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This very distinguished lecture series has been hosted as a public lecture by the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL since 1974. Although speakers have included eminent art critics, art historians, theorists and curators including Norbert Lynton, Richard Wollheim, Andrew Causey, Richard Cork and Norman Bryson, the primary aim of the William Townsend Memorial Lecture series is to encourage well known and influential artists to talk about their work to art students and the wider public.

“William Townsend occupies a particular role within twentieth century British art owing to his ability to try out, work through and assimilate what he needed from fast changing ideas and issues that animated painting before during and after the second world war. He was observer, practitioner, and commentator, a multiple role that gives him a special place in any record of the period.”
Frances Spalding

William Townsend was born in Wandsworth, London on the 23 February 1909, the son of William Lewis Townsend, a poetry-writing dentist. Both his parents were appalled by the carnage of the First World War and became pacifists and Quakers. One of his brothers, Peter Townsend, became a leading Sinologist, and an inspirational editor of Studio International, for which William Townsend wrote on Canadian Art.

William Townsend is known as a significant landscape painter.  His work encompasses Italy, France, Egypt and Tunisia, but he is best known for his English and Canadian landscape paintings, as well as his contribution to art education in both these countries. Townsend entered the Slade School of Fine Art as a student in 1926 under the professorship of Henry Tonks, and completed his studies in 1930. He was awarded the Orpen Bursary and won the newly awarded Wilson Steer landscape prize for At Bashford which is in the UCL Art Museum collection.

He held his first solo show at the Bloomsbury Gallery, London in 1932. In 1935 he contributed to the Anti-Fascist Solidarity Exhibition in Soho Square, London, alongside artists such as Duncan Grant, Paul Nash, Eric Gill and Henry Moore. He became more involved in anti fascist, protests and politics declining an invitation by the Labour party to stand as a parliamentary candidate for Canterbury. With the start of the Second World War he enlisted as an officer in the Royal Artillery, before transferring to the Army Education corps. He married Mary Baxter in 1942, and his daughter Charlotte was born in 1945, his son Richard in 1951.

When Sir William Coldstream became the Slade Professor in 1949, William Townsend was appointed as a lecturer at the Slade. He moved to Kent, retaining a small flat in Bloomsbury. The landscape of the Weald of Kent was to occupy his painting in England for the rest of his life.

In 1962 he was invited to the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies and started painting the Canadian landscape. He was later appointed as a visiting professor, then head of painting at the Banff School.

In 1968 he was appointed an individual chair as professor at the Slade with responsibility to develop a postgraduate Fine Art course, which continues in the form of the MFA and MA in Fine Art at the Slade to this day.

William Townsend died on the 4th of July 1973 in Banff, Alberta, Canada aged 64.

The Tate Gallery held a retrospective of his work in 1976, and published extracts from his journals edited by Andrew Forge as: The Townsend Journals: an artist’s record of his times. The Tate Gallery holds several of his paintings in its collection.

Thanks to the generosity of William Townsend’s family, the Slade is able to continue to represent the legacy of an artist and educator who made a major contribution to Fine Art in England and Canada through the William Townsend Memorial Lectures.

Dryden Goodwin, Reader in Fine Art Media and Head of Print, Chair of the William Townsend Memorial Committee

List of Speakers


Zineb Sedira

Standing Here Wondering Which Way To Go


Tacita Dean


William Kentridge

Enough + More Than Enough


Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow


Stan Douglas

Stan Douglas


John Hilliard

Studio as Site, Set and Subject


Derek Boshier

From Doris to the Cocaine Cowboy 


Cornelia Parker

One Day this Glass will Break


Rachel Whiteread 

Major Projects and Other Works


Lawrence Weiner

Aesthetics, Ethics, Etc 


Norman Bryson

Seurat and the Scene of Drawing


Michael Craig Martin

Post-Painting Painting and Other Thoughts


Bridget Riley

Painting Now
Text reproduced in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 139, No. 1134 (Sep., 1997), 616-622.


Bruce McLean

Out of my Head – Out of my Mind 


Peter Greenaway

The Stairs (transcript available via UCL Special Collections)


Antony Gormley

Raising Heavy Matters


Thomas Crow

Art Historian and Contemporary Art 


Richard Hamilton

The Hard Copy Problem 


Richard Deacon

Ambiguous Gestures


Susan Hiller



Declan McGonagle

Art: The Issue of Place


Anthony Hill

A Short Space from Time
Text reproduced in Art Monthly, no. 123 (Feb. 1989), 3-5.


Bernard Cohen

Making Art & Killing Culture


Richard Cork

Bomberg and the Bomb Store
Text reproduced in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 128, No. 1000 (Jul. 1986), 493-505.


Andrew Causey

Classical and Romantic in the Art of Wydham Lewis 


Richard Rogers

The Crisis of Public Space and the Language of Architecture


Anthony Caro

Space, Place and Sculpture


Howard Hodgkin

How to be an Artist (read an edited transcript on Howard Hodgkin's website)


Reg Butler

The Venus of Lespugne and other Naked Ladies
Text reproduced in exhibition catalogue Reg Butler, Davies, John and Alan Bowness. Tate Gallery, 1983.


Kenneth Martin

Chance and Order


Andrew Forge

Transatlantic Reflections: Some Remarks on Art in England


Richard Wollheim, FBA  

Adrian Stokes: Critic, Painter, Poet


Sir Leslie Martin

Aspects of Art and Architecture: 40 Years in Retrospect
See “Notes on A Developing Architecture” Architectural Review, Vol. 164, no. 977 (Jul. 1978), 11-17.


Norbert Lynton

Art and its Publics


Robyn Denny

Art and the State, and the State of Art

All Townsend Lectures