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. January 2022

Men of the Docks by George Bellows, 1912

It’s a bleak winter’s day, down on the frozen waterfront of the East River in Brooklyn. Men huddle, their hands thrust into their pockets and their jacket collars turned up against the bitter chill.

It’s been a long, cold wait for these day labourers, anxious to hear if they will be offered work today, loading and unloading cargo from the docked ocean liner. The work is low-paid and uncertain. In 1912, when this painting was made, longshoremen earned around $10–22 a week, while a budget apartment in New York cost around $10 a week.

Look closely at the figures of the men, and you can see that their faces are suggested by just a few strokes of paint. The men are sketchily painted, yet, their body language – hunched shoulders, hands in pockets, an anxious glance over a shoulder – conveys their mood. We sense that they are listening to an announcement – perhaps a roll call of names of those to be employed that day.

On the left, a man appears to be leaving, perhaps having been told he has not been chosen. Isolated from the group, he is shown, head bowed and deep in shadow, giving us a sense of his rejection. Will there be food on the table for his family that night? And do the others look at him with sympathy, pity or relief that it’s not them

This painting was made in the same year as the sinking of the Titanic and the huge-steam powered ocean liner in the painting would have had luxury accommodation for the rich, while lower class travellers had separate accommodation below deck, sometimes hundreds sleeping in bunkbeds, in a large communal hold. Immigrants from across the globe would often arrive on liners like this, those from Europe travelling first to Britain, and then on to the US. Ships like these were very much in the public consciousness, not only as examples of human ingenuity and progress, but also as reminders of the dangers of the open sea.




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 December 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 February Lecture

John Constable's lesser known paintings

Constable once famously wrote in a letter to his closest friend, John Fisher, ‘I should paint my own places best’, and his own places largely consisted of the Suffolk countryside in which he grew up and which  formed the subjects of his most famous and beloved images. It is less widely known that Constable was a formidable painter of the English coast, or that he toured the Lake District, produced portraits, depicted religious subjects and spent fifteen years working intermittently on a grand oil painting of London. This lecture looks at some of these lesser known, but often remarkable products of Constable’s career.

The lecturer on this occasion is Barry Venning

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 FightingTemeraire and has recently taken part (2013) in a BBC documentary called The Genius of Turner: Painting the Industrial Revolution. He 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.

This lecture will be given in the Matthews Hall at 10.45 on February 10th <

The etiquette for this lecture will accord with Government Covid restrictions that pertain at the time.
We appreciate that even with these precautions, some of our members may be reluctant to come to a talk at present.

A recording of the lecture may be available on YouTube if the committee deems it necessary/

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