The Slade School of Art was founded in 1871 with money left by Felix Slade, a wealthy art collector from Yorkshire. The first professor of art at the Slade was Edward Poynter who favoured the French academic system. Teaching methods under Poynter tended to concentrate on drawing and painting from the living model, the development of critical intelligence and an understanding of art history.
When Edward Poynter was replaced by Alphonse Legros in 1876, students were mainly taught by demonstration. In 1892 Frederick Brown succeeded Alphonse Legros as professor of fine art Slade Art School. According to Anne Pimlott Baker: "Continuing the teaching and liberal outlook of Poynter and Legros, he (Brown) built up the school of drawing, and tried to develop the individuality of his pupils, while encouraging them to study form by means of an analytical rather than an imitative approach to draughtsmanship, returning to the methods of masters such as Ingres. He attracted a strong teaching staff, establishing the principle that all teachers should be practising artists."
Frederick Brown convinced Henry Tonks to give up medicine and become one of its teachers. Tonks' biographer, Lynda Morris, has argued: "Tonks used his anatomical knowledge to teach life drawing as a swift and intelligent activity. He referred his students to old master drawings at the British Museum and taught his pupils to draw the model at the size it was seen, measured at arm's length (sight size), which enabled them continually to correct the drawing for themselves, against a physical object." Brown also recruited his friend, Philip Wilson Steer, to the staff.
Under the leadership of Brown and Tonks the Slade School of Art produced some of its most eminent artists including William Rothenstein, Augustus John, Gwen John, William Orpen, Paul Nash, Wyndham Lewis, Dora Carrington, Dorothy Brett, Spencer Gore, Jacob Epstein, David Bomberg, Michel Salaman, Edna Waugh, Herbert Barnard Everett, Albert Rothenstein, Ambrose McEvoy, Ursula Tyrwhitt, Ida Nettleship and Gwen Salmond.
In the period before the First World War a small group of students worked very closely together. This included Mark Gertler, Christopher Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, John S. Currie, Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot, Edward Wadsworth, Adrian Allinson and Rudolph Ihlee. This group became known as the Coster Gang. According to David Boyd Haycock, the author of A Crisis of Brilliance (2009), this was "because they mostly wore black jerseys, scarlet mufflers and black caps or hats like the costermongers who sold fruit and vegetables from carts in the street".
Another important tutor at the Slade School of Art was Roger Fry. He took a keen interest in all forms of art. In May 1910 he wrote an article for The Burlington Magazine on drawings by African Bushman, where he praised their sharpness of perception and intelligence of design. David Boyd Haycock argued that "Fry was opening up his awareness to a wider sphere of artistic expression, though it was not one that would win him many friends." Henry Tonks remarked to a friend: "Don't you think Fry might find something more interesting to write about than Bushmen." Tonks was also highly critical of Cubism. Tonks declared: "I cannot teach what I don't believe in. I shall resign if this talk about Cubism does not cease; it is killing me." This attitude increased the view that he had become a reactionary.
In 1910 Fry, Clive Bell and Desmond MacCarthy went to Paris and after visiting "Parisian dealers and private collectors, arranging an assortment of paintings to exhibit at the Grafton Galleries" in Mayfair. This included a selection of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, André Derain and Vincent Van Gogh. As the author of Crisis of Brilliance (2009) has pointed out: "Although some of these paintings were already twenty or even thirty years old - and four of the five major artists represented were dead - they were new to most Londoners." This exhibition had a marked impression on the work of Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Spencer Gore.
Henry Tonks told his students that although he could not prevent them visiting the Grafton Galleries, he could tell them "how very much better pleased he would be if we did not risk contamination but stayed away". The critic for The Pall Mall Gazette described the paintings as the "output of a lunatic asylum". Robert Ross of The Morning Post agreed claiming the "emotions of these painters... are of no interest except to the student of pathology and the specialist in abnormality". These comments were especially hurtful to Fry as his wife had recently been committed to an institution suffering from schizophrenia.
Paul Nash recalled that he saw Claude Phillips, the art critic of The Daily Telegraph, on leaving the exhibition, "threw down his catalogue upon the threshold of the Grafton Galleries and stamped on it." William Rothenstein also disliked Fry's post-impressionist exhibition. He wrote in his autobiography, Men and Memories (1932) that he feared that the excessive publicity that the exhibition received, would seduce younger artists from "more personal, more scrupulous work".
Gilbert Spencer, the brother of Stanley Spencer, was another who studied at the Slade. He later wrote how Henry Tonks "talked of dedication, the privilege of being an artist, that to do a bad drawing was like living with a lie, and he proceeded to implant these ideals by ruthless and withering criticism. I remember once coming home and feeling like flinging myself under a train, and Stan telling me not to mind as he did it to everyone." Tonks later admitted: "I certainly cannot draw, though I have a passion for drawing; I am uncertain about the direction of lines; I have no skill of hand, and to express myself at all I have the greatest difficulty. Perhaps it is that being so deficient myself, I have enough honesty to urge my students to strengthen themselves where I am weak."
Tonks developed a reputation for being very harsh with his students. Randolph Schwabe has argued: "Once I witnessed an odd scene. A new student had come into the Antique Room, a very tall, heavy man, in private life an amateur pugilist. He sat as others did on a low seat near the floor, doing his untutored best to render the cast in front of him. Tonks, from his great height, bent over him and said cuttingly - I suppose you think you can draw. The student collected himself, rose slowly to an even greater height than Tonks and, looking down, replied with suppressed fury (but perfect justice) - If I thought I could draw - I shouldn't come here, should I? He had the better of the encounter. Tonks had nothing to say, and left the room."
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Constance Markievicz, in full Countess Constance Georgine Markievicz, née Gore-Booth, Markievicz also spelled Markiewicz, (born February 4, 1868, London, England—died July 15, 1927, Dublin, Ireland), Anglo-Irish countess and political activist who was the first woman elected to the British Parliament (1918), though she refused to take her seat. She was also the only woman to serve in the first Dáil Éireann (Irish Assembly), in which she acted as minister of labour (1919–22).
Constance Gore-Booth was born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and grew up at her family’s estate, Lissadell, in County Sligo, Ireland. Her father, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, was a landowner and philanthropist, and her sister Eva later became a key figure in women’s suffrage. Constance was presented at the court of Queen Victoria in 1887 and enrolled at London’s Slade School of Art in 1893. In the late 1890s she traveled to Paris, where she met Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz of Poland they married in 1900.
In 1903 the Markieviczes moved to Dublin, where Constance’s interests soon turned from art to Irish politics. At age 40, in 1908, she embraced Irish nationalism, joining the revolutionary women’s group Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) and the Sinn Féin political party. The following year she formed Na Fianna Éireann (Soldiers of Ireland), a republican organization loosely based on the Boy Scouts, in which young boys were trained to be nationalist soldiers.
In 1911 she was arrested for demonstrating against King George V’s visit to Ireland. This was just the first of several arrests and imprisonments for Markievicz, whose political activism resulted in jail time intermittently for the rest of her life. In 1913–14 she provided food for workers and their families during a labour dispute in which thousands of people were locked out of their workplaces for refusing to reject union membership.
In April 1916 Markievicz took part in the Easter Rising, a republican insurrection in Dublin against British government in Ireland. After the general surrender, she was arrested and imprisoned. Though many women had participated in the uprising, Markievicz was the only one to be court-martialed she was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to a lifetime of penal servitude on account of her gender. The following year, under a general amnesty, Markievicz was released, but she soon ended up back in jail for supposed participation in a plot against the British government. In December 1918, while still carrying out a prison sentence, Markievicz was elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Dublin’s St. Patrick’s division. Along with the other members of Sinn Féin, she refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the king and, thus, did not take her seat. Instead, under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, the Irish republicans set up their own provisional government, Dáil Éireann.
After her release from prison, Markievicz served in the first Dáil Éireann as the minister of labour, a post she held from 1919 until she was defeated in the 1922 elections. That same year the Irish Free State was established, and Dáil Éireann was incorporated as the lower house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). Markievicz was elected to the Dáil in the 1923 general election but, along with the other members of Sinn Féin, she again refused to swear allegiance to the king and did not take her seat. Instead, she devoted herself to charity work. Markievicz joined de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party on its founding in 1926 and was again elected to the Dáil in 1927. She died a month later, without having taken her seat.
Slade School of Art - History
This article comes from a copy of the Magazine of Art Vol.VI (1883) in the Internet Archive , contributed to the archive by the Getty Research Institute. The original illustrations have been placed on the appropriate pages (which are given in square brackets in the text), and links have been added to other material in our own website. — Jacqueline Banerjee
I. Medal of Charles Hallé (by Elinor Hallé).
IT is an undeniable fact that the artistic production of a nation, taken as a whole, is the outcome and expression of its taste and temper. In art, as in other things, the demand creates the supply, and the lower the standard of public taste, the lower will be the quality of the art provided. How far public taste can be cultivated is a very wide question. Could we accept unquestioningly the utterance of a certain gifted author — "The arts are now yielded to the flat-nosed Franks and they toil, and study, and invent theories to account for their own incompetence," and so forth — little effort would be made towards improvement. But on the Continent the Fine Arts are made a distinct department in the scheme of Government, and ministers are appointed whose special duty it is to foster and promote their interests while in England there was, until a few years ago, no official recognition whatever of the needs and [324/325] claims of the Fine Arts. A painter, remembered more by his misfortunes and untimely end than by the attainment of his artistic ideal, but whose honest enthusiasm and sound judgment in the cause of art education caused him to be unceasing in his efforts to induce the Government to interest itself in this matter, wrote:— "Professors of Art at the Universities are as much needed as Schools of Design'" These words have now achieved fulfilment, and the writings and lectures of Haydon, no less than his personal efforts, have doubtless helped to promote the object so near his heart.
The Government have provided Schools of Design all over the kingdom, and at the three chief English Universities a chair of Fine Arts is established. These latter, however, are due neither to the solicitude of an art-fostering Government, nor the combined convictions of academic dons. The munificence of an enlight ened and public-spirited private individual, Mr Felix Slade, has made it possible to maintain a course of lectures on the Fine Arts at Oxford and Cambridge Universities while in London, owing to a difference in the terms of his bequest, a school has been established for practical instruction, presided over by a professor who is himself an artist.
II. Study in red chalk (by Miss A P Burd).
The Slade Schools have from the first taken up an independent position as regards the method of instruction pursued. Mr. Poynter, the first appointed Slade Professor at London University, came, as it were, to virgin soil. Bringing to his task a practical acquaintance with the Continental methods of teaching, as well as with those of the Royal Academy and South Kensington Schools, and having a strong conviction of the evils existing in the latter, he set to work to graft the good of the French method on to the foundation of the English. I remember listening to Mr. Poynter's inaugural address in the large life room of the new schools, in October, 1871, in which he explained the principles on which he proposed to direct the work of the students. Here, for the first time in England, indeed in Europe, a public Fine Art School was thrown open to male and female students on precisely the same terms, and giving to both sexes fair and equal opportunities. And it is to the precedent then established that ladies have since elsewhere had the necessary advantages for study placed within their reach.
In 1880 the north wing of University College was enlarged to meet the growing wants of the students, of whom there are now a hundred and forty. In Mr. A. Legros an able and competent successor to Mr. Poynter was found: one well fitted to carry on the intelligent system of instruction already instituted. But Professor Legros did more than this he struck out in a line of his own, and his "demonstrations" if they may be so called, are among the most popular and useful characteristics of his teaching. Not content with saying to his pupiils, "Do as I tell you" he occasionally takes brush or pencil from their hand and says, "Do as [325/326] I do." It is an exemplification of the old saying, "An ounce of practice is worth a pound of precept." Not only when going from easel to easel, to correct the students' work, does he sometimes pause and complete a study, the other students grouping round and watching but on stated occasions a special model is ordered, and the Professor, standing in the centre of the life school, paints a complete study-head before those students who are sufficiently advanced to be admitted to the life class. His method of work is simple in the extreme the canvas is grounded with a tone similar to the wall of the room, so that no background needs to be painted. With a brush containing a little thin transparent colour the leading lines and contour are touched in with the same simple material the broad masses of shadow are put in, then gradually the flesh tones are added, the half-tones and lights laid on, the highest lights being reserved for the last consummate touches.
In about an hour and a half, sometimes in less time, the study is completed, and the watchers have probably learnt more in the course of that silent lesson than during three times the amount of verbal instruction. It will perhaps be asked whether Professor Legros wishes his students to paint their studies in as short a time as himself? whether they may not be tempted to imitate the quickness and dash, rather than by patient plodding study to acquire the certain facility of the master-hand?
III. Study in red chalk (by the Countess Helena Gleichen).
Against this there is no surer safeguard than the watchful eye of the Professor and his as¬ sistants. Work that aims at being pretty rather than correct, which is showy when it ought to be thorough, which is hasty when it should be careful, calls forth the unqualified blame of the master, and is, in fact, held up to public obloquy. Ever ready to recognise talent and encourage industrious, honest work, even where no great talent exists, Professor Legros wages incessant warfare against all attempts at pseudo-mastery in his students' work. On the other hand he does require a certain amount of rapidity in what they do. The system of elaborate "stippling" and manipulation which allows the student to take a mental "nap," whilst his hand is busy with bread and point, is not suffered. What is asked is an intelligent representation of the model or cast, with special reference to action, light and shade, tone and general correctness of drawing and, before the student can relapse into the above-mentioned mental drowsiness, a fresh model, pose, or cast is put before him, a fresh combination of light, shade, and tone is presented to him so that his energies are constantly being called into action and kept in exercise steadily. The fact that more is learnt in making several drawings of various figures, in various positions, than in elaborating on one drawing from the same point of view, is quite obvious.
It will be interesting to examine more closely the daily routine. Although no competitive test of proficiency is required from a new student on entering the schools, the Professor examines the previous work of the applicant for admission, and relegates her either to draw or paint from the antique or from the flat, as he considers best for her. In like manner every promotion from one stage of study to another is referred to — and controlled by — the Professor. Autotypes from drawings by the Old Masters are sometimes given to the students to copy and [326/327] this excellent practice, combined with original work from the life, refines and educates both eye and hand, enforcing the utmost simplicity of handling, together with the utmost expression of form. The life model (figure) sits daily in the two life schools from ten till three o'clock—in the large life studio exclusively for the male students, and in the life room of the ladies, or the mixed class for students of either sex. The latter is pictured in our engraving. The sketch is taken during the afternoon class, when half-hour poses are arranged to assist the students in the composition subjects. In a variety of attitudes, suitable to their work, the students are grouped round the model, and in the right-hand corner a standing figure with folded arms is easily recognised as Mr. Slinger, the Professor's invaluable assistant. In this room, which is well lit and spacious, being 40 feet by 35, and 19 feet high, the Professor paints before the students the models are grouped to assist in the composition of subjects, given out by the Professor every three or four weeks, and afterwards criticised by him. These models sit every afternoon, except Saturdays, from half-past three till five o'clock, and every half-hour a fresh position is arranged, suggested by each student in turn, to suit his or her composition. Any student may join this class on payment of model fee of 3s. 6d. per term. Very good, rapid drawings are done during these half-hour sittings. Our second, third, fourth, and sixth illustrations — by Miss Burd, the Countess Gleichen, and Miss King — sufficiently exemplify the style of drawing cultivated at them: the direct and simple method of expressing light and shade, power and action, with the least possible technical mechanism. The last illustrates the style of model which sits in the mixed class every day for five hours, so that ladies have ample opportunity for making large and carefully finished studies from the living figure, an advantage which already is — and in the course of a year or two will be still more — perceptible in the increased power and correctness of the figure paintings by our lady artists.
IV. Study in red chalk (by Miss E. S. King).
An important feature of the Slade Schools, since their enlargement during Professor Legros' tenure of [327/328] office, is the accommodation provided for the etching class. The plates are prepared, etched, and bitten in, and printed on the spot, a press having been set up for this purpose. There are about twenty students in this class, and a prize is offered each ses¬ sion for the best original etching. A list of prizes may not be uninteresting, as it will help to classify the different branches of instruction. Painting from Life, £10 Drawing from Life, £5 Landscape, painted during the vacation, £5 Painting from the Antique, £3 Drawing from the Antique, £2 Composition, £10 Anatomical Drawing, £2 Etching, £5 Anatomy, £3. Only those students compete who have attended the schools during the whole session they must also previously have made preliminary drawings consisting of a head, hand, foot, and figures from the antique, and, unless specially exempted by the Professor, a couple of osteological and anatomical studies. The male and female students compete under precisely the same conditions, and work from the same casts and models for the competition subjects. Two prizes cannot be taken in the same class by the one student — i.e., a student in the life or antique class cannot take a prize for both drawing and painting nor, having taken a prize in the highest class (painting from life), may he afterwards compete in a lower class.
The competition for the Slade scholarships (six in number, value £50 a year, tenable for three years, two of which are awarded each year) is conducted on similar principles. The competitors cannot be over nineteen at the time of the award they are required to have passed a preliminary examination in ancient and modern history, geography, and mathematics, or one modern foreign language and English. Mr. Slade's object in fixing the age at nineteen was to encourage students to commence their art studies earlier than usual, the preliminary examination being considered a necessary safeguard against the neglect of the general education. It is Professor Legros' practice to judge and decide from the work of the student during the session, as well as from that done in the more formal competition this latter con¬ sists of a drawing of a head and figure from life, a painting from the antique, and a composition from a given subject. The Slade scholars are required to work in the classes of the schools during the tenure of their scholarships, to render any assistance in teaching, and to attend any course of lectures which the Professor shall direct and he makes a half-yearly [328/329] report of their progress and conduct to the Council of the College.
VI. Study in red chalk by Miss E. S. King.
Within the last year Professor Legros — facile princeps among modern medallists as among modern etchers — has founded a class for the production of medals. Many of the Slade girls evince considerable taste for the work, and a recent competition resulted in the prize being awarded to Miss Elinor Hallé, daughter of the distinguished musician. In her obverse she has, as our illustration will show, produced a good likeness of her father which is also a finely-drawn, vigorously-modelled head the reverse presents a charming allegory of the Genius of Music.
At the beginning of this paper the exceptional advantages offered to lady students in the Slade Schools were pointed out. During the first years of its existence there were more women than men. Now the numbers are pretty equally divided, owing, probably, to the fact that ladies can now enjoy elsewhere, though in a lesser degree, advantages which at one time were only obtainable at the Slade Schools. An analysis of the competition lists since the foundation shows that five Slade scholarships and twenty-two prizes have been carried off by female students. Bearing in mind that the schools are but now in their eleventh session, and that many of the prizes, such as those for landscape, etching, anatomy, and anatomical drawing, are of more recent institution, the proportion of prizes gained by ladies is not insignificant j and from the ranks of former Slade students many have obtained a position of standing among the artists of the present day: Miss E. Pickering, Miss Kate Greenaway, Miss Hilda Montalba, Mrs. John Collier (née Huxley), Miss Jessie Macgregor, Miss Edith Martineau, and Miss Stuart-Wortley having all, for a longer or shorter period, sought within the walls of University College the aids to study denied to us elsewhere.
Philip Guston (1913-1980): History and the Art of Painting
Professor Karen Lang has taught at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and the University of Warwick. The editor of The Art Bulletin during the journal's centenary year, she has been a Leverhulme major research fellow, a Paul Mellon fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, a Getty scholar, Rudolph Arnheim Visiting Professor at the Humboldt University Berlin, and Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Warwick. Professor Lang is Deputy Chair of the Advisory Board to the research group Bilderfahrzeuge: Warburg's Legacy and the Future of Iconology, which involves the Warburg Institute, London, and Institutes of Art History in Germany, Italy and France. She is also one of the founding editors of the open access journal 21: Inquiries into Art, History and the Visual/Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte und visuellen Kultur. Professor Kang has published extensively on modern and contemporary art, on philosophical aesthetics and on the intellectual history of the History of Art. The edited volume Field Notes on the Visual Arts: Seventy-Five Short Essays and 'The Ruses of Chance', an invited essay for the Critics Page of The Brooklyn Rail, have recently appeared. Philip Guston: Locating the Image, an exhibition of the artist's works on paper will open at the Ashmolean Museum in November 2019. Details can be found here.
The series of eight lectures will take place at 5pm, Weeks 1-6 in Hilary term 2020. The lectures will be delivered by Professor Karen Lang, Slade Professor of Fine Art 2019-20.
22 Jan: History and the Art of Painting
12 Feb: Locating the Image
19 Feb: The Little Theatre of Philip Guston
26 Feb: Wandering into the Night
All welcome to attend. Booking not required.
Please note: no photography or recording is allowed during these lectures.
The Slade Lectures 2020 poster is a winning competition design created by Ena Naito, a 3rd year Fine Art student at The Ruskin School of Art.
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It was a logical step for artists to study anatomy and to draw from nude models, despite moral qualms over both. Theoretical justification was provided by the Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise On Painting (1435). He recommended the following process in preparing a figurative painting: &ldquoBefore dressing a man we first draw him nude, then we enfold him in draperies. So in painting the nude we place first his bones and muscles which we then cover with flesh so that it is not difficult to understand where each muscle is beneath.&rdquo
As Alberti suggests, life drawing was not seen as an end in itself, at least not for students. It was the ultimate stage in learning to draw, and was only to be approached after a prescribed course of preliminary studies, among them copying prints and drawings, drawing from ancient statues (or plaster casts of the same) and studying anatomy and the theory of perspective. This established progression is synthesised in an illustration in Diderot and d’Alembert’s eighteenth-century Encyclopedie. Students’ familiarity with the approved body types, poses and expressions of antique sculpture, so the theory went, would help them learn to ‘correct’ the quirks and aws of real human bodies – like a pair of rose-tinted, classicising spectacles. A famous classical model for the relationship between the real and ideal appears in a text by Cicero the Roman orator and writer described the Greek painter Zeuxis making studies from five of the most beautiful women in his city in order to create one ideal woman to represent Helen of Troy. As Cicero relates: &ldquohe [Zeuxis] knew he could find no single form possessing all the characteristics of perfect beauty, which impartial Nature distributes among her children, accompanying each charm with a defect.&rdquo
Benoit Louis Prevost, Ecole de Dessin, c.1751–77.
An illustration for Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie, after a drawing by Charles Nicolas-Cochin.
Etching. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
The life class developed in the studios of artists and craftsmen who took on pupils, but it assumed a more formal status in the first art &ldquoacademy&rdquo, which was set up by the painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari in Florence in 1563. Not primarily a teaching institution, the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy and Company of the Arts of Drawing) also served as an artists’ association and, patronised by the influential Medici family, as a prestigious place of intellectual debate. Nevertheless, it proved highly influential in its codification of the hierarchical system of teaching drawing that was subsequently adopted in other academies that sprang up in Italy and, eventually, across Europe and the Americas.
The most significant national academy to open after the Renaissance period was the Académie royale de peinture et sculpture in Paris (later the Ecole des Beaux-Arts), founded in 1648 by King Louis XIV. Initially, the only practical instruction offered at the Académie royale was in drawing, making the life class the apex of the whole course. This emphasis on drawing stemmed from the humanist belief that the discipline was the foundation of all the visual arts. As Michelangelo put it: &ldquoDesign, which by another name is called drawing &hellip is the fount and body of painting and sculpture and architecture and of every other kind of painting and the root of all sciences.&rdquo Drawing – or &ldquodisegno&rdquo – also carried intellectual weight as the medium in which an artist’s creative power is first expressed and through which his or her thought processes are developed.
Charles-Joseph Natoire, Life Class at the Academie royale Paris, with Natoire as an Instructor, 1746.
Watercolour and chalk on paper. 45.3 x 32.3 cm. The Courtauld Gallery, London.
The Académie royale was granted a monopoly on the practice of life drawing, which greatly increased the method’s prestige and sense of exclusivity. A drawing by Charles-Joseph Natoire offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of its famous life class in action, although it is thought to be more of an &lsquoidea&rsquo of a class than an attempt to record accurately the appearance of the room. Natoire, who later became Director of the Académie de France in Rome, included himself on the left (in the red cloak) as the tutor correcting students’ work. He would also have been responsible for setting the pose of the two male models apparently wrestling, perhaps in loose imitation of the famous antique statue The Wrestlers (Galleria degli Uffzi, Florence). The continuing importance of classical sculpture is also emphasised by the presence of casts after the Farnese Hercules, the Venus de’ Medici and other canonical works.
An anonymous &ldquoyoung painter at Paris&rdquo in May 1764 described the Académie royale life class: &ldquothere were at least 200 students, in a large hall &hellip all busy copying from a living man, who was placed naked in a reclining posture &hellip There are two rows of benches round the room the highest for the statuaries [sculptors], the other for painters every one has his own light placed at his right hand &hellip There are students here from all parts of the world.&rdquo This British student had seen nothing quite like it at home. That is because a century of debate over the advantages and disadvantages of academic art education in Britain preceded the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1768. Several less formal art schools and associations, some providing life drawing, existed in various parts of Britain before this date, but the Royal Academy was the first state-sanctioned art school in the country to be set up along the lines of continental academies. As such, it aimed to raise the status of British artists and equip a new generation of art students with the necessary skills to produce paintings, sculpture and architecture that would be on a par with the achievements of the Old Masters and their classical precursors.
Life drawing was crucial to this mission. When Johan Zoffany celebrated the foundation of the institution with his group portrait of the Academicians (1771–72), it is revealing that he chose to depict his fellow members gathered together in their Life Room. George Michael Moser, the first ‘Keeper’ (or head) of the RA Schools, is busy setting the pose of the model. Intriguingly though, closer inspection reveals that none of the artists looks as if he intends to do any drawing. It has been suggested that Zoffany was playfully echoing Raphael’s Vatican School of Athens and tapping into the idea of an academy as a place of debate. Even though they are not actually drawing, there is a sense of the artists’ shared pride at having finally secured a national academy in Britain to promote the practice.
The two curious oval portraits of women on the right of Zoffany’s painting are also significant. They depict the Royal Academy’s two female Foundation Members, Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser. Unlike their male colleagues, they could not be shown attending the life class on the grounds of moral propriety, but Zoffany managed to shoehorn them in at one remove. The Academy’s attitude to women artists was only to become more problematic as time went on. Despite numerous women exhibitors at the annual exhibitions, no more female Academicians were admitted until the 20th century. Likewise, no female students were enrolled in the Schools until 1860, when Laura Herford applied, giving only her first initial and surname. It was assumed that L. Herford was male and &ldquohe&rdquo was offered a place. To their surprise, the Academicians found no written rule excluding women and Miss Herford was admitted. Others followed, but the women were initially confined to drawing casts and it was not until 1893 that they were allowed to draw from the male model – and then only if he was wearing a voluminous length of fabric thoroughly wrapped around his bathing trunks.
Johann Zoffany RA, The Royal Academy of Arts, Published 2 August 1773.
There was one role in which a woman was welcome in the early days of the Royal Academy: as a model. This was a significant departure from continental academic tradition, which focused exclusively on the male figure, following the Renaissance theory that upheld the male body as the &ldquoperfect&rdquo measure of all things (epitomised by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man). The Royal Academy preferred to follow the tradition of its less formal predecessors in London, including the private drawing school run by William Hogarth, which had always featured models of both genders.
Slade School of Art - History
Has art forgotten how to frighten us? In times past, artists understood fear and exploited it as among the most potent emotional levers that a painting or sculpture could pull. Medieval and Renaissance religious artists were especially tuned in to its appalling power. Terrifying visions of what eternal discomforts await in the afterlife should parishioners fail to live piously in this world (typically positioned near the exit to a church in order to leave an indelible impression), served a clear, if ghastly, purpose: to scare the congregation straight.
The last thing worshippers witness on exiting the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, for example, is a ghoulish glimpse into a sump of damned souls as they are sucked into the fiery maw of hell as imagined by the late-13th Century Florentine master, Giotto di Bondone. Giotto’s deeply disquieting Day of Judgement (which broadcasts above the rear door of the chapel on a split-screen fresco that simultaneously portrays the matriculation into heaven of the righteous and redeemed) may not be subtle, but it is effective. “The blessed arrange themselves in neat rows on the right hand of Christ,” as one scholar describes the scene, “while the damned stream in twisted shapes, bodies elongated, flowing downward… attacked by demons who stab, burn, and pull them apart”.
Giotto’s fresco cycle at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua includes a terrifying Day of Judgement, placed above the exit (Credit: Creative Commons)
However fear-inducing the imaginations of Giotto, say, or Hieronymus Bosch, the faces depicted in their paintings rarely resonate convincingly with an inner turmoil of anguish. Adding to the eeriness of the gruesome gymnastics Bosch choreographs in the Hell panel of his Garden of Earthly Delights is the incongruous placidity of those being pecked or flayed. It would fall to ensuing generations of artists to tackle the challenge of actually chiselling a compelling semblance of foreboding into the physiognomies of their subjects.
Michelangelo’s Last Judgement fresco covers the entire altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City on the right, the souls of the damned descend to hell
From the damned soul who slowly sinks alone to eternal torture in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco of The Last Judgement (his physique tugged and wrenched by an entwined trio of devilish tormentors) to the aghast visage of Francisco Goya’s The Bewitched Man (1798) from Swiss artist Henri Fuseli’s bloodless likeness of a petrified Lady Macbeth to Edvard Munch’s iconic personification of existential dread, The Scream, the history of art has ceaselessly auditioned archetypes of enduring angst.
The Bewitched Man by Goya depicts a scene from a play in which the protagonist, Don Claudio, believes he is bewitched and that his life depends on keeping a lamp alight
Two lesser-known works created exactly a century ago show how the quest to find the true face of fear continued into the 20th Century. Still a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London (having taken a hiatus from her studies in 1917 after being traumatised by the sight of an explosion at a munitions factory in Essex during the first World War), the British artist Winifred Knights was awarded a prestigious Rome Scholarship for her dramatic take on a scene inspired by the biblical flood. Amid a frenzy of scampering figures desperate to reach higher ground as Noah’s ark slips by unnoticed in the distance, it is a self-portrait of the artist herself – just off-centre in the foreground of the work, her limbs and psyche ripped in two directions – that crystallises persuasively the ferocity of fear as it continued to trouble the consciousness of Europe, still recovering from the horrors of war.
The Deluge (1920) by Winifred Knights depicts an apocalyptic flood in which figures flee to higher ground while Noah’s ark glides away in the distance
At almost the same moment that a panel of judges (including John Singer Sargent) was praising Knights’ work, the Spanish Expressionist José Gutiérrez Solana found himself at work on a rather quieter, though no less psychologically complex, double portrait that explores the same emotion if from a somewhat subtler angle. Though there is no furious scurrying for diluvial survival in Solana’s portrayal of a pair of off-duty jesters in The Clowns, a soulful foreboding haunts the carnivalesque complexion of the mime on the right.
Solana’s 1920 painting, The Clowns, conveys a sense of dread through nuanced facial expressions (Credit: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)
Research has shown that fear is tough to fake, involving as it does more muscles in the top of the face than other emotions, and one connects instinctively with the authenticity of anguish that rumples the brow of the horn-holding clown who looks blankly askance in abject dread of some undisclosed figure or force beyond the frame to our right. Though his depiction doubtless owes something to the serial Pierrot portraits for which his fellow Spaniard, Picasso, was well-known, Solana conjures a genuine fearfulness that is impossible to counterfeit.
Hirst’s For the Love of God, a skull made of diamonds, was displayed in Doha, Qatar, in 2013 (Credit: Niccolo Guasti/Getty Images)
But what about today? Is there a discernible legacy in contemporary art of such incitement to fear as one finds in Giotto or Bosch, or of the perennial ambition – from Michelangelo to Munch – to forge the quintessential face of fear? Damien Hirst’s notorious diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God (2007), springs to mind as a notable modern reinvention of the memento mori tradition in art history, which customarily features skulls and skeletons not so much intended to make you merely ‘remember you must die’ (the meaning of the Latin phrase) but scare you witless by death’s imminence. Hirst’s grimacing curio, comprised of more than 8,600 flawless diamonds, does not so much excite fear, however, as bemusement and exasperation at the outlandish cost of constructing such a gaudy gewgaw, let alone purchasing it. The asking price was £50 million. For the love of God, indeed.
So concerned with ceaselessly skirmishing over whether what they do is or isn’t art, many recent artists, one begins to sense, have simply lost touch with the full palette of emotions with which art is capable of being inflected, with the pigment of fear having arguably dried up the most. While it’s true that Hirst’s peers, the British brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman, routinely flirt with fear as a potential aesthetic element in a body of work that embraces creepy haunted-house mannequins to childish defacements of appropriated images from Francisco Goya’s chilling The Disasters of War series, their meta mockeries of the macabre are, perhaps unintentionally, less scary than silly.
Their work Hell is not about the Holocaust, say the Chapman brothers: “It’s the absolute inverse of that, it’s the Nazis who are being subjected to industrial genocide”
In the Chapmans’ own portrayal of Hell (for a controversial installation by that title unveiled in 2000), tens of thousands of toy soldiers were recast as a barbaric battalion of demonic Nazis and their victims – an outrageous orgy of violence that occupied nine large vitrines arranged into a huge swastika. A labour of loathing, the work took the siblings 24 months to construct. But to what end? The Chapmans’ playdate with Hitler landed more as a fatuous joke than a fearful jolt – even, it would seem, to the brothers themselves. “When it caught fire,” Jake confessed, after learning that the sprawling work had been destroyed in a devastating storage warehouse blaze in 2004, “we just laughed. Two years to make, two minutes to burn.”
Rego’s painting The Policeman’s Daughter (1987) shows a woman angrily polishing a boot it was part of a series exploring dysfunctional family relationships
So where has fear gone in visual culture? The celebrated Portuguese painter Paula Rego is often cited in the context of terror and fright. A recent academic article by the art historian Leonor de Oliveira entitled To Give Fear a Face: Memory and Fear in Paula Rego’s Work eloquently argues that Rego’s recurring motifs are indebted to the British art critic Herbert Read’s famous concept of “the geometry of fear”, coined by Read to describe the work of post-war sculptors whom, he clarified, had forged an “iconography of despair”. But to my eye, the formidable figures we encounter in Rego’s work – from The Policeman’s Daughter (1987) who portentously polishes a jackboot to her portrait of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in the menacing red room – invariably defy fear rather than embody it.
The word ‘fear’ is frequently invoked to characterise too what’s elicited by the recent work of Swedish video artist and sculptor Nathalie Djurberg, whose uncanny and carnivalesque installations (often conceived in collaboration with the sound artist Hans Berg) invite visitors into a repressed realm of engrossing grotesqueries. But the lasting impression of displays such as One Last Trip to the Underworld (2019), comprised of darkly comic sculptures of fantastical flora and fauna that flicker freakishly into life by the light of looping films, is one of quizzicality and wonder more than tension and terror.
Perhaps contemporary art, like contemporary poetry, has contented itself in deferring roles it once performed to other shapes of culture that seem better suited to the task. Just as we rarely turn now to poets to tell us epics – a job more alluringly tackled by novelists and filmmakers – we’ve ceased looking, too, to artists to frighten us into a new consciousness. This year alone is due to witness the reboot of a string of seemingly inexhaustible horror film franchises, from Saw to Friday the 13th to Halloween. It’s well established that coming face to face with fear triggers a feel-good dopamine rush, and there’s even evidence that it can boost one’s immune system. If contemporary art sometimes struggles to connect with wider audiences, perhaps the addictive drug of fear is among the cures. Perhaps it’s time that artists rediscover the fear.
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Printmaker Stanley Jones: Archived oral history
By Slade Archive Project, on 25 November 2014
To celebrate the 2014 Slade Print Fair, we’ve published excerpts from another archived oral history interview – this time with Slade alumnus and former tutor in printmaking, Stanley Jones. Jones is a much-admired master printmaker with a particular passion for lithography. He was a student at the Slade from 1954 to 1956, and later tutor in printmaking from 1958 to 1998. (This means he is likely to be found in some of the Slade’s annual class photos – can you help us spot him?)
In the late 1950s, not long after graduating from the Slade, he set up the Curwen Studio with Robert Erskine. He continues to generously share his enthusiasm for printmaking, as demonstrated with his vision for the Curwen Print Study Centre which he co-founded with Sue Jones in 2000.
The interview excerpts published on SoundCloud were taken from a recording conducted in 1992 by Stephen Chaplin (then archivist at the Slade), and digitized in 2013 as part of the Slade Oral History Project. In his interview Jones reflects on the changing practices and personalities of printmaking at the Slade and beyond.
Slade School of Art - History
It may seem that things have been quiet with the Slade Archive Project – even more so now, given the current Covid-19 crisis – but we have been busy working on a number of exciting developments and will continue to do so working remotely in the coming weeks.
Last year we embarked on a new phase of the project which looks towards the school’s 150th anniversary in 2021. After reflecting on the various activities undertaken in Phase I, we have developed a number of aims for Phase II. We are approaching this milestone as a chance not only to celebrate the Slade and its alumni, but also to:
- enhance and challenge known histories of the school and its legacies, through both internal and external research, and with a particular focus on transnational scholarship and international knowledge exchange
- continue to develop, showcase and improve access to Slade archive collections, in part through digital technologies
- promote cross-disciplinary engagement with the Slade’s archive collections, including, but not limited to, those emerging through fine art practice
- use the Slade’s 150th anniversary as a springboard to explore different approaches to engaging with institutional histories
- continue to pilot different ways to use, enhance, create and disseminate archival resources
- foster collaboration across different disciplinary boundaries and through internal and external partnerships
- integrate teaching and learning opportunities, public programming and outreach activities with research activities
- and disseminate our findings through open access platforms.
Current areas of activity are:
- Transnational Slade (Phase II), in collaboration with the ‘Slade, London, Asia’ Research Group, part of ‘London, Asia’ research project led by the Paul Mellon Centre, which includes a current pilot activity with ResearchSpace, British Museum
- Slade Film Department (1960-1984), ‘Materiality, Archives and the Slade at the Nexus of Art School Filmmaking’ (working title) research project led by Brighid Lowe and Henry Miller
- The curation and cataloguing of Slade archive collections, in collaboration with UCL Library Special Collections and UCL Department of Information Studies
- William Townsend Journals digital project (with UCL Library Special Collections)
- Slade Photo collection cataloguing project (with UCL Library Special Collections)
- Tracing artistic heritages through the architectural fabric of the Slade
Vital cataloguing and conservation activities underpin these activities and research aims. The wonderful team at UCL Library Special Collections have been hard at work reappraising and upgrading the catalogue records for the Slade archive collection. This is an ongoing, collaborative effort to make what is an eclectic and disparate collection of records more accessible for researchers. We are grateful for the work of the UCL Library Special Collections team – Sarah Aitchison, Katy Makin, Kathryn Meldrum, Colin Penman, Rebecca Sims, Robert Winckworth, Angela Warren-Thomas and Steve Wright – who have together undertaken this mammoth task. UCL Library Digital Collections now has a dedicated area for digitised Slade Archive materials. We hope to add more records in the months to come.
From 2015-2018, the UCL Art Museum’s ‘Spotlight on the Slade’ Project also made great headways in cataloguing Slade collections. This research project was supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and sought to increase access to UCL Art Museum’s Slade Collections through research, cataloguing, digitisation, collaboration and public engagement. As part of this research, colleagues at the Museum discovered that approximately 45% of works in UCL Art Museum’s collection are by women artists. This is an astonishing statistic: typically, permanent collections in Europe and the US contain between 3-5% of works by women.
We have also updated guidelines for researching the Slade archive collections, and welcome additions to our growing bibliography on the topic of the Slade and its many histories.
In 2018, we marked the 150th anniversary of the death of the school’s namesake and founding father, Felix Slade (1788-1868). Slade, a lawyer and notable collector of glass, engravings, books and bindings, bequeathed endowments for the founding of three Slade Professorships of Fine Arts: at Oxford, Cambridge and University College London. Funds for a studentship were also bequeathed for UCL, and which formed the foundation to establish a new School of Fine Art for the teaching of professional artists, which opened three years later, in 1871. To coincide with this commemoration, UCL Library Special Collections digitised the Slade foundational papers which are now available online as part of UCL Library Digital Collections. As the papers reveal, a central idea behind the Slade school was its location within the university, and for much of its existence, the Slade shared its site with other UCL departments, including chemistry and physiology. Edwin Field (1804-1871), a lawyer, translated the terms of the bequest, and promoted the idea of establishing ‘a school of art in connection with a university, with a view to the collateral advantages that such an alliance could afford’.
A drinks reception was also held in Felix Slade’s honour, harking back to an earlier tradition of the annual Slade strawberry tea, with Slade staff, students, alumni and supporters congregating for berries and bubby in the UCL portico. We were lucky enough to have three descendants of Felix Slade join us, who generously shared their family stories and documentation with those wanting to know more. A small exhibition was also set up in the adjacent UCL Library Flaxman Gallery, showcasing some gems from the Slade archives.
The centre item featured here is by Elinor Bellingham-Smith (1906-1988), a preparatory sketch for an uncompleted painting depicting the Strawberry Tea on the lawn outside of the school on 26 June 1930.
This day marked the retirement of Professor Henry Tonks. An account of the event was recorded in the journal of the Bellingham-Smith’s friend and fellow Slade student, the painter William Townsend (1909-1973). His journals are in the care of UCL Special Collections.
The last official appearance of Tonks was an impressive and tragically simple piece of staging. At the end of his remarks he stood up and saying “I do not like saying goodbye, so there will be no official leave taking”, walked quietly with his jerky [?] walk to the door, leaving the long line of the staff, still in their places, whilst we clapped frenziedly, and for once, with real feeling and appreciation. Strawberry tea on the lawn. Tonks and Steer and Daniels from the National Gallery sit on chairs, at the edge of the crowd […] other visitors smiling and joking and drinking tea, and eating strawberries and cream. Tonks in his grey suit, looking a grey and tired, but not unhappy, old man.
Journal of William Townsend, 26 June, 1930. UCL Special Collections
William Townsend was also a Slade alumnus, who later joined the staff at the Slade, becoming Professor of Fine Art in 1968. This sketch was donated to the school by Townsend’s daughter, Charlotte Townsend-Gault, in 2017.
The Slade Session, and Beyond
Guest post by Dr Amara Thornton, British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Archaeology, UCL
The Slade School of Fine Art has a world famous reputation as a venerable art training institution. I’m currently investigating two early Slade artists who made a lasting contribution to archaeology: Jessie Mothersole and Freda Hansard. I’ve been reading Transnational Slade articles and realised that the experiences of these two women feed into this theme, providing an early example of the School’s international impact, links between different fields of study, and the role of UCL (and the Slade in particular) in providing opportunities for women.
As part of my research I’ve examined UCL’s Session Fees books, a rich resource for disciplinary and institutional history at UCL. These books record payments of students’ fees over the course of an academic year (session), extending from October to June, and provide an intriguing snapshot of the student body in each UCL Department at a particular moment in time. UCL admitted both male and female students from the 1870s onwards. Jessie Mothersole (1874-1958) was a 17-year-old from Colchester when she entered the Slade for the 1891-1892 session, remaining until 1896.
She joined a significant number of women students taking classes at the Slade at that time. A quick gender analysis of the Slade students listed in the 1892-1893 session looks like this:
Fig. 1 Proportion of men and women students at the Slade School during the 1892-1893 session.
Jessie Mothersole’s artistic skill did not go unnoticed she was awarded prizes (2nd class) in drawing from life and drawing from the antique in 1892. In 1893 she was awarded certificates in advanced antique drawing and figure drawing. These awards foreshadowed her career in illustration and writing.
Winifred “Freda” Hansard (1872-1937) studied at the Royal Academy Schools before she entered the Slade for the 1895-1896 session, remaining until 1897. Her work was later included in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. In 1899 she exhibited Isola dei Pescatori in Lago Maggiore and Medusa Turning a Shepherd into Stone, which was described in Hearth and Home as “a vigorous, dramatic picture…”. Her painting Priscilla was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1900 and Rival Charms in 1901.
In 1902 Freda re-entered UCL as a student in Egyptology under the leadership of Professor Flinders Petrie. As in the Slade a decade earlier, in the 1902-1903 session, the number of women Egyptology students surpassed that of men.
Fig. 2 Proportion of men and women students of Egyptology at UCL during the 1902-1903 session.
At this point Petrie was making annual journeys to Egypt to excavate ancient sites. Egyptology students were offered the opportunity to take part in Petrie’s excavations, and in 1902 Freda Hansard joined eight other team members at Abydos, a town and pilgrimage site north of Luxor. There her artistic skills were harnessed to record the inscriptions and scenes on the walls of the Osirieon, a special building for the worship of the Egyptian god Osiris, ruler of the Underworld.
The drawings she made with Egyptologist and UCL lecturer Margaret Murray, who directed the Osereion excavations with Petrie’s wife Hilda, were put on display at UCL alongside antiquities from Abydos in July 1903. Hansard returned to Egypt for the 1903/1904 season, joining Jessie Mothersole and Margaret Murray at the cemetery site of Saqqara – an hour’s train and then another hour’s donkey ride away from Cairo.
Jessie Mothersole used her camera to capture the setting of this transnational phase in her artistic life. Her photographs show the Saqqara landscape, ancient remains, excavation scenes and the Egyptian team working with them. These images were later published in an article entitled “Tomb Copying in Egypt” for the popular magazine Sunday at Home. The publication included two uncredited line drawings, probably done by Jessie herself, depicting the hut in which she, Freda and Margaret Murray lived on site and the Egyptian boy who brought them water every day.
The Petrie Museum has one photograph in their archive credited to Jessie Mothersole, taken in Luxor rather than Saqqara (fig 3). But the hand-written caption underneath hints at her eye for minute detail that permeates her article.
Fig. 3 This photograph is dated March, 1904. Its handwritten caption reads: “Unfortunately the three leather lashes of the whip do not show, but they were there.” Miss J. Mothersole, Oak Tree House, Hampstead. Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptology.
Jessie remained largely based in the UK thereafter, moving into book illustration and writing on British archaeology. Freda returned to Egypt for further work at Saqqara, and married former solicitor turned Egyptologist Cecil Firth in 1906. The Firths were mainly based in Egypt, barring the period of the First World War, and Freda Firth continued to contribute to archaeological illustration after her marriage. Excerpts published from her daughter Diana Firth Woolner’s 1926 diary reveal something of the Firths’ life in Egypt and the Anglo-American-Egyptian network at work. One particularly interesting entry describes Freda and Diana’s visit with artist/archaeologist (and former UCL Egyptology student) Annie Pirie Quibell to see Egyptian bread being made.
Freda Firth took advantage of the opportunities at UCL for intellectual expansion as a woman student and built a life for herself in Egypt. Her experiences there coloured the rest of her life as an artist, and give her a lasting transnational legacy. She and Jessie Mothersole were two of many women whose time at UCL affected the rest of their lives. I was happy to discover recently that this history is currently being explored through a new arts project – Kristina Clackson Bonnington’s The Girl at the Door. I think Jessie and Freda would approve.
Bierbrier, M. 2012. FIRTH, Winifred (Freda) Nest (nee Hansard) (1872-1937). Who Was Who in Egyptology 4th Revised Edition. pp. 191. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Graves, A. 1905. The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904. Vol III. Eadie to Harraden. London: Henry Graves and Co. Ltd/George Bell & Sons.
Harte, N. & North, J. 2004. The World of UCL 1828-2004. London: UCL Press.
James, T. G. H. 1994. The Other Side of Archaeology: Saqqara in 1926. Egyptian Archaeology 5: 36-37.
James, T. G. H. 1995. The Other Side of Archaeology: Saqqara in 1926 (II). Egyptian Archaeology 7: 35-37.
Mothersole, J. 1908. Tomb Copying in Egypt. Sunday at Home. February. (pp. 345-351)
Murray, M. 1903. The Osireion at Abydos. London: Bernard Quaritch.
Murray, M. 1963. My First Hundred Years. London: William Kimber.
Thornton, A. 2015. Exhibition Season: Annual Archaeological Exhibitions in London, 1880s-1930s. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 25 (2): 1-18 Appendices 1 (pp. 1-5) and 2 (pp. 1-44). DOI: 10.5334/bha.252.
In the early 1960s computers were still in their infancy, and access to them was very limited. Computing technology was heavy and cumbersome, as well as extremely expensive. Only research laboratories, universities and large corporations could afford such equipment. As a result, some of the first people to use computers creatively were computer scientists or mathematicians.
Many of the earliest practitioners programmed the computer themselves. At this time, there was no 'user interface', such as icons or a mouse, and little pre-existing software. By writing their own programs, artists and computer scientists were able to experiment more freely with the creative potential of the computer.
Early output devices were also limited. One of the main sources of output in the 1960s was the plotter, a mechanical device that holds a pen or brush and is linked to a computer that controls its movements. The computer would guide the pen or brush across the drawing surface, or, alternatively, could move the paper underneath the pen, according to instructions given by the computer program.
Another early output device was the impact printer, where ink was applied by force onto the paper, much like a typewriter.
John Lansdown using a Teletype (an electro-mechanical typewriter), about 1969-1970. Courtesy the estate of John Lansdown
Much of the early work focused on geometric forms and on structure, as opposed to content. This was, in part, due to the restrictive nature of the available output devices, for example, pen plotter drawings tended to be linear, with shading only possible through cross hatching. Some early practitioners deliberately avoided recognisable content in order to concentrate on pure visual form. They considered the computer an autonomous machine that would enable them to carry out visual experiments in an objective manner.
Both plotter drawings and early print-outs were mostly black and white, although some artists, such as computer pioneer Frieder Nake, did produce plotter drawings in colour. Early computer artists experimented with the possibilities of arranging both form and, occasionally, colour in a logical fashion.
'Hommage à Paul Klee 13/9/65 Nr.2', a screenprint of a plotter drawing created by Frieder Nake in 1965, was one of the most complex algorithmic works of its day. An algorithmic work is one that is generated through a set of instructions written by the artist. Nake took his inspiration from an oil- painting by Paul Klee, entitled 'Highroads and Byroads' (1929), now in the collection of the Ludwig Museum, Cologne.
Frieder Nake, 'Hommage à Paul Klee 13/9/65 Nr.2', 1965. Museum no. E.951-2008. Given by the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of Patric Prince
Nake had trained originally in mathematics and was interested in the relationship between the vertical and the horizontal elements of Klee's painting. When writing the computer program to create his own drawing 'Hommage à Klee', Nake defined the parameters for the computer and the pen plotter to draw, such as the overall square form of the drawing. He then deliberately wrote random variables into the program which allowed the computer to make choices of its own, based on probability theory. In this way, Nake was able to explore how logic could be used to create visually exciting structures and to explore the relationship between forms. The artist could not have predicted the exact appearance of the drawing until the plotter had finished.
Bell Labs, now based in New Jersey, was hugely influential in initiating and supporting the early American computer-art scene and produced perhaps the greatest number of key early pioneers. Artists and computer scientists who worked there include Claude Shannon, Ken Knowlton, Leon Harmon, Lillian Schwartz, Charles Csuri, A. Michael Noll, Edward Zajec, and Billy Klüver, an engineer who also collaborated with Robert Rauschenberg to form Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT). The Laboratory began life as Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. in 1925 and went on to become the leading authority in the field of new technologies.
Bell Labs was heavily involved in the emerging art and technology scene, in particular it contributed to a series of performances entitled '9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering' organised by EAT in 1966. The performances saw 10 contemporary artists join forces with 30 engineers and scientists from Bell Labs to host a series of performances using new technologies. Events such as these represent important early recognition by the mainstream art world of the burgeoning relationship between art and technology. The executive director of Bell Labs was employed as an 'agent' for EAT, his task to spread the word about the organisation in the right circles, namely industry. As a result, many artists and musicians used the equipment at Bell Labs out of hours.
Leon Harmon and Ken Knowlton, 'Studies in Perception', 1997 (original image 1967). Museum no. E.963-2008. Given by the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of Patric Prince
Amongst many things, Bell Labs was particularly influential in the development of early computer-generated animation. In the 1960s, the laboratories housed an early microfilm printer that was able to expose letters and shapes onto 35mm film. Artists such as Edward Zajec began to use the equipment to make moving films. Whilst working at Bell Labs, computer scientist and artist Ken Knowlton developed the programming language BEFLIX- the name stands for Bell Flicks - that could be used for bitmap film making.
One of the most famous works to come out of Bell Labs was Leon Harmon and Ken Knowlton's Studies in Perception, 1967, also known as Nude.
Harmon and Knowlton decided to cover the entire wall of a senior colleague's office with a large print, the image of which was made up of small electronic symbols that replaced the grey scale in a scanned photograph. Only by stepping back from the image (which was 12 feet wide), did the symbols merge to form the figure of a reclining nude. Although the image was hastily removed after their colleague returned, and even more hastily dismissed by the institution's PR department, it was leaked into the public realm, first by appearing at a press conference in the loft of Robert Rauschenberg, and later emblazoned across the New York Times. What had started life as a work-place prank became an overnight sensation.
The Slade Computer System, about 1977. Courtesy of Paul Brown
Art School Drawings from the 19th Century
Art education in 19th-century Britain was shaped by four London-based organisations: the Royal Academy Schools, the Government Schools of Design, the Department of Science and Art (based in this museum) and the Slade School of Art. Each was driven by powerful ideologies which dictated students' training.
These drawings, by students and teachers, reflect the different principles and practices of each school. They also reveal more general changes in emphasis over the 19th century. As subject matter, antique sculpture was gradually replaced by depictions of un-idealised human figures. Stylistically, the earlier insistence on a high level of technical finish gave way to a more spontaneous, sketchy kind of drawing.
Maria Brooks - Study of a plaster cast of The Borghese Gladiator
Maria Brooks (active 1868-90) Student at the Department of Science and Art Schools Study of a plaster cast of The Borghese Gladiator 1872 Black chalk Museum no. D.150-1885 The schools run by the Department of Science and Art became notorious for their insistence on a laborious drawing technique. Painstaking cross-hatching and minute stippling meant that a drawing like this could take months to complete. Although women were excluded from the Royal Academy, they were permitted to study at the government-run schools.
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