events archive

Understanding Art

A series of guided gallery tours led by Dido Powell.

6:30pm, Friday 28 April 2017, London

After a successful trial, a few months ago, the IoI Arts and Society Forum is making a series of explorations in art galleries, and what we can learn from a close consideration of artworks. Dido Powell, artist and lecturer in art history, will take groups on themed tours of paintings in the National Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

Each tour will involve in-depth analyses of selected paintings and sculptures, taking a chronological approach, from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century. We will explore styles and influences through a range of themes that have preoccupied artists over the past three centuries.

Art has always reflected, and reflected on, evolving ideas about morality, nationhood and identity, from the rise of the autonomous individual, the changing relationship between the church, the state, and society, materialism and spirituality. We will look at how artists explored these themes through different subjects from landscapes and cityscapes to genre scenes and portraits, expressionist and abstract painting and sculpture.

Tour 1: The eighteenth century at the National Gallery
Friday 2 December 2016, 6.30pm

In this tour we will explore two opposing stylistic trends, reflecting the politics of Britain and France at war: the French Rococo style and Hogarth’s moralistic and satirical genre paintings. We will also look at Gainsborough’s landscapes, in relation to enlightenment ideas on nature, alongside national pride in ownership. Finally we will explore how Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings expressed contemporary attitudes to scientific experimentation.

Tour 2: The nineteenth century in British Art at Tate Britain
Sunday 22 January 2017, 10am

This tour will explore the spirit of scientific inquiry, romanticism and nostalgia in response to industrialisation, spirituality, and the weather, focusing on works by Turner and Constable. We will also examine Pre Raphaelite paintings and their preoccupation with nationality, morality, stylistic innovation, literature and Victorian work ethics.

Tour 3: French nineteenth-century art at the National Gallery
Friday 24 February 2017, 6.30pm

In this tour we will focus on opposing tendencies in French art: Neo-Classicism, the style based on the Ancient Greek canon of beauty and supported by the French state; Romanticism, a style stressing heightened subjective feelings and self expression; Realism, presenting unadorned nature in a tactile style, alongside early Impressionist views of city life.

Tour 4: Late Impressionism to Post Impressionism at the National Gallery
Friday 24 March 2017, 6.30pm

This tour will look at later Impressionist landscapes, studying the concepts of individual vision, individual sensation and scientific approaches to colour and vision. We will particularly look at works by Manet: his depictions of urban entertainment, fractured and contradictory social relations and use of innovatory painting techniques. Then we will examine the Post-Impressionists – Cezanne and Seurat – and their political utopian messages and the meshing of classicism and immediate vision.

Tour 5: Cubism and Abstract Art at Tate Modern
Friday 28 April 2017, 6.30pm

This tour will start with early Cubism to investigate the creation of new surface-clinging, perspective defying spaces and what they meant. We will then move on to early abstraction to study two distinct strands: the geometric tradition, Mondrian and the Russian Constructivists; and the spiritual, rhythmic tradition initiated by Kandinsky. The cultural and spiritual power to communicate of colour and form will be a key focus of the tour.

Each tour costs £10. Pre-book all five tours for £45

After each session we will go for a meal in a nearby restaurant (optional extra).


Dido Powell
Dido is an artist and teaches history of art. She paints still lifes, people, interiors and landscapes, scrutinising them from unexpected angles and cropping them sharply. She studied fine art at Leeds University, and her teaching of history of art influences her painting.