Welcome to the Exe Decorative and Fine Arts Society. We are based in Topsham, and cover the towns and villages on both sides of the Exe estuary south of Exeter. Our purpose is to give our members opportunities to appreciate the arts.

We have a programme of ten lectures on various aspects of the arts, held monthly on Thursday mornings, from September to June. The lectures are illustrated and given by experts in their field. These lectures are supplemented by special interest days where we look in greater detail at a particular topic.

We also have visits to places of interest in the south west, and tours further afield, including abroad. Some of our members take part in activities such as Heritage Volunteering, and Arts Volunteering, where we try to involve young people in the arts through initiatives in local schools and colleges.

In 2017, most decorative and fine art societies changed their names to The Arts Society, following the rebranding of the national body NADFAS. We as a society decided to retain our name ExeDFAS while remaining affiliated to The Arts Society.

We welcome new members at any time, although we currently have a waiting list. We invite anyone who is interested to come along to one of our lectures, to see how informative and entertaining they are. Please let our membership secretary know in advance so that a place can be reserved.


The Picture of the Month at the National Gallery.

Rosa Bonheur, 'The Horse Fair', 1855

‘The Horse Fair’ is Bonheur’s most celebrated painting. A colossal version (over 5 metres long) hangs in the The Met in New York. In this, the horses are so big, one French critic described feeling like he had to jump out of their way! Bought by the dealer Ernest Gambart, it toured England, Europe and the USA, and Queen Victoria even requested it be brought to Buckingham Palace for a private viewing.

We are at the Horse Fair, which took place twice weekly on the Boulevard de l’Hôpital in 19th-century Paris. ‘My dream’, wrote the artist Rosa Bonheur, ‘is to show the fire which comes out of the horses’ nostrils; the dust which rises.’

We sense the strength of these magnificent Percherons, the shouts of the handlers straining for control, the hubbub of the onlookers, and the smells of the horses mingled with kicked-up dust and manure.

The most successful female artist of the 19th century and a LGBTQI+ icon in our own times, Bonheur lived an extraordinary life. Unlike Monet, whose fame and fortune came late in life or Van Gogh whose works only began to sell after his death, Bonheur was fêted throughout her career for her paintings of animals, ranging from rabbits to bulls and lions.

She exhibited at the Louvre, received commissions from Empress Eugénie and, in 1865, became the first woman to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest order of merit. From talking horses with Buffalo Bill to retiring to the drawing room for after-dinner cigarettes, and from forming a local militia in readiness for the Prussian invasion to riding astride (rather than side saddle), she shunned traditional feminine pursuits and ideals.



The National Gallery has a very extensive website with access on line to every item in the collection . Each month it publishes a new picture of the month, and this is the image for July 2021

Galleries everywhere are endeavouring to bring their great art treasures to the public who are unable to get to galleries and museums  as once they did. Their curators have prepared short lectures, and the genius of modern technology can give us ‘Virtual Tours’.

Just a ‘taster’ of these facilities is now available on this website starting with lectures provided by our ‘parent body’ – The Arts Society. The section is called The Arts Society plus and has its own drop down menu accessible at the top of this page


The October Lecture



Caravaggio’s influence on the new baroque style that emerged from mannerism was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of  Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Rembrandt  and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the “Caraggivisti (or “Caravagesques”), as well as tenebrists or tenebrosi (“shadowists”).

The lecturer on this occasion is Dr Chantal Brotherton-Radcliffe

She has taught at Sotheby’s Institute of Art since 1989 on their MA in Fine and Decorative Arts. Also trained as a paintings conservator.

the Calling of St Matthew

This lecture will be given on October 14th at 1045 in The Matthews Hall.

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