Online talk: Art and Freedom

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Date(s) - 17th May 2021


At a time when freedom from lockdown is almost tangible, this illustrated talk focuses on the fascinating theme of art and freedom. Much great art has been created during personal or more public bids for freedom; such art liberates the artist from the shackles of mimesis. The advent of photography in the mid-nineteenth century prompted Paul Delaroche to declare “From now on all art is dead,” yet Edvard Munch’s retort was that “The camera will never compete with the palette or the brush until such time as photographs can be taken in heaven or hell.” Thus, as per the Vienna Secessionists’ modernist mantra: “To the age its art, to art its freedom.”

Our path to manumission begins with the first artwork to ever warrant a bodyguard – Millais’ ‘The Order of Release’ – a work which captures a wife, with child in her arms, coming with an order of release for her husband, who has been taken in the Civil Wars. The PRB’s unofficial spokesman became John Ruskin who encouraged his contemporaries to “go to nature.” This led the Romanticists to explore nature’s wide-open vistas; not least C.D. Friedrich’s panoramic Mountaineer in a Sea of Fog. At a similar time, E. Delacroix launched the romantic rebellion by capturing revolutionary fervour with his seminal work Liberty Leading the People.

In the early twentieth century, self-proclaimed publicist F.T. Marinetti ordered fellow-Futurists to “Burn the museums and drain the canals of Venice” in an age when tradition was eschewed. This culminated in the anarchic ‘happenings’ pioneered by the Dadaists, with ringmaster F. Picabia, dubbed the ‘aristocrat of disorder’ centre-stage.

Wassily Kandinsky opened up the path to abstraction via his unfettered ‘Improvisations’ through which he explored the power of synaesthesia sparked by dissonant music. Accordingly, A. Masson and the Automatists obliged with their ‘free-associations’ by ‘taking a line for a walk’ as Miro memorably put it, enabling Pollock and future Action Painters of Abstract Expressionism to allow the paint to run freely in skeins of dripped and spilled paint. Our journey ends with Klein’s ‘Leap into the Void’ – a work whilst capturing the zeitgeist, doffs a cap to Friedrich’s Mountaineer, thus bringing us full circle.

Nick Nelson is Head of History of Art at Cheltenham College where he teaches Art, History of Art, Architecture, English, Classical Civilisation, Theology, Philosophy & Ethics and Music.

Nick has lectured for The Friends of the Wilson, The Arts Society,  Marlborough College Summer School, Soho House Group and more. He regularly runs courses in Art History for adults at Barnsley House, and has appeared on the radio on several occasions to discuss cultural happenings.

In 2014 Nick co-founded Arcadia Education for Art History with his wife Katie; a company aimed at sharing art and culture via lectures, study days, private tutoring and cultural tours.

Nick lectures on a wide range of topics from the Renaissance to Modernism, with a special interest in forging links between art, music and literature.

Venue: online     Time: 10:30am


When booking please include your email address to ensure you receive a Zoom invitation.

If you have any questions please phone Alison on 01242 519413.

Please book using one of the following options:

  • On-line bookings with a debit or credit card, or Paypal account, can be made using the form below. Alternatively you may reserve your place, select the ‘off-line’ payment option and pay by bank transfer or cheque.
  • Bank transfer – please email and wait for confirmation that places are available before arranging your bank transfer.
  • Cheque – please complete a booking form (download here or available in the Friends’ newsletter) and post it with your cheque.

Places are not confirmed until payment is received.

Bank transfers should be made to Friends of Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum (or as much of that as the bank will accept) Sort Code 30-91-87 Account 00005816. The reference must include your surname plus as much of the event title as will fit, for example SMITH Freedom.

Please make cheques payable to Friends of The Wilson and send with a SAE or clearly written email address to Mrs Alison Pascoe, 77 Naunton Lane, Cheltenham, GL53 7AZ. Please include your email address to ensure you receive a Zoom invitation.

THE LINK TO THE ZOOM EVENT WILL BE SENT OUT ON THE DAY BEFORE THE EVENT. If you don’t receive the email, then please check your spam folder, or phone Alison on 01242 519413.


Bookings are now closed for this event.