Paul Mellon Centre announces free five-week series of lectures at the National Gallery


Paul Mellon Centre hosts lectures series by leading scholar Timothy Barringer at National Gallery


London in January 2019 may seem far removed from the heat, exoticism and majestic vistas of places such as the Caribbean, India and Australia – but in its latest series of free, public lectures the Paul Mellon Centre will take visitors on journeys to destinations in the former British empire.

During each of the five, hour-long talks by leading academic Timothy Barringer, guests are invited to follow British artists to these far-flung countries, islands and continents to hear about encounters with other civilizations that were often violent, and how the artists struggled to adapt landscape traditions to represent the terrain and people they confronted.

The resulting paintings and prints are vivid responses to an often-painful history.

In the opening lecture (7 January 2019), Timothy will discuss the theme of the Global Panorama. Panoramas were vast, 360-degree paintings that surrounded the viewer, offering an immersive experience of distant places. They offered the British public a first sight of colonial landscapes, but often included symbols of resistance against the imperial project.

A week later (14 January 2019), the subject is South: Grand Tours and the Origins of the Picturesque. The ‘Picturesque’ had its origins in the Grand Tour, when artists flocked to admire the ruins of ancient Rome, often with the rising British Empire in mind. Barringer contends that Captain Cook’s voyages to the South Pacific can be understood as an extended Grand Tour and that the paintings of William Hodges started a global picturesque.

In his third lecture (21 January 2019), audiences will be transported to North: The Industrial Revolution and the British Isles.

By the late 18th-century, artists such as JMW Turner had turned their attention to the wilder parts of the British Isles which offered dramatic scenery, but so too did the new industrial cities of the north, where new forms of resistance were brewing.

In his penultimate lecture (28 January 2019), Barringer turns his gaze towards the East: Orientalism and the British in India.

From about 1760, the increasing British political domination of India offered opportunities for artists to create an “Indian Picturesque,” inflected by the need to represent the British Empire as a source of progress. Photographers continued this project after the Indian Rebellion of 1857-8.

In the fifth and final lecture West: The Black Atlantic and the American Sublime (4 February 2019), Barringer reflects on the legacy of British landscape painting in another empire, that of the United States. Here, Thomas Cole brought the picturesque to the Hudson Valley; while Frederic Church moved South, to seek the sublime in the Andes. Others, like Thomas Moran headed West, to the Rockies and beyond. It also explores how painters were employed by plantation owners in the Caribbean to create picturesque views of their estates.

Global Landscape in the Age of Empire ends by asking whether the legacies of imperial vision still condition our responses to landscape today.

Each lecture starts at 6:30pm (finishes by 7.30pm) in the Sainsbury Wing Theatre of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN.

Photo Credit: Thomas Moran