day at the Royal College of Art in 1922 they became fast friends. They painted together, lived together for a time in Great Bardfield, Essex, and enjoyed some hilarious adventures. This light-hearted, informative lecture gives a rare opportunity to see the work of two wonderful British artists side by side.
PAUL NASH: A LIFE IN PICTURES
Based on my book Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream, this lecture tells the story of Paul Nash's life through a selection of his finest paintings, supported by photographs and other material. From his letters and his entertaining autobiography Outline we learn that Nash was witty, playful and passionate. Investigating paintings like 'Event on the Downs' we discover a world of love and struggle and appreciate that he was not just a clever painter but an artist inspired by profound emotions. A war artist in both World Wars, Nash struggled with chronic illness but continued to paint until the last day of his life, leaving us with a unique vision of the British landscape.
PAUL AND JOHN NASH: BROTHERS IN ART
Growing up together in the shadow of their mother's illness, Paul and John Nash emerged as artists at the same time, exhibiting their work in a joint exhibition in 1913. The following year they both enlisted in the Artists' Rifles, and both served on the Western Front before working together as war artists. Both subsequently explored wood engraving and book illustration, but otherwise their art moved in different directions and, while remaining close, they each sought to distance themselves from the tag of 'the Nash brothers'. It could be the plot of a novel, but every word of this intriguing, personal story of brotherly love, strife and competition is true!
CHRISTOPHER WOOD: TROUBLED GENIUS
If Christopher Wood is not a household name today it is only because he died at the age of 29. That was in 1930. Ten years earlier he had set off for Paris determined to become 'the greatest painter that has ever lived'; befriended by Picasso and Jean Cocteau, he learned fast but struggled to balance the demands of life and work. By 1927 he was exhibiting in London, then came a brief but spectacular burst of creativity. Frenetic, troubled but capable of immense joy, Wood was one of very few 20th century British artists who touched true greatness. We study his paintings closely, exploring his influences and evolving technique, and celebrating his original vision.
EDWARD SEAGO: FROM THE CIRCUS TO SANDRINGHAM
My book on 20th century British landscape painter Edward Seago is due to be published in 2014. Like LS Lowry, Seago was immensely popular but disdained by critics; today the best of his landscapes look fantastic, while his life story is full of interest. A prolific author, he overcame childhood illness before running away with the circus. He also mixed in aristocratic circles, making friends among the Royal family; a colourful wartime career and a trip to Antarctica aboard the Royal Yacht add to this fascinating account. Seago is much loved by artists, and here we explore a number of his finest paintings in detail, looking at his choice of subject, design and technique.
SEVEN MODERN BRITISH ARTISTS WE SHOULD KNOW BETTER
Fashion in art is a fickle creature, and in the last century the vogue for abstract painting and other forms of Modern art meant that a number of excellent figurative painters disappeared from view. The artists in this entertaining survey have their champions, and some are belatedly enjoying popularity. The work of Eric Ravilious is increasingly familiar, while Edward Seago has a diehard following. Meanwhile Winifred Nicholson remains far less known than her husband Ben, and Algernon Newton is a treasure many have yet to discover. New Zealander Frances Hodgkins was celebrated in her lifetime, as was Christopher Wood; both deserve greater recognition. Richard Eurich, a painter of sometimes startling vision, completes an eclectic set.
NEW ROMANTICS: BRITISH LANDSCAPE PAINTING IN THE 20TH CENTURY
The first half of the 20th century saw a tremendous revival in British landscape painting, a genre that had fallen into neglect in the previous half-century. It began quietly before the Great War, gathering pace as artists turned increasingly to the landscape for inspiration, and to the art of Samuel Palmer and John Sell Cotman for guidance. In this wide-ranging lecture we examine pictures by Paul Nash, his student Eric Ravilious and other painters who explored the British landscape with one eye on the Modern present and another on the Romantic past. We also see what the travelling life was like for artists at the time, drawing on correspondence and archive photos.
MODERN ART, ANCIENT LANDSCAPE: ARTISTS INSPIRED BY ANCIENT MONUMENTS
In its enduringly popular 1930s poster campaigns, the Shell Oil Company presented Britain as a country of ancient sites and modern sensibilities. Ancient monuments, from Stonehenge to the white horses of Wiltshire, were fashionable - the kind of places the new breed of motorists aspired to visit. But there was something deeper going on, and in this lecture - which is based on my own research and illustrated with paintings, posters and archive photos - we investigate what it was. Why were Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and other artists of the age so attracted to our oldest landscapes? Why, in the age of the motor car, was the old so new?
MONOCHROME DELIGHTS: 20TH CENTURY WOOD ENGRAVING
One of the triumphs of 20th century British art was the revival of wood engraving that began in Victoria's reign but really took off in the 1920s, when the Society of Wood Engravers was founded. Over the next twenty years wood engravers were in demand, commissioned to illustrate books, newspaper advertisements and all manner of commercial material. Today little of this work is ever seen, hidden as it is in books and archives, and in this lecture I aim to show just how wonderful it was. The artists featured include Robert Gibbings, Eric Gill, Eric Ravilious, Clare Leighton, Gwen Raverat and Gertrude Hermes - and I'll throw in a few colour woodcuts for variety!
HIDDEN TREASURES OF 20TH CENTURY BOOK ILLUSTRATION
By their very nature, book illustrations tend to be hidden, and the work of even well-known artists is rarely seen. Beginning in the 19th century with William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, this lecture enters the secret world of the illustrated book. We focus mainly on popular titles - like Anna Karenina or Gilbert White's Selborne - showing the diverse ways in which artists have responded to the text. We look at wood engravings, line drawings, pochoir illustrations and lithographs by a diverse range of artists, including Barnett Freedman and John Nash, Eric Ravilious and Gertrude Hermes, Edward Ardizzone and Robert Gibbings. A visual and literary treat.
CHILDREN'S BOOKS: A REVOLUTION IN COLOUR
The brightly-coloured, boldly-designed children's books of today have a surprising ancestry. During the Russian Revolution Lenin decreed that children's education should be a top priority, and over the next decade the Soviet state funded a huge publishing campaign. Russian books, inventively illustrated and designed by top-flight artists, had a profound influence in Paris and London. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations from across Europe - along with some familiar favourites - this lecture is an eye-opener.
NOT ALL CAME HOME: BRITISH WAR ARTISTS OF WORLD WAR TWO
Many of Britain's best-known artists were recruited to serve with the armed forces during World War Two, under the scheme pioneered by Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery. His aim was to employ artists and keep them from harm, and in the main he succeeded. In this lecture we celebrate particularly the life and work of those artists who did not come home: Eric Ravilious, Thomas Hennell and Albert Richards. We also include artists who slipped through the net and died in combat, such as Rex Whistler, and one or two whose survival was little short of miraculous. You would expect adventure and courage in a lecture like this, but be prepared too for some beautiful, sometimes dazzling, works of art.
Eric Ravilious: A Travelling Artist - Royal Watercolour Society
Paul Nash: Landscape and Dream - Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Ravilious: Submarine - National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Eric Ravilious & the White Horses of Wiltshire (2) – Wiltshire Heritage Museum
Ravilious Study Day – Victoria & Albert Museum
Eric Ravilious at Hungerford Books, Hungerford
Eric Ravilious & Paul Nash: Travelling Artists – Rye Arts Festival
Eric Ravilious: a Life in Pictures – Friends of the Towner Gallery
Eric Ravilious & the White Horses of Wiltshire – Devizes Festival – report
A Paul Nash Evening - St Bride Library, London
Paul Nash in Oxford - Blackwells Art Bookshop, Oxford
Ravilious in Pictures - Yellow-Lighted Book Festival
Ravilious in Essex - Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden
Eric Ravilious & James Ravilious - Familiar Visions, Towner Gallery