Chairman’s Letter January 2021

Dear Members,

As with so many organisations, the plans we had for 2020 began to fall apart soon after the beginning of March. We initially hoped that things would begin to get back to normal after a couple of months and so just postponed rather than cancelling events. Sadly it became clear that the pandemic was going to be with us longer and from the beginning of June we set up an online programme. I am very proud of and grateful for the way that event organisers so quickly got up and running with what for all of us was a very new way of delivering events. It has been very heartening that this massive effort has been so warmly welcomed by members. Everyone who organises events is a volunteer and I think we have put on an exceptionally strong programme without any of the resources or staff that the big arts organisations have at their disposal. Thank you for your patience as we set up these events and gained experience of this medium for delivery.

We are also grateful to members who were happy to donate the difference in cost between ‘live’ events they had booked and the cost of the shorter online versions. This saved us much work as well as being very useful input to our diminished coffers. We were able to offer all lecturers who had events cancelled a proportion of the fee they would have earned as an advance on future work and have, in fact, already been able to offer most of them new bookings. This was much appreciated by the lecturers. Most lecturers enjoy working for us as you are an appreciative and knowledgeable audience and as a society we have an excellent, co-operative working relationship with them.

Our plans for the year ahead are not set in stone as none of us know when it will be safe for us to meet in person again, but our current thinking is that we hope it will be possible to have ‘live’ events from June onwards. However, we are ensuring that all lecturers commissioned are happy to deliver online if we still cannot meet in person until later in the year. So when you book events from June onwards they should take place at the venue specified but may, if circumstances require, be moved online. We plan to hold some courses online even if we can meet in person as many members have found it very convenient to join us online. But we are also very aware of the pleasure of ‘live’ events and the ability to chat over what one has seen and heard with other members so there will always be plenty of ‘live’ events.

We will be announcing summer events in our monthly e-bulletins. Members who do not have access to the internet will be informed of live events by post. Our autumn courses will open for booking in April and will include Spanish Art II, a continuation of the course Jacqueline Cockburn started a couple of years ago, German Expressionism with Niccola Shearman and The Friars with John Renner. These had all been planned for autumn 2020 and we are very pleased we have been able to rearrange them.

Despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic we were able to produce the Society’s annual Review 2020 thanks to the sterling efforts of The Review Editorial Panel led by Barrie MacDonald and the nine contributors. As usual the Review contained a wide range of interesting articles on subjects as diverse as Raphael’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the woodblocks of Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and the persecution of sculptor Ernst Barlach in 1930s Germany.

Our donations made at the end of year 2019-20 were £2,500 to our Scholarship Fund for MA students of the History of Art department at Birkbeck and £2,000 to Megan Levet, a student on the Painting Conservation course at The Courtauld Institute of Art. This donation was made via the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, whose objective is to help keep alive crafts such as stone work and conservation.

There were some changes to the Committee reported at the AGM. Edward Cox stood down as Membership Secretary. Ted took over the role as we moved to WebCollect and helped guide us through this big change and great thanks are due to him as it was often very frustrating dealing with the niggles almost inevitable with any new system. He has been replaced by Ethan and Robert Chapman-Ames in a job share. One of the longest and most hard-working Committee members, Jacqueline Leigh, also stood down. Jackie has played a vital role in the Society, as Chairman, as Courses Organiser, and very importantly as the guardian of the very high academic standards of all our events. We were delighted when she accepted Honorary Membership in recognition of all she has contributed to the Society.

This year we have not produced our usual annual Newsletter since our activities and resources have been confined to our online offerings. Similarly, the usual biannual listing of information on exhibitions showing at London galleries and museums has not been issued because it is currently impossible to produce an accurate list. Once art institutions are able to open their doors again we will publish a list.

I very much hope that 2021 is a better year for all of us and we can continue to enjoy art together and most importantly good health.

Best wishes.


Sue Anstruther