Telephone conversation with Ivanhoe College about the school’s original works of art

Some time after emailing the schools referred to as making use of original works of art of the type purchased through Pictures for Schools in the 1970 book In Our Experience: the changing schools of Leicestershire, I finally heard back from one of the schools, Ivanhoe College, built in 1954.

My enquiry had been batted about before reaching the relevant staff member, the Assistant Business Manager, who had a slightly more pessimistic take on the value of post-war artworks in schools than other people I had spoken to.

She confirmed that the school had 40 or 50 artworks, ten of which belonged to the county art collection and the rest of which were gifted. Most were paintings on board, although there were a few tapestries and one piece of pottery.

Although she was fairly new to the job, she suggested that the number of items on display had dwindled as the College was refurbished, and that the last items were taken down five to ten years ago. She explained that some items were broken and that the school preferred to display more topical work and that the corridors were covered in work the students had done. Another problem was that one of the paintings was ‘enormous’ and the school had nowhere to put it.

In contrast to everything else I have read about Pictures for Schools, which suggested that artworks were chosen to be appealing and stimulating for children, I was told that the paintings are “very traditional, dark, oily and old-fashioned – not very modern these days”. Today the school prefers to display instead “more modern art” and currently has ten pieces on loan as a award, including aboriginal art and 3D work.

I was hoping that the school’s links with the Leicestershire county collection, once one of the country’s largest due to the enthusiastic patronage of Director of Education Stewart Mason and his enlisting of allies and advisors such as Whitechapel Gallery Director Bryan Robertson, would enable me to contact people who knew of its status and whereabouts, but my enquiries have still met  a blank.


Pictures for Schools: educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969 (paper at the New and Emerging postgraduate research in historical geography session, RGS-IBG conference)

I have recently been accepted to do a 15-minute paper in the New and Emerging postgraduate research in historical geography session, sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group, at the RGS-IBG summer conference in London at the end of August. Abstract below.

Pictures for Schools: educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969

This paper will show how Pictures for Schools, a scheme which has been the subject of little previous research, aimed to develop the so-called ‘aesthetic citizen’ and emphasised the part that making aesthetically-informed choices could play in the development of a new ‘design for life’ for modern, post-war Britain.

The inter- and post-war years saw an increased emphasis on developing British citizens’ awareness of their power to improve their own environments. Matless (1996) has identified a form of ‘aesthetic citizenship’, prioritising visual education and aesthetic appreciation, which, whilst partly linked to enjoyment, tied into ideas about the responsibilities of the citizen, their role in the reconstruction process and the creation of a future vision of Britain.

Part of the nation’s visual education was the move to make art and design more accessible to the population in the post-war period. One scheme for widening access to original works of art was Pictures for Schools, an annual series of exhibitions of artworks by British artists which took place between 1947 and 1969. Pictures for Schools was aimed explicitly at developing the visual skills and discernment of the next generation of citizens, targeting works for sale to schools and local education authorities and highlighting the individual and social benefits of exposure to original works of art as children grew up.

In this paper I explore how the organisers of Pictures for Schools emphasised the importance of environment on children’s education, prioritising modes of education which encouraged children develop their skills of looking, seeing and describing what was around them; skills they could then take forward into their adult lives as citizens capable of making effective taste judgments and actively shaping their environments.