Birmingham Institute of Art and Design
View artworksBIAD was invited by the Hanging Committee to contribute to this project a number of works from the School of Art Archive demonstrating the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism and the Arts and Crafts movement on the teaching of art in Birmingham at the end of the nineteenth century.
The BIAD School of Art Archive Collection covers the Birmingham School of Art from before its formation as a Government School of Design in 1843 up until its absorption by Birmingham Polytechnic in 1970. Although historically titled the School of Art Archive Collection, this is somewhat of a misnomer as it in fact, an art collection of staff and student works and contains several thousand drawings, prints, sketchbooks, paintings, photographs, casts and a smaller number of glass, ceramic and metalwork objects. There is also an extensive number of glass lantern slides and photographic plates and prints as well as a collection of twentieth century London underground posters, and the work of the Birmingham School of Printing. The collection is particularly strong in the period c.1880-1920 and includes the work of students and staff members including A. J. Gaskin, J. Southall, C.M. Gere, H. Payne, and G. L. Brockhurst.
This coincides with perhaps the period of the School's great achievements and national significance. In the last two decades of the Nineteenth century Birmingham School of Art became the largest and most successful school in Government awards and medals in the country. Interestingly, and atypically, female students formed a high proportion of Birmingham's prize winners in the national competitions. In the Collection their work is particularly represented in the work of Florence Camm who attended the School intermittently from 1892-1912. This was a period of rapid growth from one central school and six branch schools 1880 to a purpose built central school and 15 branches in 1900. In 1885 Birmingham became the first Municipal School of Art. The increased freedom that municipalisation entailed, enabled the School to challenge centralised policies of teaching style, methods and content, and to erect in part an alternative Arts and Crafts system working with physical materials.
Birmingham was a recognised centre of Pre-Raphaelite interest by 1850s, and members of the Brotherhood were frequently invited to show works with the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. Many of the influential industrialists, politicians and philanthropists in Birmingham were adherents to Ruskinian beliefs in Nature. The city's non-sectarian municipal elite were also collectors of late Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts work. In this municipal climate an Arts and Crafts ethos flourished at the School of Art, which had two notably active Arts and Crafts headmasters, Edward Taylor from 1877 to 1903 and then Robert Catterson-Smith from 1903to 1920. The Birmingham School led the way in introducing executed design to the teaching of art and design nationally (working in the material for which the design was intended rather than designing on paper). In his external examiner's report of 1889, Walter Crane praised Birmingham School of Art in that it "considered design in relationship to materials and usage" and suggested extending the practical workshops. A specialised branch school, the School of Jewellery, opened in 1890 in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. By September 1893, when the extension to the central school building opened, staff appointments had been made in the fields of embroidery, needlework, enamelling and wood-engraving, and a number of "art laboratories" or workshops for practical instruction in repoussé, fresco, modelling and woodwork had been created. In 1901 the School Committee suggested further extending the syllabus to included stained glass, bookbinding, and writing (illumination and calligraphy). Catterson-Smith had worked as an illustrator for William Morris and Burne-Jones at Kelmscott Press, and taught with Frampton and Lethaby at Central School of Arts & Crafts in London. He was appointed first to Vittoria Street branch school, and then as Headmaster, following testimonials from Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, William de Morgan and Walter Crane. This Arts and Crafts influence on the students, so evident in the subject matter and style of the compositional studies and designs for metalwork, stained and textiles, was strengthened by the lectures given to students by William Holman Hunt (in 1893), William Morris (in 1894) and W. R. Lethaby (in 1901).
The Birmingham School of Art was instrumental in shaping the Fine Arts in Birmingham and the surrounding region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The majority of the artists in the loosely termed Birmingham School were students or staff (often both) at the School. Staff and students operated almost as an unofficial guild, undertaking numerous private commissions in the region.
The BIAD School of Art Archive Collection has not previously been fully catalogued, and at the current time is closed to researchers whilst cataloguing is undertaken as part of BIAD's Archive Development Project. For further information please contact the Keeper of Archives.
Keeper of Archives
Department of Art
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design
University of Central England