Art skills for the working man: Industry and the Schools of Art.
Illustration: William Bell Scott, detail of Hall of Machinery, 1848 Newcastle Polytechnic, Gateshead Observer.
“The other evening my Sunderland friend Dixon and his protégé, Mr. Ruskin’s pupil visited me at the school, on their way to Manchester by a moonlight trip. The rising artist is now “copying the Liber in Vandyke Brown.” If all the youths who aspire to be artists with merely the qualities as yet apparent in this youth, Schools of Design would become pernicious hotbeds.” (Trevelyan Papers, letter dated 12 Sept 1857.)
Note: Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) Liber Studiorum (1806-1819)
A set of seventy based on the idea of Claude Lorrain's (c.1604/5-1682) Liber Veritatis [Book of Truth]. Ruskin was a keen collector and user of the Liber, claiming that he understood light and shade after studying the prints.
1st May 1851 : Queen opens Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.
300,000 pains of glass; built in just 17 weeks; enclosed two 90 foot elm trees under glass
Fourteen thousand companies exhibiting. Science, art, technology, goods wrapped into one giant spectacle and sold as family tourist attraction.
Mixing of classes and visitors in the capital a cause for anxiety and new techniques of surveillance.
The Duke of Wellington insisted on 15000 troops being stationed in the capital.
Admission prices varied according to the date: 3 guineas a day, £1 a day, five shillings a day, down to one shilling a day.
141 days : six million visitors
[ 17 million lived in England and Wales in 1851]
See THE GREAT EXHIBITION In Our Time BBC Radio 4. The programme archive includes full programme and good reading list
Benjamin Robert Haydon Lectures in Newcastle, at the Nelson Street Music Hall.
“Be assured the people are alive to sound art, and only want instruction. My first three lectures are only upon the construction of the figure, and yet they are listened to with an attention the Greeks could not exceed.”
Haydon was opposed to the monopoly of the Royal Academy and campaigned from 1835 onwards for an alternative to be widely available.
Manchester and Birmingham
• Art schools existed in both these cities: 1821 for Birmingham; in Manchester from 1803 (which closed) then 1831.
• The Manchester school was the first to apply to the Council of the Board of Trade at Somerset House for funds to keep the classes going.
• They asked for money for a “school of drawing.” They were told to run only classes in “ornamental design.”
• A paper had been read at the Lit and Phil in September 1836 on the want of provision for Fine Arts in the neighbourhood, particularly in relation to “designing for manufactures.” A lecture was held at the Mechanics Institute.
• The result was the formation of a committee to investigate setting up a school. Letter were written to the Royal Academy in London and to the Royal Institution in Edinburgh.
• The objects of the school included the teaching of the “higher departments” of the fine arts as well as design for manufacturers.
• Formed the North of England Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts. Held exhibitions in 1838 and ‘9.
• The Newcastle activity came in the wake of the “Report of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the best means of extending the knowledge of the Arts and Principles of Design among the people (especially the Manufacturing Population) of the Country….”
First Classes in Newcastle
• 1838 classes begin under the auspices of the North of England Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts
• William Harrison had begun to teach Geometry, Projection and Perspective his pupils paying 6d/week.
• A Mr.Scott was to teach carving and a Mr. Oliphant drawing. Arrangements were underway to incorporate a landscape class
Bell Scott : 1843
• Parliament did not vote a grant of money to the Board of Trade for the schools project until 1841 at which time Newcastle submitted a petition in the form and language required by Parliament.
• This document asserted the national importance of the local industry, the lack of educational facilities, the strong local feeling in favour of the introduction of an institution and the dangers from foreign competition.
• Among the 106 students attending the classes were glass painters and cutters, paper stainers, engravers, carvers, clerks and shop workers, house painters, joiners, plasterers and engine-wrights. The largest number were entered as unemployed
“Drawing the human figure shall not be taught to the students.”
• Bell Scott claims to have hung up the rules but ignored them.
• Private classes were given by Bell Scott in the school, despite resistance from long-established local artists such as Thomas Miles Richardson, who is said to have written to the Department of Trade to complain.
– Report of the Select Committee of 1849, Appendix No. 5, Letter from the Committee of the Newcastle School appealing for a reinstatement of their grant.
• “The local expenses having to be met by fees and voluntary subscriptions, any unpopularity brought speedy bankruptcy, and the device for keeping up the public interest was a public meeting at the end of the season, when some magnate, member of the House of Lords, or political agitator, was induced to preside, and astonishing speeches about Greece and Rome and Palissy the Potter, speeches anticipating a golden age next year if the school remained open, were listened to with delight! The writer of the journal in question looked upon the whole as a hopeless imbroglio, and sooner or later every provincial school was closed for a time.” WBS
The development of a Universal System
• 1849 : Enquiry and reform: Richard Redgrave and Henry Cole.
• “I have personally arranged the entire course of instruction, the examples, the mode of examination, not only for the central school but also for the provincial ones, which are all thus brought under a common system. I have been enabled to get it so thoroughly into working order, that I feel it would go on if the original mover were away”
• “...the student learns geometrical drawing and perspective, together with an admirable system of free hand drawing instituted by Mr. Dyce, who laid the foundations of the best part of the system of instruction. The student then proceeds to copy, in chalk drawing and painting, works of the greatest excellence of all periods of art. At most schools he is taught to paint from natural objects, - flowers, fruit animals, etc; and he is surrounded by examples of art calculated to excite his emulation....” (Introductory Lecture by Henry Cole, in Address to the Superintendents op cit. p.19.)
A Manly Feeling
• “However there is a certain manly feeling in helping forward so many young men although by drudgery, and if I gave up the school, the endowment will be certainly withdrawn and the new system carried out. Whether this would be a real misfortune to the locality or not is by no means certain, but it would be so viewed by the committee and others here.” (William Bell Scott Letter to Lady Pauline Trevelyan, 27 Mar 1856, University of Newcastle Special Collections WCT 73.)
• In 1850 a table appeared listing the numbers of students attending each class at each school, distinguishing male and female students. So, for instance we know that of a total of 97 students at Newcastle the average daily attendance was 82. The largest class was the most basic : the 51 males who attended the evening class in Outline Drawing from the Flat
• We know from his letters that he showed an interest in the careers of a number of his pupils and assistant masters.
• His classes were conducted on the basis of inspiring the pupil to practice their skills outwith the school. Some masters were confident that within forty hours of tuition in a year a child could be taught to draw.
Ruskin vs WBS
“From his home we went to the Working Men’s College, where they utterly repudiate copying and the ideal. Here every student has a piece of rough stick hung up three inches from his face to copy, and after two or three sticks they are encouraged to draw the human figure and face in the same manner. The mind being thus uninfluenced, and the taste untrained by the antique or miles of art you cannot believe what hideous things are produced as pictures of children or other of God’s creatures that sit to them......This system is a most interesting experiment, the conventional artist and technical art would quickly expire through inanition if this education were general and that would be a happy day, but it requires yet a fuller development.” William Bell Scott, Trevelyan papers.
Patient hands only…
• “the Department system appears to repress originality and make patient hands only, and I would willingly see many alterations, but yet on the whole I am certain that the masses must be guided and taught by all the ordinary means of furnishing the mind.” WBS
Ruskin's “The Stones of Venice”
• “Since first the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the First of these great powers only the memory remains; of the Second, the ruin; the Third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction . . . I would endeavour to . . . record, as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat like passing bells, against the Stones of Venice.”
• [Tyre’s] successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though less in endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding in the final period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak--so quiet,--so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, and which the Shadow. I would endeavour to trace the lines of this image before it be for ever lost, and to record, as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat, like passing bells, against the STONES OF VENICE.
• “To some of us when we first read it, now many years ago, it seemed to point out a new road on which the world should travel. ……..For the lesson which Ruskin here teaches us is that art is the expression of man's pleasure in labour; that it is possible for man to rejoice in his work, for, strange as it may seem to us to-day, there have been times when he did rejoice in it; and lastly, that unless man's work once again becomes a pleasure to him, …. all but the worthless must toil in pain, and therefore live in pain.”
• Morris Introduction to Ruskin’s On the Nature of the Gothic in Stones of Venice 1892
• 'If you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing: and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his dullness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure after failure, pause after pause” [Ruskin]
• 'It is not that men are ill-fed, but that they have no pleasure in the work by which they earn their bread, and therefore look to wealth as the only means of pleasure' [Ruskin]
• By 1860 economic conditions were such that men were often “ill-fed”. Ruskin changes his emphasis from that point, seeking alternatives to the economic and political system that seemed so wasteful.
Workers and Artists.
• “A true Artist is only a beautiful development of a tailor or a carpenter.”
• “My efforts are directed not to making a carpenter an artist, but to making him happier as a carpenter.” Ruskin
• “The tap-root of all this mischief is in the endeavour to produce some ability in the student to make money by designing for manufacture. ...the very words “School of Design” involve the profoundest Art Fallacies.” Ruskin
Thomas Dixon (1831-1880)
• 1851-2: first Sunderland classes. Dixon the first secretary.
• 1860 the Sunderland master “starved out”.
• “I think it was closed for want of support on the part of the district : they found that they were some few pounds in debt, and they allowed the casts to be sold and several things to be sent to Carlisle.” Select Committee Report.
• 1869 Sunderland resumes classes.
• Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) French artist
• James Grinrod, American bookseller
• Thomas Coglan Horsfall (1841-1932), Manchester: a Peoples Palace, Ancoats
• William Morris
– Some Antecedents of the Department of Fine Art, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Durham University Journal, Vera Smith 1951-2 pp50-58;
– The School of Design at Newcastle, Quentin Bell, Research Review, 1958, pp187-192.
– The Schools of Design, Quentin Bell, London, 1963
– Milburn, Geoffrey, (1984) Thomas Dixon of Sunderland (1831-1880). A study in local and cultural history, Antiquities of Sunderland, XXIX 1984 pp.5-45.
– The Great Exhibition of 1851: new interdisciplinary essays Edited by Louise Purbrick, Manchester University Press (2001)