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Newsletter - September 2012


“Dickens and the Artists”

This month’s lecture was introduced to us by Mark Bills, the Curator of the Watts Gallery nr Guildford. He began by telling us how visual Dickens’ work was, and how he had an impact among artists. Dickens himself acted out his characters when writing, and his daughter Kate spoke of his ‘feeling for artistic effect’. When he portrayed artists they were sympathetic characters – but his connoisseurs are not pleasant, and he had strong opinions about art. He had been on the Grand TourLittle Nell leaving the church and his notes refer to illustrations by Samuel Palmer; he described work by Titian and Tintoretto that he very much admired. His dislike of the ‘horror’ and ‘butchery’ of depictions of martyrdom was also expressed. He felt there was ‘a horrible respectability about English art’ and particularly disliked the Millais work in the RA summer exhibition of 1850 showing Christ in the carpenter’s workshop.

When considering illustrations for his work he was absolutely specific about what he wanted, and worked extensively with Cruikshank, who was also a friend. He loved black and white illustrations and really admired the work of William Hogarth, because it has a narrative as well as a morality. His art collection was housed in the Gad’s Hill dining room and included many depictions of his characters.

Mark also discussed the contemporary artists that were inspired by Dickens’ work; the painting “Little Nell Leaving the Church” by James Lobley was hugely popular, and the Martineau work “Kit’s Writing Lesson” leaves illustration behind and becomes fine art. There was a believe in physiognomy – that moral character was shown in the face ­­– and Frith’s work revealed this. His huge work “The Railway Station” (in which the artist and his family feature) was typical of the crowded London scenes that were extremely popular and owe a lot to Dickens.

Kits writing lesson

Social realism was very important to Dickens and he was critical of both church and state in a period when one in twenty in London were homeless. The artist Fildes illustrated the homeless and hungry, and at Dickens’ death published a picture of Dickens’ study titled “The Empty Chair” in The Graphic newspaper which inspired Van Gogh’s painting “The Yellow Chair”. Van Gogh himself said of Dickens ‘There is no writer, in my opinion, who is so much a painter and a black-and-white artist as Dickens’: a fitting epitaph.

The empty chair

The visit to the Watts Gallery on18th October, to see the exhibition associated with this lecture, has places, and if you are interested please email as soon as possible.

Annual General Meeting

This meeting in October is the time to sadly say goodbye to three of our long serving committee members Monique Bourns, Pat Stuart and Patricia Bywaters. After much canvassing we have found three volunteers to join us – more news at the AGM next month. The participation of members in our Society is what makes it the success that it is and this is a continuing process; each year may see someone wishing to retire. Please bear this in mind for the future!

Summer break

We hope that you have had a summer enjoying the late improved weather, the excitement of the Olympics and possible trips to interesting and maybe exotic places. If you have made any art related trips, and are happy to share a few photos with other members, just send them to and we will include them in next month’s newsletter with a brief description of the location.

We look forward to the rest of our 2012/13 season of fascinating lectures.

Stay in touch by email!

Were you one of the unlucky ones whose flyer for the Watts Gallery visit came through to your computer with very dark photos? Your message was returned to us marked “size limit exceeded”. Our emails are less than 2MB; if you can increase the size that your computer will send and receive in email you will see full colour in the future.

Each month 6 to 12 emails are returned to us for various reasons – all these glitches mean you may miss out on news of events! This month all addresses were returned for some reason.

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Many thanks.

Diary Dates

Norwich Castle
Cedric Morris & Christopher Wood: A Forgotten Friendship
20 October – 31 December 2012

Sainsbury Centre
The First Moderns: Art Nouveau, from Nature to Abstraction
until 2 December 2012

Thomas Houseago: Where the Wild Things Are
until 27 January 2013

Barbican Art Gallery
Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s
until January 2013

British Library
Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire
9 November 2012 –2 April 2013

British Museum
Shakespeare: Staging the World
until 25 November 2012

Courtauld Institute
Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision
11 October 2012 – 13 January 2013

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Cotman in Normandy
10 October 2012 - 13 January 2013

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China
until 11 November 2012

Snow Country: Woodcuts of the Japanese Winter
2 October 2012 ­– 13 January 2013

National Portrait Gallery
The Queen: Art and Image
until 21 October 2012

The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart
18 October 2012 – 13 January 2013

Royal Academy
until 9 December 2012

The King’s Artists: George III's Academy
until 21 October 2012

Tate Britain
Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde
until 13 January 2013

Tate Modern
Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye
until 14 October 2012