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 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), changing (at) to @

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of NADFAS, I've put together a special lecture that charts the extraordinary fall and rise of painting - particularly figurative painting - in Britain. From the nadir of the 1970s, when it seemed painting as an art form was doomed, through the YBA years of the 1990s, painters and their supporters battled to keep alive an age-old tradition. In this lively survey we will see how artists like Lucian Freud kept their work relevant and interesting to new audiences, and marvel at the success enjoyed today by painters as diverse as Peter Doig and Rose Wylie. Against the odds, painting is alive and well in Britain today, and his lecture celebrates this remarkable achievement. (S)

From Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ to Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’, we love paintings with an element of mystery. Scholars have been puzzling over pictures like Giorgione’s ‘Tempest’ for centuries, but more recently artists have deliberately created realistic paintings in which the mood or meaning is far from clear. Along with the paintings already mentioned, this wide-ranging international survey includes pictures by Poussin and Vermeer, Manet and Gauguin, Hammershoi and De Chirico, Andrew Wyeth and Eric Ravilious, Gwen John and Balthus. Why do some paintings have these enigmatic qualities? Are there particular techniques that artists use to achieve them? And what do these paintings tell us about our world – and ourselves? (S)

Eric Ravilious was only 39 when he died on active service as a war artist in 1942, yet he had already achieved amazing things. A brilliant wood engraver and designer, he is best known today for his haunting watercolours in which lighthouses, white horses, empty rooms and downland paths become marvels. In my popular series Ravilious in Pictures, I have explored many of these paintings in depth, teasing out stories and characters hidden in the wings. This entertaining illustrated talk illuminates the life and work of a playful, enigmatic artist, in watercolour, wood engraving, lithography and ceramics. (S)

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 own writing 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 realise that he was both clever and emotionally driven. A war artist in both World Wars, Nash defied chronic illness to paint until the last day of his life, leaving us with a unique vision of the British landscape. (S)

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!

My book on 20th century British landscape painter Edward Seago is out in June 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. 

The British landscape has inspired some of our finest – and most interesting – artists. In this wide-ranging lecture, which would ideally be expanded into a study day, we explore an exciting, dynamic tradition, showing how the most adventurous artists of each period explored coast and countryside. Some pictures will be familiar, others less so. We will encounter the watercolourists Cotman, Cozens and Towne, 19th century innovators Constable, Turner and Samuel Palmer, and 20th century visionaries such as Paul Nash, Ravilious and Sutherland. As well as enjoying numerous fascinating paintings we will also get to know the artists, asking what it was that attracted them to landscape, and seeing how they expressed in their work the dreams, anxieties and preoccupations of their age. (S)

This colourful lecture explores the relationship between an extraordinary American painter and the picturesque state of New Mexico. Having visited the mountain art colony of Taos for the first time in 1929, she moved to New Mexico after World War II. Fascinated by mountains and desert, adobe churches and sun-bleached bones, and above all by the brilliant light and vast skies of the Land of Enchantment, O’Keeffe painted constantly. She was a fearless explorer, setting off alone into the empty landscape in a battered old car, and a tremendous character. This lecture brings to life one of America’s greatest artists, and one of its most beautiful places. (S)

A mixture of art talk and travelog, this lecture is based on two decades' personal experience of a unique art colony. Nowhere else in the USA have Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures grown side by side as they have here, and this diversity, along with the glorious light of the high desert, has attracted artists since the early years of the railroad in the 19th century. The history of this still-thriving colony is rich, strange and full of remarkable characters, including British visitors like DH Lawrence and famous American artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe; it's inspiring, funny and occasionally scandalous. (S)

Fashion in art is fickle. The artists in this entertaining survey all have their champions and all enjoyed success in their lifetime, but are not necessarily rated today by the critics or known by art lovers. Eric Ravilious is probably the most familiar of the group, alongside Norfolk landscape painter Edward Seago, Winifred Nicholson (wife of Ben and criminally underrated), Algernon Newton, New Zealand-born painter Frances Hodgkins, flawed genius Christopher Wood and Richard Eurich. Taken together they offer a tantalising alternative vision of 20th century British art.


When Kenneth Clark set up the War Artists scheme in 1939 he hoped to employ British artists and keep them safe. In this wide-ranging lecture we follow the fortunes of those chosen, from Eric Ravilious and Edward Ardizzone to Laura Knight and Paul Nash. We will see how the experience of war inspired different artists, examine some of the striking artworks created during the conflict, and commemorate the lives of those who did not come home. This lecture can be amended, or expanded as a study day, to compare the experience of artists in World War One and Two - just let me know! (S)

By their very nature, book illustrations tend to be hidden, and the work of even well-known artists is rarely seen. In a broad survey we enter the secret world of the illustrated book, focusing mainly on popular titles such as Alice in Wonderland and 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 John Tenniel and EH Shepard, Barnett Freedman and Eric Ravilious, Kathleen Hale and Quentin Blake. A visual and literary treat.

'Thank  you so much for coming to talk to us at Sidmouth last week.  Several people have remarked on how interesting they found your lecture about a painter  they hadn't known about before, and felt that  that is just "what NADFAS is all about".  It certainly made me want to go to your exhibition at Dulwich later on.  Thank you for such an interesting morning.' Elisabeth Neather, Sidmouth DFAS

‘Thank you so much for a wonderful day on Saturday... We have had lots of positive feedback.’ Jo Banham, Victoria and Albert Museum

'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


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: a Life in Pictures – Friends of the Towner Gallery

Eric Ravilious & the White Horses of Wiltshire – Devizes Festival  – report

Eric Ravilious in Sussex – Alfriston - report 1 / report 2 / report 3

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



martinr said...

Hi There
just back from seeing the Bon Hiver exhibition at the Towner in Eastbourne including the Downs in winter by ER. My favorite artist and I enjoyed the splendid Ravilious guided walk last year from the gallery to the sites of many of his paintings,
I am always moved by the strange sense from "Chalk paths" that hangs above my fire place and how this captures the Downs for me -but where is it? Or is it a composite of many places - I have been running the South downs for many years and there is nowhere I know that has such steep escarpments.
I noticed that in "The Ley" he had decided to actually paint the building much shorter than it actually is and I think some of his other paintings are not as they first seem, so maybe Chalk Paths is indeed a representation of the feeling rather than the sight?? your view would be welcomed.

James Russell said...

Thanks Martin - I love 'Downs in Winter'. You're spot on about ER changing what he saw to create his own design and mood. He often portrayed a scene as if he were hovering a little way off the ground, and rarely painted exactly what he saw - much of the work was done from memory, after a start made on site, and this gave him the freedom to experiment.

I believe that 'Chalk Paths' is based on Beddingham Hill and I've seen old pictures that seem to confirm this; however, the picture seems - as you suggest - to reflect a mood more than anything else, perhaps relating to Edward Thomas's remark about chalk roads: 'The long white roads are a temptation. What quests they propose!'

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