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History - Art & Culture
Stella Grace Lyons is a freelance Art History lecturer and speaker accredited with The Arts Society (previously NADFAS). She gained her BA in the History of Art with a 1st class in her dissertation from the University of Bristol, and her MA in History of Art at the University of Warwick. She spent a year studying Renaissance art in Italy at the British Institute of Florence, and three months studying Venetian art in Venice. In addition, she attended drawing classes at the prestigious Charles H. Cecil studios in Florence.

In 2017, Stella was selected by the Arts Society to lecture at the launch of ‘Drawing Room Discussions’ in association with ROSL ARTS, hosted by Guardian arts correspondent Maev Kennedy. Stella runs her own Art History courses and she is also a regular lecturer in the UK and Europe for the National Trust, Hebridean Island Cruises, Fred Olsen, Sapienza travel, Contemporary Arts Society Wales (CASW), Viking Cruises, Saga’s Art Appreciation Holidays, Classical Education Forum, the WEA, amongst others. Stella also works as an artist’s model for the internationally renowned figurative artist, Harry Holland.

Stella lectures on a wide range of themes and periods in Western and American art from the medieval period to the 20th century, and has around 40 talks she can offer.

Click here to visit Stella's website >>


‘A class act: informative, authoritative and delivered with great charm. We shall certainly ask you again. Thank you so much – they all loved it!’ – Dr Judith Foy, Contemporary Arts Society Wales (CASW)

'Stella is a gem. She is extremely knowledgable and her presentations were well prepared. She is very professional.’- Dr Bill Chalmers, ‘Fine Art in Scotland’ tour

'Stella was one of the best speakers I have ever come across. Very well informed, charming and helpful in every way' - Saga guest, 'Art Treasures of Birmingham' tour.

'Stella had a vast comprehensive knowledge of the artists and their work, conveying her enthusiasm and passion for her subject in a manner which was inspiring and informative. She had a very pleasant, friendly manner and was very popular with the whole group. Her talks were well presented, the subject matter was well chosen and covered a good variety of works of art. Stella was inspirational in this my first art appreciation holiday, so much so that I wanted to book a further holiday this year but unfortunately the ones I chose, where I knew she would be the host were all fully booked. I do hope she will be there next year.’ – Saga guest, ‘Artistic Collections of Dorset’

'Stella was very informative and gave excellent talks. She was the best historian I have ever met.’- Saga guest, ‘Art Treasures of Birmingham’ tour

'Stella is a fabulous lecturer: very approachable and knowledgeable – 5 star! Fabulous talks that I have travelled from Chepstow for every week to attend’ – Colleen, ‘How to Look at Paintings’
Talks are separated into general, British, French, Italian, Scandinavian, German, Dutch & Belgian and American topics. All talks can be changed and adapted to suit the specific cruise and region. I am also very happy to write bespoke talks for cruises.

GENERAL ART HISTORY (not specific to a geographical region)

General Art History:

1. Between the Sheets: The Bedroom in Art History
It's the most intimate space there is. The room in which we lay bare our souls. It's where we share our deepest secrets, and where we hide them. For this reason, the bedroom has a long tradition in art history. This talk explores the diverse ways in which artists have approached the subject looking at works from the medieval period, through the Renaissance and right up until the present day. Do you feel strongly about Tracey Emin's infamous bed? This talk is for you!

2. From rowdy drinkers to lonely hotel rooms: Everyday Life in Art
From Jan Steen’s images of rowdy drinkers, to Vermeer’s serene kitchen servants, from Courbet’s politically charged Stonebreakers, to Edward Hopper’s lonely hotel rooms – great masters and minor artists have been painting scenes of everyday life since the 15th century. These works document the most intimate of our activities – how we wash, how we prepare food, how we dress and undress, and how we keep warm, as well as scenes of family discord and harmony. This talk examines European and American paintings and sculptures from 15th century to the 21st century, and will look at how the works document the evolution of daily life and how our homes, habits and manners have changed over time.

3. Stripped Naked: The Nude in Art History
The human body has long been a subject for artists and art historians. Looking at nude imagery from Classical Greece up until the present day, this lecture explores the roles of female nudes and male nudes in art. Is the female nude always an object of desire? Are male nudes always symbols of power? What has conditioned us to believe these notions? Are there artists who challenge the conventional gender roles? This talk will investigate these topics and look at how the nude reflects the social attitudes of the time.

4. Off with his head! Is Salome the greatest femme fatale in Art History?
Salome is the quintessential femme fatale, or dangerous woman. The biblical figure and daughter of Herodias, seduced her step-father Herod with a salacious dance and in return he promised her the head of the prophet John the Baptist. The depiction of Salome has always been a favourite subject throughout Art History, but during the 19th century, a Salome ‘frenzy’ occurred, reaching its zenith between 1860 and 1910. During this time, over 1000 versions of the seductress were painted in Europe. This talk will consider the reasons for this obsession. Did her popularity reflect the anxiety of men as women slowly rose toward emancipation? We will look at the most sensuous and scandalous depictions of this enchantress – not for the faint hearted!

5. Gardens of earthly delight: Nature, Flora and Agriculture in Art
A cultivated garden or plot of agricultural land symbolises the control that the human race has learned to exercise over its surroundings. Looking at imagery from diverse centuries and societies, we explore how portrayals of gardens, flora, and agriculture in art, have given us insight into our relationship with the natural world, and helped us to define what it means to be human. We look at a variety of different approaches to the subject, such as the shocking symbolism in Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, the political imagery in Millet’s ‘The Gleaners’, and the beautiful textile designs of William Morris.

6. Ladies of the night: Art History’s most scandalous muses
Prostitutes have been used as muses and models by artists throughout art history. In 16th century Venice courtesans were frequently depicted as luscious nudes reclining as Venuses or scantily clad Floras, serving as early advertisements for the most successful courtesans of Europe. In 19th century Paris, prostitutes were a key subject for artists, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and most famously, by Manet. This talk looks at the many different depictions of prostitution, from Titian’s seductive women, to Ingres’ sensual odalisques, to Egon Schiele’s erotically charged sketches and examines how the role of prostitution has been idealised, glamorised and brought to public attention.

7. Magic, Mystery and Myth in 19th Century Symbolist Art
There is a tendency to think of 19th century European painting in terms of ‘Establishment’ art. Yet a trend for the strange, imaginary and fantastic also pervaded painting at this time; images of seductive and dangerous women, dream-like landscapes, apparitions, nightmares, beauty and death. This talk looks at how magical, mysterious and mythical subjects were interpreted by well-known artists such as Goya, William Blake, Henry Fuseli, Whistler, Munch, Beardsley and Klimt and lesser known names, for example, Gustave Moreau, Fernand Khnopff and Richard Dadd.

8. Secrets and Symbols in Paintings: Unlocking hidden meanings in Art
A recent survey, found that an average viewer looks at a painting in a museum for 2 seconds. Why are gallery goers spending so little time interacting with art? Paintings are often designed to be ‘read’, they contain hidden messages and symbols. These aren’t always obvious upon first glance; why are there oranges in van Eyck’s ‘Arnolfini Portrait’? Where did Hans Holbein hide his messages about mortality in ‘The Ambassadors’? This talk will help to arm viewers with the necessary skills to approach a painting in a gallery or museum, and examine it in detail, delving beneath the surface of the work.

9. The Eccentricity Effect: Does knowledge of an artist's life affect how we perceive their work?
When we see Van Gogh’s work, we often look for signs of his tortured mind. But how much should we let the personality of the artist affect our reading of their work? A 2014 study found that we tend to like art more if we perceive the artist as unconventional, known as the ‘eccentricity effect’. This talk looks at works by particularly ‘eccentric’ artists and those on the other side of the coin, who had particularly ‘conservative’ personalities and day jobs and examines the idea that ‘an artist is only ever as good as his or her backstory’.

10. Do women have to be naked to get into museums? Women Artists and their place in Art History
Have women been ignored by Art History? In New York in the spring of 1985, seven women launched the Guerrilla Girls in response to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition ‘An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture’, whose list of 165 artists included only 13 women. The group’s most famous poster posed the question ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’. This talk considers the changing position of women in art history, and looks at examples of female artists who have pushed the boundaries of this male-dominated discipline.

13. Angels – not just for the top of the tree: Celestial Beings in Art
From the celestial heralds of medieval art, to the surrealist beings in Marc Chagall’s work, the angel has always held a fascination for Western artists. Over the centuries angel imagery has evolved from the ethereal to more naturalistic depictions, paralleling society’s progression from faith in the unseen, to a world dominated by scientific explanation. Angels are usually associated with beauty, but more frightening depictions also exist. This talk considers a myriad of angels in various guises and looks at many interpretations including Bernini’s highly erotic ‘Ecstasy of St Teresa’, the classical beauty of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s angels and Breughel’s frenzied painting ‘The Fall of the Rebel Angels’.

British Art History:

14. Charles Rennie Mackintosh – more than just a tea room!
Did you know that when Charles Rennie Mackintosh died, his entire estate was valued at just £88? Glaswegian-born Mackintosh, a designer, architect and artist, was the foremost Celtic exponent of Art Nouveau, and had a considerable influence on European art. But he is an even more enigmatic figure today than when he was alive. Both Mackintosh's, and his wife Margaret Macdonald’s work has a distinctive character, one that captures the transition between the Victorian era and the Modern age. This talk will consider both Charles and Margaret's life, work and legacy.

15. The Glasgow Boys and their triumph over the Edinburgh 'Glue-Pots'
During the 19th Century, Glasgow was known as the 'Second City of the British Empire'. It was a vibrant place, a city which was growing - both industrially and culturally. It was within this innovative environment that the Glasgow Boys were born. The 'Boys' were a group of around 20 young artists who revolutionised Scottish painting by bringing it into the mainstream of European art. They rebelled against the elitist, Edinburgh dominated art scene, the artists they termed the 'Gluepots', and carved their own, distinctive paths. The Glasgow Boys were the subject of a successful Royal Academy exhibition, Pioneering Painters, in 2010. This talk explores their diverse, modern and inventive work.

16. Scotland’s Favourite Painting: The scandalous story of Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross
Attacked with a brick, slashed with a knife and shot at by an air-rifle, Dali’s dramatic work has survived these attacks and is now hailed as Scotland’s favourite painting. The work, that shows an unusual interpretation of the crucifixion, has received criticism since it was purchased by the foreword-thinking Director of the Kelvingrove, Tom Honeyman, in 1952. This talk looks at the extraordinary painting, the remarkable story behind its purchase and why Dali, so known for his surreal works, shocked the world by painting a religious subject.

17. A horse meat scandal and out of touch politicians: Why Ford Madox Brown's painting 'Work' is still as relevant as ever
Ford Madox’s Brown’s expansive painting ‘Work’ was one of the most remarkable and radical works painted during the Victorian period. Taking over twelve years to produce, the modern life scene attempted to show every level of Victorian society; from a rich aristocrat, to a hard-working builder, to a destitute and orphaned baby. Illustrating corruption, out-of-touch MPs, and a devious sausage maker, the painting shares some extraordinary similarities to our 21st Century society, despite being over 150 years old.

 18. Art History’s greatest hedonist? The Eccentric (and opium inspired!) Genius of William Burges
In the heart of Cardiff lies the magical and fantastic work which ‘eccentric genius’ and art architect William Burges created for his patron, the Third Marquis of Bute – Cardiff Castle. Cardiff Castle, along with Castell Coch on the outskirts of the city, reflect the perfect blending of Burges’ and Bute’s eclectic interests. Burges was given free rein to create the opulent and imaginative interiors of both castles. This talk considers the unique relationship between artist and patron. Expect lavish details, strange beasts and excessive gilding!

19. Victorians in Togas? The Classical Revival in 19th Century British Art
There was an enormous revival of interest in Classical art from 1850 until the turn of the century. Archaeological discoveries in Greece and Italy fuelled the imagination of British painters and designers who saw, in ancient Greece and Rome, a reflection of their own Empire. The works of Lord Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Poynter, Waterhouse and others reflected a nostalgic and idyllic attitude to Empire. But were the Victorians just painting their own people in togas? The talk examines how the work of these painters, rather than expressing a realistic view of classical culture was, in fact, a representation of very Victorian attitudes and ideas.

20. The Naked Truth about Victorians: The Nude in 19th Century Art
We think of the Victorians as prudish. But did they really cover their piano legs? In fact, the Victorians were obsessed with sex, and new evidence suggests that Queen Victoria had an exceptionally high libido. This Victorian interest in sex infiltrated the art world and the representation of the naked figure was one of the most controversial topics of the time, from mass-produced photographs to Royal Academy paintings. This talk looks at how Victorian artists managed to make the nude ‘acceptable’. It de-bunks the idea that the Victorians were repressed, suggesting
that it is perhaps us, 21st century viewers, who are the most prudish about the naked human body.

21. The first modern British artists? The radical and scandalous Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelites are considered to be the first ‘modern’ British artists. They looked back to the past, and yet their work was incredibly foreword thinking. The avant-garde group of Royal Academy students rebelled against everything they had been taught; rejecting Raphael and instead turning to early Renaissance and Flemish art for inspiration. They developed new and innovative ways of working; painting outdoors using bright, modern colours, and with a distinctive attention to detail. The group’s personal lives were equally as fascinating; full of scandals, opiate overdoses and affairs.

22. Moonlight and Mortality: The enigmatic works of Joseph Wright of Derby
Was Joseph Wright of Derby Britain’s answer to Caravaggio? He was a painter of light; candlelight, moonlight and fire. But he also painted another kind of light, the light of knowledge. His magical works give us an insight into a unique period of time; the British enlightenment. Wright of Derby shows us a society on the brink of change, when a shift was taking place between religious ways of thinking, to a more ‘scientific’ approach. His works raise poignant questions about ethics, morality and man’s power over life and death.

French Art History:

23. Parisians at Leisure: The absinthe fuelled cafe culture of 19th Century Paris
A new Parisian leisure society developed in the second half of the 19th century, providing ample material for artists who portrayed not only the excitement and energy of this vibrant period but also its darker side. This talk looks at the way ‘scenes of modernity’ were depicted through images of the new absinthe-fuelled cafe society, the nascent emancipation of women, or the rise of the bourgeoisie, with particular reference to the works of Manet, Toulouse Lautrec and the Impressionists.

24. Shock of the New: The scandalous and innovative works of Edouard Manet
When Manet's painting Olympia was exhibited in the 1865 Salon of Paris it was greeted with such shock and disgust that guards had to be stationed next to the work to prevent it from being attacked. Instead of painting an idealised view of feminine beauty, Manet painted a realistic and provocative French courtesan. This talk considers Manet's most celebrated works including ‘Olympia’, ‘Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe’ and ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’. It looks at how his paintings of 'truth' challenged the accepted function of art in France at this time.

25. Painting Prostitutes: Exploring the dark underbelly of 19th Century Paris
Prostitution was widespread in nineteenth-century Paris. Instead of being confined to boudoirs or red-light districts, ladies of the night inhabited the public spaces of Paris. Their trade was accepted as a repugnant but necessary vice. The flamboyant presence of sex for sale in the city made it a popular topic for painters. This talk looks at many depictions of prostitution in 19th Century Paris and the scandalous painted shell bed that belonged to the famous courtesan la Marquise de la Païva.

Italian Art History:

26. The four walls that changed everything: Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel
How did one tiny chapel in Padua, Italy change the course of art history? The frescoes covering the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel are now celebrated as the pearl of the Early Renaissance. Commissioned by the wealthy Enrico Scrovegni, to atone for his sins of money-lending, Giotto’s chapel is a masterpiece of storytelling. Devils, grief, love and vice line the opulent walls of the chapel, which is considered to have changed the direction of art history.

27. Divine Inspiration: The Poignant Works of Fra Angelico
Fra Giovanni da Fiesole (1395-1455) was also known as ‘Fra Angelico’ or the ‘Blessed Angelico’ because of his exquisite and moving depictions of paradise. He is perhaps the most celebrated religious painter of the Italian Early Renaissance. He was apparently so pious that, according to Vasari’s 1550 Lives of the Artists, 'whenever he painted a Crucifixion the tears would stream down his face'. This talk considers the delicate and poignant works he created throughout his career, from his altarpieces, to the serene frescos in the monastery of San Marco, to the harrowing depiction of Christ with bloodied eyes in his painting ‘Christ crowned with thorns’.

28. The Floating City: Romantic Visions of Venice
There has always been an intense relationship between artists and the city of Venice. The city’s mysterious elegance was particularly suited to romantic and 19th century painters, including J.M.W. Turner, Whistler and Monet. Turner was attracted to the city by its literary and historical associations and its celebrated light effects. Whistler sought refuge in Venice in 1879, wrecked by the disastrous effects of his lawsuit against Ruskin. He stayed for over a year, producing pastels, etchings and oils and wrote that he had ‘learned to know a Venice in Venice that the others never seem to have perceived’. Monet was sixty-eight when he discovered the enchantments of the city; his first glimpse left him ‘overcome with admiration’. Turner, Whistler and Monet were all completely and utterly seduced by Venice and this talk will consider their individual responses to La Serenissima.

Scandinavian Art History:

29. Painting the Land of the Midnight Sun: Romantic Visions of Norway
The late 19th century marked a defining moment in Norwegian art as romantic painters began to turn to their own land for inspiration painting the stormy seas, towering glaciers and rugged landscapes of their home. Before this point, artists were encouraged to paint a tamed and constrained form of nature, far from the sublime and towering fjords of Norway. This talk looks at the artists who challenged this concept; Adelsteen Normann, whose work is widely credited with popularising tourism to the Norwegian fjords, Peder Balke, who captured the far north with drama and romance and the painter Nikolai Astrup, who interpreted the landscape as a mythical, eerie entity in his luscious and colourful paintings.

30. The Scream of Nature: The imaginative and iconic works of Edvard Munch
Norwegian painter Edvard Munch is best known for his painting ‘The Scream’, painted in 1893, which has become one of the most iconic images in the modern world. Munch was clear about his own mission in exploring the depiction of extreme human emotion. "Just as Leonardo da Vinci studied anatomy and dissected corpses", he wrote, "so I try to dissect souls". This talk considers Munch’s powerfully evocative paintings of human mortality, sexual liberation and religious aspiration, expressed through works of intense imagination, colour and mystery.

Dutch, German and Belgian Art History:

31. Jan Van Eyck: Holding up a mirror to the Northern Renaissance
The Northern Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries produced some of the most exquisite images in the history of Western art; costumes, characters and curios were recorded with splendour and realism never seen before. This was partly due to the technique of painting with oil, a slow method which allowed artists to closely study the world around them and mastered by the artist Jan van Eyck. Van Eyck’s paintings of clarity, luminosity and precision are now celebrated as gems of the Northern Renaissance. This talk looks at his work, and the artist behind one of the earliest uses of graffiti in art history!

32. Tortured Genius: Do Van Gogh's works reflect his ever-changing state of mind?
Unbelievably in his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh had difficulty selling his paintings. Yet today he is one of the most celebrated artists in the world, perceived by many as a genius, and the fascination with his life story is unrivalled. Because we know so much about Van Gogh’s life, there is a tendency to look for signs of the artist’s mental state in each of his works. But how much should we let our knowledge of Van Gogh’s personality affect our reading of his work? This talk looks closely at the artist’s life in relation to his painting, and questions whether Van Gogh’s work really does reflect his changing state of mind.

33. Caspar David Friedrich: The lonely contemplation of Nature
The image most often associated with Caspar David Friedrich is that of a figure standing in mountainous wilds, or against turbulent seas, always with his back to us - a Rückenfigur. One of his generation's most popular painters, the German romantic painter Friedrich imagined landscapes of powerful beauty and spirituality from within the limits of his studios. Friedrich developed an innovative approach to landscape painting, one that communicated a new sense of space and time and showed the diminished strength of man in nature. Sadly, Friedrich was for the most part, misunderstood in his time but today is recognised as a true innovator. This talk looks at his poignant works of contemplative figures, twisted, gnarled forests and misty, lonely landscapes.

34. Pleasure, Sin and Men with Fish Heads: The fantastical works of Hieronymus Bosch
Monsters and morals, pleasure and sin, heaven and hell; the strange works of Hieronymus Bosch are considered an anomaly in the history of art. They are filled with grotesque images of fantastical creatures surrendering to lust, desire, fantasy and angst. His most famous work, the triptych ‘The Garden of Earthly Desires’ illustrates the danger of giving in to temptation, with a terrifying hell scene which even today is disturbing. This talk looks at arguably the most enigmatic figure in art history, and the fantastical works he created.

American Art History:

35. 'All the Lonely People': The work of American Realist Edward Hopper
Hopper was a painter of loneliness and melancholy; from solitary figures in offices, motel rooms and diners, to deserted towns. He portrayed a changing America and the isolation of the individual in the modern city. His works are visually stunning; characterised by striking colours, cinematic and cropped compositions which heighten tension. Flooded with light, his paintings expose detached figures and create a mood of eerie uneasiness. This talk considers some of his most arresting works, including ‘The Nighthawks’, ‘Gas’ and ‘Automat’.

36. Magic Realism in New England: The mesmerising work of Andrew Wyeth
‘If there is such a thing as a purely American tradition in Art, it is represented at its best in the straightforward canvases of Andrew Wyeth.’ — LIFE magazine, 1948. Andrew Wyeth is one of America’s best-known Realist painters of the 20th century. In a career spanning 75 years, he created paintings of everyday life in Pennsylvania and Maine that were imbued with mystery and emotion. He painted with an exacting detail that led to his style being termed ‘magic realism’. This talk looks at his poignant landscapes, his scandalous ‘Helga’ series and his moving portraits, including a focused look at his most iconic work, ‘Christina’s World’.

37. The Man with the Pitchfork: Iconic paintings from early 20th Century America
The first half of the 20th century was a golden age for figurative painters in North America. Many of the most reproduced images from American Art History were created during this time – Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’, Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Christina’s World’, as well paintings by Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and the Ashcan School of painting. This talk will explore the most iconic images to come out of America, all of which are firmly etched in the public consciousness.
Stella has experience lecturing for Saga cruises and for the luxury cruise line Hebridean Island Cruises. In 2018 she has been booked as an Art History speaker by Saga, Viking and Fred Olsen.