Become a Friend of the Swindon Museumand Art Gallery

For only £15 a year, you can become a Friend and receive links to our Zoom talks. To become a Friend or find out more about us, go to the website

Thursday 12 March 2020

Free Lunchtime Talk: Abstract Painting in the '60s

There are quite a few people who regularly like to attend the Friday lunchtime talks in the main gallery, and so when Sophie Cummings left, there was concern among other things, about the fate of the lunchtime talks. Fortunately Katie Ackrill, Art on Tour Project Engagement Officer at the museum is doing a series of talks, including the lunchtime ones.
On 28 February, Katie gave her first lunchtime talk which was advertised like this:
'This tour of Pop and Prosperity will focus on a selection of abstract paintings on display, including works by Howard Hodgkin, Roger Hilton and William Gear. Katie will discuss the context in which abstract art flourished during the 1960s, and shed some light on some of the more challenging works on display.'
 I'm going to start with a definition of abstract art from Wikipedia:
'Abstract art uses visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world' The word 'degree' is interesting there because I would have left it out in a definition, if it's there, abstract art is harder to identify.
 Definitions aside, there were over 20 people attending the talk, in fact it was quite difficult to get a good photo of Katie, just about visible, because there were so many people, in these 2 photos.
 Katie started by talking about the William Gear painting 'Presence on White painted June 1961, and a gift from the artist's family in 2015. After Katie had talked about it, I looked more carefully at it than before and quite liked it.
Here's Katie, seen below, talking about Jack Smith's 'Night Sky' painted in 1957, gifted by H.J.P.Bomford in 1960, and conserved with the support of the Friends in 2017. The painting zings and sparkles after its conservation.
 And here's Katie talking about Roger Hilton's painting 'November' painted in 1955 and gifted by the Contemporary Art Society, seen face on below
Next Katie encouraged us to look at Sir Terry Frost's 'Grey, Red and Black Verticals' painted in 1962, another gift of the CAS
 and below 'Once' painted in 1962 by Richard Smith purchased with the support of the V&A Purchase Grant in 1972.
 And Howard Hodgkin's 'Gramophone' 1964-66
 Katie included 'The Thames' painted in 1962 by Mary Fedden. I thought this couldn't be classified as abstract art because it looks recognisable as boats on water with flowers and walls in the foreground on the right hand side of the painting. Reading through the definition above, it can be included as an abstract piece.
 After the talk, people went on talking to each other, and Katie, about the paintings for some time which was great.
 Please note that I have kept details of what would have happened this year, due to Covid-19, and the consequent lockdown, all activities for the moment have been cancelled.
As soon as anything is happening, I will put out messages.
The next lunchtime talk in the gallery would have been:
A Celebration of Colour (with Katie Ackrill)
Friday 1st May, 12:30pm
This tour will highlight the use of colour in artworks included in Pop and Prosperity, as well as 2D and 3D works in our ceramics exhibition A Celebration of Colour. Starting in the main gallery, Katie will discuss the significance of colour in selected paintings on show. The tour will conclude in the downstairs galleries, with a focus on the gorgeous glazes of Swindon’s studio ceramics. 

Katie will be giving talks about artworks on display at STEAM and the Civic Offices beginning in March/April, and all the dates are on our website, and the museum's website
Also copies of posters sent over by Katie, this one lists Civic Office dates:
 and this one Steam dates:
 Also a poster advertising the lunchtime talks

Sunday 1 March 2020

Charles Houghton Howard

Professor David Manley gave our first talk of 2020 on Charles Houghton Howard, an American artist who has only five pieces of art on public display in the UK. David became fascinated by Howard I think partly because he's quite an enigmatic figure, not unknown and not well known. David decided to visit the galleries where the five works by Howard were kept which is how he met Sophie Cummings, who then suggested we might like to invite David to come and talk to us.
 David's enthusiasm for Howard and his painting was infectious and knowing more about the painter,  his paintings can be appreciated much more. He gave an excellent and lively talk during which I took copious notes which don't make as much sense as I had hoped they would.
Howard was born in 1899 and was the third of three brothers, their father was a successful architect in San Francisco and all brothers and a sister engaged in artistic careers.
 Augustus Lunn was a big influence on Howard, this work by him entitled 'Fish' seen above, can be seen at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
 After graduating from Berkeley High School in 1917 Howard entered UC Berkeley but left to serve in the Student’s Army Training Corps until the end of World War I. He returned to UC Berkeley and earned a degree in journalism in 1921. He pursued a masters’ degree in English at Harvard University that fall and then transferred to Columbia University’s English program the following spring semester. In July he sailed for Europe, living in England, France and Italy for two years. During the summer of 1923 he traveled in Italy with the artist Grant Wood (1891-1942), who urged Howard to pursue a career as an artist rather than as a journalist. An altarpiece by Giorgione (1477-1510) seen below, in Castelfranco also inspired his choice of career.
 Grant Wood who was famed for his painting, 'American Gothic, a depiction of the rural mid West during the Depression
On returning from Italy Howard began painting and became quite successful, the painting below is an example of his early work.
He married twice, his second wife, Madge Knight, also an artist was British and they moved over to the UK in 1933, moving back to the States during the second world war, returning  to England in 1946 and 'settled in Helions Bumpstead, Suffolk, where he continued his art creations and began to develop an austere minimalism, using primarily black, white, and gray paints. He continued to exhibit widely while teaching at the Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts in London. After six years of teaching, Howard retired and moved to Bagni di Lucca, Italy, where he died on November 11th 1978. As an artist Howard earned his place in American art history from his biological machinery abstractions and biomorphic paintings. He will also be remembered for helping to introduce European surrealism into the United States.'
It's well worth clicking on one of the links to read more about Howard, he had a fascinating career, although apparently happy to remain out of the limelight. The works in this country are these:
 Above The Matement at The Fitzwilliam Museum, and below The Seated Crest which is held by Girton College.

 The painting above, 'The Cavern' is owned by Derbyshire and Derby School Library service
This painting is called 61-62 No 3 and is to be found at The Towner
 and here's 'our' Howard painting which I feel we are very fortunate to own courtesy of the Contemporary Arts Society
What a difference insight into the artist and their work makes to appreciation of the paintings by Charles Houghton Howard.