Paul Mellon Lectures 2015
at The National Gallery
by Penelope Curtis
Monday's 19th Jan - 16th Feb

Animating the 18th-century Country House conference
at The National Gallery
5th March 2015


Recent Publications

  • William Henry Fox Talbot Beyond Photography, In The Olden Time Victorians and the British Past,Ham House
  • Four Hundred Years of Collecting and Patronage,The Buildings of England, Sussex: East with Brighton and Hove, Imperial Gothic Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture
  • in the British Empire, 1840-1870, Citizen Portrait: Portrait Painting and the Urban Elite of Tudor and Jacobean England and Wales, Lucie Rie: Modernist Potter



Forthcoming Events

The Paul Mellon Lecture Series 2015
Sainsbury Wing Theatre, The National Gallery, London

Tate, London 2014

Sculpture on the Threshold
An enquiry into the underlying forms of sculpture

By Penelope Curtis, Director of Tate Britain

Monday's 19th January - 16th February, 2015, 6.30-7.30pm, Sainsbury Wing Theatre, The National Gallery, London

This series of five lectures, sponsored by the Paul Mellon Centre, takes a wide-ranging look at the underlying forms of sculpture.  Focusing on four key aspects - the vertical, the horizontal, the closed and the open - the lectures explore sculptural forms across time, and suggest fundamental continuities.  Taking examples from the early medieval to the present, and looking at utilitarian as well as idealising formulae, the series suggests that we bring a deep subliminal understanding to our experience of sculpture, and that sculpture occupies a position on the physical and conceptual threshold of our familiar world.

Monday 19 January 2015, 6.30 - 7.30pm
The Vertical: from Nelson's Column to the Ruthwell Monument

The first lecture begins in Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column and Charing Cross. Focusing on the verticality of sculptures in many forms
- including columns, crosses, milestones, markers, sundials and beacons - the lecture concludes with an examination of the way in which the Ruthwell Monument combines these various attributes.

Monday 26 January 2015, 6.30 - 7.30pm
The Horizontal: from Westminister Abbey to Keith Arnatt

This lecture begins with the effigy and looks at the way in which it has informed sculptural language more widely. Moving on to the recumbent form as developed in Renaissance and Classical funerary sculpture and then by Henry Moore, the lecture looks more broadly at sculpture's tendency to embrace the ground as a place of rest, as many contemporary sculptors have shown.

Monday 2 February 2015, 6.30 - 7.30pm
The Closed: from Pandora's Box to Damien Hirst

Sculptures often enclose precious remains, and in this deploy a language based on the reliquary or casket. This lecture marshals the closed form - whether box, chest or urn - to consider the ways in which sculpture contains and protects.

Monday 9 February 2015, 6.30 - 7.30pm

The Open: from Martin Creed to Castle Howard

Sculptors have long based their repertoire on the idea of entrance, deploying the open door as a symbol of arrival and departure. The open form also gives access to the elements, as well as to the senses, and this lecture will look at structures such as temples and grottoes, as well as other kinds of openings, which position their spectator at a threshold which promises transformation.

Monday 16 February 2015, 6.30 - 7.30pm
The Ensemble: from Bethan Huws to Rilke's Rodin

The final lecture brings together the previous four in examining their intersection.  It considers the way in which a single sculpture can anchor a spatial structure, and suggests that the furnishings of the church, such as the pulpit and the altar, are forms which still have a purchase on sculptural form. It ends by asking whether the point at which a tree becomes a god, or remains a tree, is the key intersection.

Tickets: £6/£4 concessions for each lecture and you can purchase tickets online through The National Gallery website
Where: Sainsbury Wing Theatre, National Gallery

Animating the Eighteenth-Century Country House

Interior of the Picture Gallery at Longford Castle

A conference at the National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre

Organised by the National Gallery, Birkbeck (University of London), and the Paul Mellon Centre.

Thursday 5th March 2015

This one-day scholarly conference encourages fresh thinking about 18th-century country houses as environments that were always evolving, animated by interactions between objects and people.

The conference will look at the ways in which objects, when placed on display within a particular space, entered into different kinds of dialogue with the contents, decoration and associations of that space.

It will also explore the ways in which the evolving environment of the country house, and the forms of display found within it, were experienced; by those who lived in the house, by those who visited as tourists or invited guests, and by those who engaged vicariously through the process of 'armchair travel'.

Organised by the National Gallery, Birkbeck (University of London), and the Paul Mellon Centre, the conference is designed for art historians and scholars of 18th-century fine and decorative arts, architecture and garden history - whether based in museums, collections or universities; curators and custodians of historic houses; and the general public interested in historic houses of the period.

  • Buying, collecting and display: the purchase, commissioning, inheritance, gifting of works of art, furniture, books and other materials; picture hangs; room arrangements.
  • The country house as a complete environment: the total effect of the 18th-century country house, and the ways in which its various elements - works of art, furniture, decorative schemes - worked together to create a complete experience.
  • The country house and visitor experience: country house tourism; visitor experience of houses and gardens; the multifarious literature related to country houses, including guidebooks, regional guidebooks, and periodical articles.

Conference programme

To book tickets please go to The National Gallery website