Urban Sketchers (London) Group has a good size membership of keen sketchers now. It has been going just over a year.

I try to attend the ‘sketch crawls’ as much as I can.  In the past year I was able to go to draw with the Group in The City of London near St Paul’s Cathedral, to The Mall and St James’s Park, Westminster and with another sketching group called Drawing London on Location, in Regent’s Park, London.

REgent's Park

The childrens’ Boating Lake in Regent’s Park London, with pedaloes and geese.

St James's Park

St James’s Park, near The Mall, London during the VE Day parade and march past of the Veterans (1940-1945)

st Martin's in the Fields

St Martin’s in the Fields Church porch, in Trafalgar Square when HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a servicee

Tank in The Mall

This Second World War tank replica was on display in The Mall, London on the VE Day Commemorations, 2015

Regent's Park

Regent’s Park London, the Boathouse Cafe, Spring 2015

London Fire Fighters

Statue commemorating the London Fire Brigade and their work during the London Blitz during the 1940-1945 war

Shaun the Sheep

One of the many Shaun the Sheep statues in the City of London, near St Paul’s Cathedral. A charity event 2015, during the winter time

Millennium Bridge, River Thames

Near St Paul’s Cathedral there is the Millennium bridge over the River Thames, it is called the Wobbly Bridge ( by us Londoners). The Blackfriars bridge is in the background.

Briths Museum

The British Museum had an exhibition with a Napoleonic theme last winter, 2015

Mitsubishi gallery

The Mitsubishi Gallery in the British Museum, the Urban Sketchers went there in winter 2015

Festival Hall London

London’s South Bank, visited by the group Drawing London on Location. This is a view from the Festival Hall

Festival Hall view

The South Bank of River Thames, another view from the Royal Festival Hall

British Museum

British Museum, London, the Mitsubishi Gallery with permanent exhibition of Japanese statues, armour, ceramics and other works of art

Waterloo bridge

View of Waterloo Bridge, over the River Thames from the South Bank, January 2015




I rate Colin Wiggins one of the best lecturers I have heard for the last few years.

He is excellent and makes his subjects absolutely fascinating.  His passion, he says, if for the art of Prints and Printmaking.

Colin is Curator of Special Projects at London’s National Gallery, and was previously Head of Education.  In his lecture earlier this year, he dealt with the prints produced during the early years of the technique, Medieval and the early Renaissance, in particularly in Germany and Italy.


We were shown slides of wonderful Rembrandt etchings,  demonstrating how he created tone  with minute crosshatching. One of his prints is a self-portrait wearing a floppy beret, the archetypal artist’s beret.  A later slide showed us a print of Sir Joshua Reynolds wearing just the same kind of floppy artist’s beret.  


This was known as La manier anglais.  The prints were very popular with all the English Milords, who had done the Grand Tour of the continent, and had a portfolio of prints of famous oil paintings to show off to guests.  The Mezzotints apparently sold in their hundreds.  There are some beautiful examples still available to buy, if you are lucky in your search.

We saw some examples of the finished Mezzotint, which is a ‘black to white’ process, i.e. the plate prints black except where the white areas have been burnished.  It is the opposite method from an etching.

The various methods were explained, in particular it appears that the Mezzotint requires a very painstaking procedure, using a rocker to cover the plate all over with tiny marks. These hold the ink and print the image on the paper as black. The laborious process was the task of the apprentices.  To get the white bits the plate was burnished with steel, thus holding less ink and printing pale grey or white.  More about Mezzotint from this information provided by the National Portrait Gallery, London


He was also a very competent printmaker, using a soft-ground etching –  luckily I have done quite a bit of etching so know what the soft-ground and the hard-ground etching is, as well as an aquatint. A good place to find out more is the British Museum Print Room, which you can visit and ask to see the boxes of prints done by various artists, including Goya, as there is a marvellous collection


Colin talked at length about the work of Rowlandson, and showed us a lot of various images. They were full of humour. Some of the prints were hand-coloured.  The colour was usually applied by women, apparently, in a kind of conveyor belt system, i.e. one person doing all the yellows, one doing all the reds.

There is a an exhibition of the work of Thomas Rowlandson at present in the Royal Collection, The Queen’s Gallery Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Scotland.  Here is a link about it.

We laughed at ‘Exhibition Stare Case‘ with its voluptuous nudes falling down the stairs, to the delight of the men.  Colin pointed out the Rowlandson is never vicious.  By comparison we looked at:


His work is often very vicious and the work had little or no humour,  we looked at one called French Liberty – British Slavery, showing an emaciated Frenchman, with long toenails because he never cut them, and in the back a pot of snails, and opposite a grossly fat Brit eating roast beef.  We also saw images of the Prince Regent, as a ‘Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion’, and ‘The three Mr Wigginses’, which Colin said might be distant ancestors!  The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a fine collection of Gillray prints.


We saw a print of an etching from Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington. Wellington apparently hated the painting and would not display it.  Goya’s early etchings show the superstition rife in Spain, for instance the gruesome one ‘There is plenty to suck’. This is apparently in the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York.  Later, Goya made prints of images of the famous people he had painted such as Manuel Godoy, the evil and wicked minister, and the Duchess of Alba; the original portrait of her is in New York now.  The famous prints of the series, Disasters of War were produced post-Napoleonic war.

These are, we were asked to agree, a much more powerful statement than photographs, of war.

COLIN WIGGINS repeated that he is a huge champion of the art of printmaking.  He recommended we visit the exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, of Whistler, which includes some lovely etchings, particularly of the Thames.  NOTE TO SELF: This I must do!

We look forward to another lecture, as soon as possible, bring the history of printmaking up to our present time.  Meanwhile, there is always the BRITISH MUSEUM PRINT ROOM  to visit!


Frederic Church is one of America’s Hudson Valley painters. He lived from 1826 to 1900.



We went to Olana, his Husdon Valley home and estate, one day in July last year, during what was a debilitating heatwave. Temperatures up on the high 30s!  We were on a visit to stay with family, who live in Ulster County, New York State, so it was within driving distance, and the car had  air con of course.

There are a number of interesting large houses on the banks of the Hudson River, which are usually placed on high ground giving fine views of this beautiful river.  The rich used to come there for the summer, to get away from the humidity of the city.
This particular house is very well preserved and quite unusual; it is built in the Persian style and was constructed at a time when Frederick Church had made himself a wealthy man from his paintings. So everything was of the highest quality.  The house is smaller than I had imagined it would be, and dark inside, with so many ornate surfaces and dark works of art, both paintings and sculpture and ceramics.



Remember to book your admittance though. We arrived at the ticket office a little after our booked time, due to the problem we had in finding a parking space.  The car park is tiny.  For that reason we had to wait for about 45 minutes before the next slot for visitors.  The house is kept closed and locked unless opened for a group tour, so all you can do is wander around the grounds, or buy stuff in the shop.  Luckily for us, there is a small barn where a film is shown, probably on a loop, about Olana and the Church family.

Inside we were conducted around and given a good introduction to Church and his work, but the guides are all volunteers so you may, or may not, get a good one. A bit like our own dear National Trust.

I liked the Church landscapes very much, and the family nicknacks were fascinating, as was learning about the background to the painter and his fellow artists of the Hudson Valley School.




The heat outside was still very enervating, and there is no cafe or drinks stall, so we decided to drive across the river to the small town of Hudson, where we parked.  Then we shrivelled up in the blast of midday walking along the deserted streets, to a well-reviewed Italian restaurant for a good lunch.

It is well worth going to Olana if you are there on holiday, and also try and see the other mansions in the Hudson Valley, they are quite different from our own stately homes, because they were designed for holiday residences and not long term family homes. In those days you travelled to your holiday home by river steamer, because the railroad had yet to reach that far up river.


I was very interested to read the article in The Daily Telegraph Travel section of February 2, by Susan Marling, called ‘A brush with the sublime’, about the new exhibition at the National Gallery dedicated to Frederick Church.  The photographs too were excellent.  The exhibition is called:
Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch’
The exhibition runs from February 6 until April 28.




What an excellent lecture last week at Richmond on Thames as part of a series of lectures organized by the Richmond Art Society.


Colin Wiggins started by telling us that he is now Curator of Special Projects at the National Gallery.

Until recently he was Head of Education there.

He gave a one hour lecture with the above title, showing the continuity which is evident in Western Europen art, depicting and sculpting the human figure from such sources as the sculpture of Antiquity.

During this lecture he made many witty comments about modern practices in art; he said that the Leonard da Vince exhibition was a thorn in his side at present and that they had had ‘turned David Hockey away this morning’.

He began by saying the central foundation stone of Western European art is ‘us’, in other words, the human figure. Of these works, the male figure is the most important. He commenced by showing slides of sculpture of the male from ancient Greece.

He showed immediate links to figures sculpted by Michaelangelo, and paintings by Velazquez and Lucien Freud.

This was demonstrated by a projected image of a Roman god next to a painting of the god Mars by Velazquez and a nude full-length portrait of Leigh Bowery, in an armchair, by Lucien Freud.

Colin had many slides demonstrating his points, all of them interesting and relevant, particularly the works of the Italian Renaissance artists, such Raphael, who, he said, was not able to work from the nude female figure, it being impossible for a young man to have access to a nude female model.

Also we were asked to look at the Joshua Reynolds portrait of Sir Banastre Tarleton, who fought in the American War of Independence. Reynold had a directory of poses, from his time in Rome, and used a pose of Cincinnatus from antiquity for the Tarleton portrait. Tarleton was apparently very ‘thick’ and Reynolds did not like him at all. He painted the figure in a battle scene with a cannon right behind his backside!

The interest in ancient art was widespread in the USA too, from Victorian times, and he told of a mail order facility to order art from Europe, which resulted in a copy of the Venus de Milo being sent by railroad to the mid-west, where it was found to be without arms. The purchasers sued the railroad company for the loss of her arms, and won their case!

There was a very amusing point made that maidens were painted and sculpted being very modest, and while nude, covered their ‘private parts’. This he demonstrated by showing us a sculpture of a Roman or Greek (not sure which) girl, then a nude by Renoir and then a still from the comedy Carry on Camping, when Barabara Windsor is bra-less and covering her bosom with her hands.

Colin admires the ‘passive and beautiful’ male nude early paintings of David Hockney and is looking forward to the exhibition later this year at the Royal Academy.

However he did not like the Gerhard Richter work at the London exhibition (now ended), and said he finds German contemporary art takes itself too seriously.

My understanding is Colin suggested he likes humour in art and showed us a Johann Zoffany painting of the Tribuna in the Uffizi, Florence, where a collection of Milords are admiring the bottom of the Venus de Milo.

I found a link to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge which shows Frank Auerbach standing beside a portrait etching of Colin Wiggins.