During my visit to Manchester Art Gallery last week I was pleased to be told that an oil painting by Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman, entitled Convolvulus (1943), will soon be going on display in the Art Gallery cafe. I enjoyed having a chance to view the painting in the store, a still-life in a striking colour palette of red, white and green, as previously the paintings I had seen by Youngman comprised landscapes and a self-portrait.
Convolvulus is one of two Nan Youngman paintings in the collection, the other being Waste Land, Tredegar, South Wales (1951), which stands out to me among Youngman’s output I have seen for its human element: there’s a lot of movement to the painting, in contrast with the deserted stillness I associate with many of Youngman’s paintings of deserted buildings, streetscapes and imposing landscapes. The painting is populated by the soft-edged outlines of small children busy at play, in groups and as individuals, foregrounded in colour against the griminess of a polluted industrial backdrop. However, the staff I spoke to didn’t seem to know much about Youngman and her history beyond her association with Cambridge.
Last week I finally had chance to follow up a reference from my last visit to the Nan Youngman collection in Reading: a trail of correspondence between the organisers of Pictures for Schools and the keepers of the Rutherston Loan Scheme at Manchester Art Gallery. The correspondence dated back to the 1960s, when Keepers of the Rutherston scheme were visitors to the Pictures for Schools exhibitions in London each year and made a number of purchases of sculptures, drawings, paintings and prints. At the exhibitions, the Keeper made a list of reserved artworks which, if they were not sold to schools or education authorities first, were sent to Manchester to be approved for purchase for the collection by a council committee.
The Rutherston Loan Scheme was aimed at educational institutions and art galleries in the North of England. I am curious to find out what happened to some of the artworks and how they were used once they left Pictures for Schools, yet I could find very little reference to the scheme on the art gallery’s website. I made an enquiry about whether the scheme and collection was still in existence, and what kind of records existed relating to its history and was informed that the scheme ran until the late-1970s, when a public aspect was introduced to the scheme, with local ratepayers able to borrow works for their homes. Later, in the 1980s, the scheme became a community scheme with exhibitions lent to schools and community centres. The scheme finally came to an end in the early-’90s, following rate caps and a resultant reduction in staffing levels, and artworks were accessioned into the main collection. Like many other instances of loan collections, insurance too was increasingly problematic. Today, the gallery has corporate loan schemes, which lend work suitable for the offices of local firms such as barristers’ offices. New work is acquired for this collection, often by young talent, which can later be accessioned into the main collection. Following an exhibition about nineteenth century philanthropist and Ancoats museum founder Thomas Horsfall, which worked alongside a local primary, it is encouraging to hear that artworks will once again be going into schools.
Manchester Art Gallery gallery has a useful set of records relating to the Rutherston Loan Scheme, dating back to the 1920s when the collection was founded by Bradford businessman and art collector Charles Rutherston. A transcript of a speech made at Manchester Art Gallery in 1926 reveals that after searching for a place to house his collection, he settled on Manchester due to the need for the provinces to have access to art, the good example set by existing levels of cultural provision in the city, and a pre-existing relationship with curator Lawrence Haward and his interest in modern layouts for art galleries. Manchester was also chosen because of its relative proximity to Rutherston’s home city of Bradford, which would enable circulation to institutions across Lancashire and Yorkshire. Rutherston considered it to be important that the collection could be circulated rather than having a permanent home at one gallery, acting as an educational aid, and initially anticipated that schools of art would be the most regular borrowers (it turned out that secondary schools in fact made most use of the scheme). The Arts Council later picked up on this, and circulated the collection regionally to stimulate interest in similar schemes in other parts of the country.
The pilot version of the scheme loaned artworks for one year, although this was felt to be too long to maintain students’ interest and termly loans were initiated instead. The scheme worked by lending groups of pictures to borrowers, either grouped by artistic theme or by ‘different methods of approach to artistic problems’, which could be supplemented from a pool of pictures. Borrowers could visit the collection to make a choice for themselves, or the Keeper could make a choice on their behalf, and the Keeper was also available for illustrated talks. Borrowers had to pay for transport by road or rail, and insurance arranged at ‘reasonable rates’ through the Manchester Corporation. The art gallery has lists of local schools which made use of the scheme, as well as annual reports, which reveal that the scheme was used extensively by elementary and secondary schools throughout Manchester and Salford, along with those in towns in the surrounding area such as Warrington and Bury, as well as specialist schools such as a school in the countryside for epileptics and an experimental boarding school near Clitheroe for children from Salford where students would otherwise have had little opportunity of seeing art. Schools of art made use of loans by displaying examples of work from the collection in the dedicated studios in which that medium was taught – for example, figurative work was shown in the life drawing room. Exhibitions of selections from the collection were also held at Platt Hall, the art gallery’s south Manchester outpost in Fallowfield.
Rutherston was first inspired to collect art by his brother, the painter Will Rothenstein, and, through Will, become part of a social circle that included members of the New English Art Club. This group was drawn on heavily for the collection, along with other groups of artists such as the London Group and the Camden Town Group. Although Rutherson also collected examples of ‘ancient Oriental Pottery, Bronzes and Carvings’, and the collection contained a few examples of foreign artists, his aim was the ‘cultivation of the Modern School of English Art’. In this way, like Pictures for Schools, the scheme offered support for young and unrecognised artists alongside more established names (albeit supplemented by reproductions of masterpieces if it was found to be necessary). The acquisition of work by living artists continued throughout the collection’s existence, with an emphasis on the modern, contemporary and progressive, and the collection aimed to provide a wide survey of twentieth century art and the ‘modern outlook’, aiming to stimulate interest in ‘new forms of visual expression’ among borrowers. Rutherston saw his gift as the ‘nucleus’ of a collection which would grow with gifts and further acquisitions, and a number of donations came from the Contemporary Art Society. Other artworks were purchased at exhibitions of local artists. During the Second World War, the Rutherston Scheme had links with CEMA (the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Art), and works were acquired from the War Artists’ Advisory Council. Other works in the collection were humbler forms, such as linocuts, which were thought to be of particular interest to schools as students often made linocuts in art classes.
I was able to view a few of the works which were purchased through Pictures for Schools in the 1960s in the art gallery’s store. Although sculpture is stored elsewhere in Manchester (the curator mentioned that much of the gallery’s post-war sculpture is small in scale, something which fits in with my observations of the sculpture in the Derbyshire County Council school loan collection), I was able to view an extraordinary (yet probably slightly disturbing for schoolchildren) drawing by Elisabeth Frink, Bird Man (1963), which depicts movement through an unusual drawing technique and diagonal composition. Another artwork, Studies in Line (1964), a print by Conrad Atkinson, appeared to be a snapshot of an endless variation of experiments into the possibilities of line and form which drew the eye back again and again. An artwork by Pauline Smith, Museum Study (1968), was a real curiosity, a proscenium arch drawn on graph paper in the luminous oranges and purples characteristic of the era. Unframed, it appeared to be more of a study or demonstration exercise to be shown to students than something designed to beautify a wall. One of the artworks purchased through Pictures for Schools, however, is currently on loan to the office of Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.
One of the most interesting chapters of the Rutherston collection’s history relates to the Second World War and the continuing importance of the arts at that time. Despite difficulties such as transport limitations, the evacuation of Manchester schools and the storage of some of the more valuable works safely away from Manchester, the collection was in high demand and schools continued to make good use of artworks even in temporary accommodation. Loans from the collection were also distributed to YMCAs, service camps, factory hostels, hospitals, factories and local firms, as well as the local Juvenile Employment Bureau where children discussed the pictures informally amongst themselves whilst waiting to be seen.
Another interesting aspect to the scheme was the lively interest taken by Rutherston’s widow, Essil R. Elmslie (1880–1952), an artist and owner of the Redfern Gallery in London, after his death in 1927. A steady stream of correspondence between Mrs Rutherston and the Keeper of the collection reveals that she made regular visits to Manchester, and was keen to visit schools and other borrowers to see how they were making use of the collection (as well as trying to encourage those schools which weren’t making use of the collection, such as Manchester Grammar, where paintings were only displayed in the Masters’ areas, to do so, and giving suggestions for schools which felt they had nowhere to display artwork). Mrs Rutherston made regular purchases for the scheme, both from gallery exhibitions as well as student potters at the school of art local to her in Farnham.
Along with the artworks purchased from Pictures for Schools for the Rutherston Loan Scheme, there are other interesting links between the schemes. ‘Rutherston’ was an anglicised version of the surname ‘Rothenstein’, and Charles Rutherston was the uncle of John Rothenstein, director of the Tate Gallery from 1938-1964, who was involved in selecting artworks for early instalments of Pictures for Schools. Youngman also knew John Rothenstein’s brother, the painter Michael Rothenstein, socially as part of a group of East Anglian painters. Another possible link with Nan Youngman is through the Society for Education in Art, under whose name Pictures for Schools was organised: Mrs Rutherston was actively involved in the local branch at Farnham in Surrey, helping to organise a wartime exhibition in aid of the Red Cross, and wrote with enthusiasm about attending an SEA conference at Somerville College, Oxford, addressed by Herbert Read and the art critic Eric Newton (a Manchester man who wrote regularly about Pictures for Schools in the press), where she tried to spread the word about the Rutherston Loan Scheme among those she met.
It is hoped that there will eventually be an exhibition of work from the Rutherston Loan Collection at Manchester Art Gallery, which I think is a great idea given its long and fascinating history.
I’ve been required to make another research poster for an upcoming event in my department, the Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment at the University of Central Lancashire, for staff and post-graduate students to share what they are working on (see last year’s poster here) . This time, I decided to focus on Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman, as through my archival research and oral histories it has become apparent that her life story was intertwined with Pictures for Schools, and that a biographical focus on Nan Youngman will form a key part of my thesis. My recent PhD transfer viva also revealed that my discussions of Nan Youngman had piqued a lot of interest in her among people I have talked to about my project, both as a personality and as a central figure to Pictures for Schools.
(Click on the poster for a larger version)