The Arts Society Wellington

The Decorative and Fine Arts Society of Wellington Incorporated (WeDFAS) was the third Society to be established in New Zealand and had its first lecture in August 2006. In 2018 we changed our name to The Arts Society Wellington, in line with the re-branding of our parent body in the UK. We offer the opportunity to hear eight top quality, diverse and interesting lectures each year covering a wide range of decorative and fine arts subjects. Recently our members have enjoyed hearing about architecture, glass, painting, fashion, porcelain, artists, sculpture, art history, design, craft, archaeology, literature and ceramics. Our lecturers primarily come from the UK where they have undergone a stringent selection process to qualify as lecturers for The Arts Society (based in the UK). The Arts Society lecturers have a reputation as excellent speakers who deliver well-researched and illustrated talks. Our membership currently stands at 240. At a Special General Meeting on 30 July 2018 the Society adopted its new operating name and updated its Rules. The current Rules, which were further amended at the 2021 AGM to cover electronic meetings, can be read here. Each year the Society donates $3,000 – $4,000 to local charities and causes, particularly those with a youth focus.

Programme Details

The Arts Society Wellington hosts eight one-hour lectures per year. They take place on a Monday evening with a 6pm start, at the National Library Auditorium Taiwhanga Kauhau, Aitken Street, Thorndon, unless otherwise advised. We round off the evening with a glass of wine and sandwiches, providing members with an opportunity to meet the lecturer and each other.

The Society’s 2022 lecture programme has been impacted by the international travel restrictions due to Covid-19. At this stage we expect to livestream up to six lectures by accredited The Arts Society lecturers direct from the UK either to our venue or online to members’ homes, while a couple of lectures will be delivered in person by New Zealand or Australia-based lecturers.  This arrangement is, however, subject to change depending on the Covid-19 situation.


The Arts Society Wellington has a full membership and a waiting list. The waiting list operates in date order. Membership is not transferable. To express an interest to join, please download the TASW Membership Application Form 2022 and send it to the Membership Secretary at PO Box 19030, Marion Square, Wellington, 6141 or to  To enquire about lectures or have your name added to the waiting list, please contact our Membership Secretary, Denise Almao, at  or PO Box 19030, Marion Square, Wellington, 6141.

Annual membership is $140.00 or $280.00 for two persons living at the same address. The membership subscription covers the cost of venue and equipment, travel and accommodation and fees for lecturers and refreshments after the lectures. As an incorporated society and registered charity, we are a non-profit organisation and support the arts within our community.

Because seating in our lecture theatre is limited, members are required to advise our Membership Secretary in advance if they wish to bring a guest. We regret that guests are restricted to attending just two lectures a year. There is a charge of $25.00 per guest. Members of other NZ Societies or international members of The Arts Society are welcome to attend our lectures at a charge of $15.00 on prior notification to our Membership Secretary.

Wellington – 2022 Lecturer Biographies and Topics

Ian Swankie

WELLINGTON Lecture Date : Monday 28 February 2022 – Broadcast live from the UK

direct to members at home 

A Londoner with a passion for art and architecture, Ian is an official guide at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Guildhall Art Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral, and gives tours around each venue. He is also a qualified and active freelance London guide and leads regular tours for various corporations and organisations. Since 2012 he has led a popular weekly independent art lecture group in his home-town of Richmond in West London. He is a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Art Scholars, one of the City livery companies.


Tate Modern originally opened in 2000 but in June 2016 opened its doors to the stunning new Blavatnik Building immediately setting the new gold standard for museum design. This talk looks at the sleek new architecture and its engagement with the local environment and then follows the highlights of the collection, starting with Monet, Matisse and Picasso, continuing through the 20th century artists such as Bacon, Freud and Epstein and on to some international recent works. Some are easy to explain, and some are quite challenging. Some are profound, some are witty, some are whacky, but they all have a place. Tate Modern is the most visited modern art museum in the world and this armchair tour is a chance to explore the artworks without the crowds.

Caroline Shenton

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 28 March 2022 – broadcast live from the UK

direct to members at home – revised time: 7.30pm

Dr. Caroline Shenton is an archivist and historian. She was formerly Director of the Parliamentary Archives in London, and before that was a senior archivist at the National Archives. Her book The Day Parliament Burned Down won the Political Book of the Year Award in 2013 and Mary Beard called it ‘microhistory at its absolute best’. Its acclaimed sequel, Mr Barry’s War, about the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster, was a Book of the Year in 2016 for The Daily Telegraph and BBC History Magazine, and was described by Lucy Worsley as “a real jewel, finely wrought and beautiful”. Caroline was Political Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library in 2017, has appeared at the Cheltenham, Hay and Henley literary festivals and on BBC radio and TV. Caroline’s third book, National Treasures, will tell the extraordinary and sometimes hilarious stories behind the saving of London’s art and museum collections in World War Two.


A highly topical lecture, given the current arguments about the multi-billion pound restoration planned for Westminster! The Houses of Parliament is one of the most famous and staggering buildings in the world. Its rises serenely from the Thames at Westminster, on a site which has been the centre of power and government in England from the earliest times. It is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture and a spectacular feat of civil engineering: but from the beginning, its design and construction were a battleground for its architect, Charles Barry. The practical challenges, even by the standards of Victorian invention, were immense Battling the interference of MPs and royalty, coaxing and soothing the genius of his partner Pugin, fending off the mad schemes of a host of crackpot inventors and busybodies, and coming in three times over budget and twenty-four years behind schedule, this lecture will tell the story of how Charles Barry created the most famous building in Britain.

Stephen Taylor

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 9 May 2022 – broadcast live from the UK


Stephen Taylor is an artist and art historian who studied John Constable as a post graduate at Essex and Yale, taught art at Felsted School and went on to became Head of Painting at The Open College of the Arts and course director for the Inchbald School of Design. In 2000, Stephen turned to landscape painting with early shows at King’s College Cambridge, Meisel’s New York and Vertigo in London. Now has pictures in private collections world-wide and his book Oak: One tree, three years, fifty paintings was featured in The GuardianThe New Statesman and on Oprah Winfrey’s website.


The talk tracks Britain’s ‘greatest impressionist’ in a variety of costumes over four countries, encountering (and teaching) Winston Churchill, The Princess de Polignac, fishermen’s wives and petty criminals; living a life, as he put it, ‘somewhere between a prince and a pig’.  But Sickert’s murcurial personality masked a consistency of purpose which put him at the front of modern realist painting – until Cézanne, Matisse and a string of isms became fashionable. Then his eloquence as a writer then came into play with a series of articles celebrating everyday life and good painting methods as still the best source for new art. A message for today?

Gregory O’Brien

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 20 June 2022

Poet, essayist, editor and artist Gregory O’Brien is a busy and energetic presence in both arts and literature within New Zealand. With one foot in the literary world and the other in the visual art realm, Gregory has been on the cultural scene for nearly three decades. Gregory trained as a journalist in Auckland and worked as a newspaper reporter in Northland before returning to study art history and English at Auckland University. Between 1997 and 2009 he was curator at the City Gallery, Wellington, and was awarded the Arts Foundation Laureate in 2012 and the MNZM in 2013. Greg has illustrated his own poetry books and has written three publications introducing art to young people. His artworks can be found on book covers worldwide and his poems and drawings were the basis for a winter fashion collection by Auckland designer Doris de Pont in 2006. He has produced books on artists including Ralph Hotere, Graham Percy and Pat Hanly and is currently working on a monograph of Don Binney.

Note: this lecture was originally scheduled for February.


Expanding on the artistic territories covered in his recent book Always song in the water (AUP 2019) and his forthcoming monograph on Don Binney, art writer/curator/poet Gregory O’Brien will explore aspects of the relationship between place, visual art and the written word in the recent art of Aotearoa/New Zealand  art. He will discuss the many ways that place–in particular the provincial landscape–has been a radicalising rather than a conservative force in this country’s imaginative life. Spanning the work of a number of artists O’Brien has written about in the past–among them Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Robin White, John Pule and Elizabeth Thomson–he will explore the imaginative possibilities of the landscape genre as well as signalling an evolving awareness of Oceanic realities that both challenges and enhances our understanding of these islands on which we live.

Andrew Hopkins

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 1 August 2022 – broadcast live from the UK

Andrew Hopkins is a previous Assistant Director of the British School at Rome from 1998 to 2002 and since 2004, Associate Professor at the University of L’Aquila. Part of his PhD (Courtauld Institute 1995) on Venetian architecture was awarded the Essay Medal of 1996 by the Society of Architectural Historians (GB). A Fellow at Harvard University’s Villa I Tatti in Florence in 2003-2004, and in 2009 was the Paul Mellon Senior Visiting Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Amongst his many publications are, with Arnold Witte, Alois RieglThe Origins of Baroque Art in Rome (2010), and Baldassare Longhena and the Venetian Baroque (2012). 


One of the richest and most famous families of 19th century Europe, the various branches of this banking family had outstanding residences filled with their collection across the continent, as well as in London and in Buckinghamshire. This richly illustrated talk looks at their most important properties and art works, including Waddesdon Manor.

Barry Venning

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 5 September 2022 

Barry Venning is an historian of British art with a particular interest in the work of JMW Turner, on whom he has published widely, including the volume on Turner in Phaidon’s Art & Ideas series, and several catalogue essays for exhibitions in the UK, Germany, Italy and Poland. He was the BBC’s script consultant on Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and has recently taken part (2013) in a BBC documentary called The Genius of Turner: Painting the Industrial Revolution.
Barry has also published a study of John Constable’s paintings. His interests and his teaching extend from medieval architecture to contemporary British art. He is currently Associate Lecturer with the Open University and lecturing on a freelance basis for The Arts Society, Christie’s Education and other organisations.


When Frank Bowling arrived in Britain in the 1950s from Guyana, he faced hostility, and neglect, while his British born friends such as David Hockney enjoyed glittering careers. Nowadays, black and Asian artists like Sonia Boyce, Steve McQueen, Lubaina Himid, Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare or the Singh Twins have a global presence on the international exhibition circuit. The lecture explores how once marginalised groups of artists came to shape the agenda of the visual arts in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

John Stevens

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 10 October 2022 – BROADCAST LIVE FROM THE UK

Dr. John Stevens is a Research Associate at SOAS, University of London, and a member of academic staff at the SOAS South Asia Institute.  His PhD in History is from University College London. He teaches British Imperial history, Indian history and Bengali language, and is a regular visitor to India and Bangladesh. He publishes widely in the fields of British and Indian history. His biography of the Indian guru Keshab Chandra Sen – Keshab: Bengal’s Forgotten Prophet – was published by Hurst and Oxford University Press in 2018.He appears regularly in the Indian media, and was recently a guest on BBC Radio Four’s In Our Time, discussing the poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore. 


Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is arguably the most important Indian artistic figure of the modern era. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, claimed that he had two gurus: Gandhi and Tagore. A renowned poet, novelist, composer and painter, Tagore is also the only person in history to have written the national anthems for two countries (India and Bangladesh). He became a global sensation when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first non-European to do so. This lecture provides an introduction to Tagore’s remarkable life and work, including his novels, poetry, songs and paintings. It also explores the role Tagore’s art played in the story of India’s fight for independence. 

Mary Kisler

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 14 November 2022 

Mary Kisler is an author, art historian and Radio New Zealand art commentator, having recently retired as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Mary earned her master’s degree in art history and Italian at the University of Auckland in 1994. She has been a curator at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki since 1998, caring for a collection that spans from c.1150 to 1950, a large part of which is European art but which also includes a small collection of Indian miniatures and Japanese ukiyo-e prints. In 2010 Godwit published her book Angels & Aristocrats: Early European Art in New Zealand Public Galleries. In 2019 the Auckland Art Gallery published her Hodgkins catalogue raisonnée to accompany a major Hodgkins exhibition.


This lecture examines the dialectic between Victorian morals and social constraints, not least for women, and how these ideas played out within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the women they loved.

Supporting the Arts

The Arts Society Wellington is one of the sponsors of Artsplash, Wellington’s annual primary and intermediate school arts festival, a week-long festival that brings together thousands of primary and intermediate school children from throughout the region to celebrate and perform dance, drama, music, visual arts and wearable art in one of the city’s premium venues. We have also supported The New Zealand Portrait Gallery to enable it to bring students from lower decile schools in the Wellington region to view the Gallery’s exhibitions.

Contact The Arts Society Wellington


Chair  :  Robyn Vavasour /
Vice Chair  :  Karin Beatson /
Treasurer  :  Julian Proctor /
Membership Secretary  :  Denise Almao /
Committee  :  Jane Kirkcaldie, Belinda Langford, Richard Eats, Penney Moir, Lucia Tubbs