Robert Cumming's Lectures

Robert Cumming's Lectures

Here are some of the lectures I can offer. Each lecture lasts about 60 minutes. My style is relatively informal, and is aimed at a general audience rather than art specialists. I am happy to talk to 6 or 600 (or more). The important thing in each case is to help the audience see with their own eyes, think and look twice, get excited and enjoy art.

I come with my own laptop and digital projector. This ensures only the highest quality images, and it means I can zoom in on details and produce some modest special effects. All I need from the lecture organisers is a screen, a table and a reading light, (and a microphone where necessary).


Desert Island Pictures:- Which eight pictures would you take to your desert island?

This Lecture is a variation on the famous Radio Programme Desert Island Discs. Rather than 8 musical recordings, which eight pictures you would take with you? My number one choice is Velásquez's Las Meninas, and I hope to surprise with my other seven. Finally: which musical recording would you take; which book (other than the Bible and Shakespeare); and what luxury item?


Legends In Their Own Lifetimes :- How the lives of Kenneth Clark, Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen were intertwined, for better or worse?

Bernard Berenson – the “Sage of Settignano” was the world expert in Italian Renaissance paintings; Jo Duveen was the King of the commercial art world. Neither of them was born to riches or surrounded by art, yet both of them became legendary figures, and the art world could not move without their say so. This illustrated lectures traces the story of their rise to power and prominence and goes on to describe how Kenneth Clark – "Lord Clark of Civilisation" – who was born into riches and surrounded by art- became connected with them at an early age, so that he too would become as influential and as legendary as they had been.


The Art Of Decoding Art:- Why the art of unravelling the mysteries of an Old Master Painting is not so dissimilar from the challenges undertaken by the cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park?

Old master paintings are rich in coded and symbolic messages, and they need to be decoded just as the code breakers at Bletchley Park had to break the Enigma code in World War II. This talk takes a close look at one of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance, Botticelli's Primavera, explains why and how it, and many other Renaissance masterpieces, brilliantly exploited and developed this rich coded language, and how, decoded, it still has much to say to us today.


Faces Fame And Flattery:- The high wire act of portrait painting in the grand manner

If you could ask any artist from any period to paint your portrait whom would you choose, and why? By taking a number of famous portraits across the centuries, and exploring the relationship between artist and sitter, this talk examines this question, takes an in depth look at the whole tradition of portraiture in the grand manner, and asks what has happened to portraiture today.


Treasure Island:- How and why Britain became the great art treasure house of the world?

I first developed this lecture to celebrate the centenary of the National Art Collection Fund (The Art Fund) in 2004. Starting with Holbein's Famous portrait of Christina of Denmark, which was saved for the nation in 1909 after a public outcry, I explore how and why we became the world's art Treasure Island, and how and why it began to slip away.


Well Met By Moonlight:- The Story of the Birmingham Lunar Society (1765 - 1813) and the birth of the Industrial Revolution

The Lunar Society was a Dining Club which met on the first full moon of every month and literally changed the world. It included such luminaries as Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, and Joseph Priestley. As well as dining they talked, conducted scientific experiments, planned and initiated the Industrial Revolution, corresponded with the Founding Fathers in the USA, and sought to better the condition of human society. They all deserve to be better known.


Canaletto's London:- How and why he came to England and what he achieved when he was here?

Is Canaletto a great master, or a mere scene painter? This lecture caused me to change my mind, and to understand what a brilliantly inventive painter he is. It takes a fresh look at Canaletto, especially the time he spent in London, reappraises his work, exploares the impact on him of English taste and society, and traces his rise from humble origins to fame and riches, and back to poverty and obscurity.


Tasting The Grand Tour:- The British on the Grand Tour of Europe

This lecture is a richly illustrated, amusing and anecdotal account of the men and women who went on the Grand Tour of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, motivated by a passion for aesthetic experience and life at large, and who turned us into a nation of collectors and country house builders.


Capital Impressions:- Turner, Whistler, Monet and the changing face of London

The Exhibition at the Tate Britain in Spring 2005 was an unexpected success and drew record crowds. In this talk I reflect on the art of Turner, Whistler and Monet, their love of London and its once legendary foggy atmosphere, and explore with maps and photographs how Turner's London was a very different place from that of Whistler's and Monet's.


John Constable And Jackson Pollock:- A case of Chinese Whispers

All art builds on other art, and artists are unashamed thieves of each other's ideas and styles. This lecture examines the seemingly unlikely chain of influences, artists and personalities that links one of England's greatest painters, born in 1776 with one of America's, born in 1912.