On this page you will find a brief outline of the lectures I am offering for the Arts Society, arts festivals, etc. 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. I am sometimes available at short notice, so if you have a cancellation I may be able to help. For further information, Arts Society members can look me up on the Directory. Otherwise, please get in touch via the email on my Profile page.  

As well as lecturing for The Arts Society, I give illustrated talks and run study days for museums, arts organisations and festivals including the V&A, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Pallant House, Towner, Royal Watercolour Society, Hastings Contemporary, Leeds Art Gallery, National Maritime Museum, Nottingham Contemporary, RWA Bristol, Hatchards, Blenheim Literature Festival, The Art Fund, Salisbury Museum, Ways with Words & Canterbury Festival.


From trawlermen to submariners, migrants to merchant seamen, people across the ages have shared the experience of being at sea. This invigorating lecture explores the perils and pleasures of life at sea, while at the same time taking audiences on an art historical voyage from the age of JMW Turner to the present. Along the way we relax aboard an ocean liner, explore the interior of a wartime submarine and meet everyone from 19th century British emigrants to trawlermen and shipwrecked sailors. Expect moments of drama, a few laughs, and many stunning depictions of the sea itself. Seafaring is based on my exhibition of the same name, which runs from April-Oct 2022 at Hastings Contemporary.

In the first half of the twentieth century many of Britain’s most exciting and accomplished artists turned for inspiration to the beach. Based on my popular 2021 exhibitoin, this uplifting lecture celebrates the achievements of painters, sculptors, photographers and printmakers – not to mention the designers whose sun-drenched posters lured holidaymakers to the sea. The end of World War One heralded a new age of leisure. A sun tan became the height of fashion and a sign of good health. And as the British public headed to the beach so did artists, from Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth to Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash. The fun starts here!

Hidden away in dense subtropical forest, in the hills north of Mexico City, lies an enchanted valley in which strange ruins tower over waterfalls and pools. It seems like the remains of a lost civilisation, but the arches and stairways were built only in the last century by Edward James, a rich English eccentric and Surrealist. Ranging around the world and across the 20th century, this colourful lecture tells the story of Edward James and Las Pozas, introducing along the way an array of intriguing characters such as Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte.

Who does the housework? Who gets the glory? Successful artists tend to be driven and, dare one say it, egotistical, so what happens when two of them set up home together? Focusing on 20th century British art, this colourful lecture explores the lives and careers of notable artist couples, including Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood, and Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden. It will quickly become clear that, where artists are concerned, there are few rules. The private lives of artist couples are often startling and never dull, and the paintings and sculpture on show here are glorious. (S)

In a long and illustrious career Edward Bawden (1903-89) achieved renown as a painter, designer, illustrator and teacher, yet he remains an elusive figure. Today he is remembered for his spectacular linocuts and humorous illustrations, yet he was once feted as an innovative modern painter. During the 1930s he barely left his home in Great Bardfield, Essex, but in 1940 embarked on a remarkable career as a war artist, travelling solo around the Middle East. Post-war he made prints on an epic scale while illustrating numerous books with his habitual skill and humour, and today he is seen as a key 20th century figure by artists like Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton. As curator of the 2018 Bawden exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, I draw on in-depth research, archive material and more. 

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 and empty rooms become marvels. Having written numerous books on the artist and curated several exhibitions, I can offer vivid insights into the life and work of this playful, enigmatic artist, while exploring in depth his achievements in watercolour, wood engraving, lithography and ceramics. The paintings are a delight, the Ravilious story funny, sad and full of surprises.(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.

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!

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. The research for this lecture comes from my 2014 monograph on Seago, published by Lund Humphries.

GEORGIA O'KEEFFE IN NEW MEXICO 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.

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.  

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!

'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



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!'