A visit to see Manchester Grammar School’s art collection: the final piece of the jigsaw

MGS mezzanineI have long wanted to know what happened to the artworks sold at Pictures for Schools once they had left the exhibitions, and tried to contact schools which purchased work. This always been unfruitful as many schools have closed, merged, changed name or changed location and premises since the 1960s. Though most of the buyers were local education authorities and education committees, there were a number of primary, secondary and independent schools across the country that bought work from the exhibitions. Unfortunately, those schools which do still exist are often unaware that they once owned original works of art.

I was pleased to discover, through a chance conversation with their Head of Art, Lisa Murphy, that Manchester Grammar School (MGS) is an exception and still has several, though perhaps not all, of the artworks it purchased at Pictures for Schools. Lisa, who has been at the school since 1998, is keen to use original works with students, whether through direct observation, as part of project work, or as the basis for reinterpretation.

Manchester Grammar School Art Collection Fund was suggested by an old boy in 1956 for the purchase of original and contemporary works of art, and governors, old boys and friends of the school contributed. The collection was not just limited to works on paper, but was intended to encompass ceramics and sculpture, though this was not in evidence when I visited. In 1960, an exhibition of the collection was held. The catalogue explained that:

“The aim has been to buy pictures that are good of their kind by modern artists, known and unknown.”[1]

In the 1980s, an Ivon Hitchens work was sold to enable new purchases to be made. Aside from the Art Collection, other work belongs to the school Common Room. Some works were purchased through a bequest and some were gifts. There are also remnants of an earlier collection, and other work includes a 1945 John Skeaping print of a mare and foal which was part of the School Prints series. In addition to its own collection, the school also made use of Manchester Art Gallery’s Rutherston loan scheme for educational institutions in the north of England.

The Pictures for Schools invoice books held in Nan Youngman’s papers at the University of Reading, though incomplete, reveal that Manchester Grammar School was a regular buyer from Pictures for Schools in the 1950s and 1960s. Invoices were made out to the bursar on behalf of Art Master JH Bell, and on occasion on behalf of the ‘High Master’. John Henry Bell joined in 1951 and served as Head of Art from 1956-81. An Oxford-educated historian and scholar, he also painted landscapes, with a particular interest in mountains. He was known for an extensive collection of art and architecture slides, and recorded talks for BBC radio. At that time, the historical and critical aspects of art were emphasised in the school more than the practical aspects.

MGS corridorI recently visited MGS, a large and still academically oriented independent school in suburban south Manchester, to see what remains of the collection, and to get a sense of these artworks in a school setting, The artworks are scattered around the school, which is based around an extensive and disorientating 1930s building. In general, the school gives the impression of being filled with art and visual stimulation. Students’ work is displayed throughout the large and impressively resourced art department, as well as in the shared spaces of the school such as hallways and corridors. Changing and themed exhibitions of students’ work take place in a small gallery space next to the main reception, and there is also a small sculpture garden containing students’ work. Staff rooms, common rooms, reception, offices and classrooms also have pictures on display, ranging from formal and old-fashioned portraits of former grandees to architectural drawings of the school to work by local artists and artists who have been in residence in the school, including modern photography and graffiti-style stencil work. Some of the original mid-twentieth century Priddy 9 Barrows La Dellworks of art purchased by the school can be found among this, and highlights of the collection are on display in a wide corridor area. These include Edwin La Dell’s 1960 lithograph ‘Priddy Nine Barrows’, a green, rolling rural landscape. Though I had seen photographs of the print before, I much preferred it in ‘real life’, seeing its mark-making close-up and its colour choices appearing more vibrant.

Like many school buyers, Manchester Grammar School bought a large number of prints from Pictures for Schools, although it did also purchase paintings. Many of the artists involved in Pictures for Schools, and represented in the MGS collection, were themselves involved in art education, at secondary or university level.

Susan Horsfield Boxes of Fish MezzaninePaintings at MGS include Gordon Bradshaw’s ‘Essex Landscape’ (1962), an unusual and stylised perspective on a townscape which is reminiscent of a briefly glimpsed view of a town looking down from a railway viaduct as the surrounding countryside stretches out behind it. Susan Horsfield’s ‘Boxes of Fish’ (1961) is a detailed oil painting. Horsfield met Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman through their involvement in the Women’s International Art Club and was invited by Youngman to submit work to the scheme. Peter Midgley’s humdrum oil painting ‘Still Life’ (1958), meanwhile, shows newspaper-wrapped grocery shopping in Kitchen Sink-style. Midgley taught at Beckenham School of Art.Peter Midgley Still Life Oil 1958

Philip GreenwoodSchools often had less money to spend on original works of art than local authorities. Prints, which could be purchased framed or unframed, were among the most affordable works of art at the exhibitions. Furthermore, prints such as linocuts had an obvious application in the classroom; they could be used to demonstrate to students what could be achieved in a medium they were likely to use themselves in school art lessons. There are also screen prints, etchings and lithographs. These include the bold 1966 screenprint ‘Blue Night Flower’ by Dennis Hawkins – who taught at Repton School and was a founding member of the Midland Group and the Printmakers’ Council’, which edges towards abstraction. Philip Greenwood’s, ‘Slate Street’ (1965) is a dark, sketchy, angular etching, while ‘Two Friends’ is a figurative lithograph by Alistair Grant, who studied with Edwin La Dell and taught at the RCA. Another print, ‘Barmouth’, from 1984, picking out the shapes of the town through exaggerated use of line and colour, is by John Brunsdon, who designed posters for Pictures for Schools as well as selling work through the scheme.

Euan Jennings Essex Gravel Pit No 2 Linocut 1957Perhaps the work I saw on my visit I liked the most was Euan Jennings’ highly stylised 1957 linocut ‘Essex Gravel Pit No 2’, a detailed reinterpretation of an everyday and workaday landscape in blue, black and yellow, in which contrasting textures and patterns are used to create contrast between different layers and areas of foliage, water, rock and stones. Jennings’ father was Principal at Tunbridge Wells School of Art.

Delhanty Summer Landscape with Cow Parsley gouache 1959I also like Denys Delhanty’s 1959 gouache ‘Summer Landscape with Cow Parsley’, a more unconventional landscape that has something in its palette of black, white, greys and pale blues, and brush marks resembling surface scrapes and bubbles, of the quality of a photographic negative. Denys Delhanty was Head of Art at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and his work was extremely popular in the Pictures for Schools exhibitions.

Town Hall Yard BawdenUnsurprisingly, given their prominence in Pictures for Schools, a number of the artists in the MGS collection are associated with East Anglia. These include the Great Bardfield artist Edward Bawden – an artist’s proof of his linocut ‘Town Hall Yard’ (1957) is on display – as is a large, sweeping, abstracted, expressive linocut of an ‘East Coast Storm’ (1967) by Julia Ball who was, like Nan Youngman, a member of the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors.

Julia Ball East Coast Storm linocut 1967I was disappointed, however, not to see abstracted linocuts of farm machinery by Peter Green, one of the best-selling artists at Pictures for Schools, which once formed part of the collection. As Lisa Murphy is making a renewed effort to locate and catalogue the works to improve their visibility in the school, I’m hoping that perhaps they might be unearthed for a future visit.

[1] Information about the collection and the history of art teaching at MGS is largely drawn from the pamphlet Art at the Manchester Grammar School, edited by David Stockwell, 1993.

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Exhibition visit: We Want People Who Can Draw: Instruction and Dissent in the British Art School, Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections (until 31 July)

Ruskin plaque in the entrance to Manchester School of Art

Ruskin plaque in the entrance to Manchester School of Art

Though it’s not directly related to schools, as part of the contextual reading for my PhD I have also read a lot about the history and development of art education, specifically art schools and colleges in Britain, from the municipal colleges of art that were set up in industrial towns and cities in the nineteenth century, to the changing status of provincial schools of art and art degrees following the Coldstream Report of 1960, to the student protests and occupations sparked by that at Hornsey in 1968, where students demanded more say in the direction of their education.

The current exhibition at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Collections brings together an impressive, stimulating and inspiring range of materials relating to the last of these aspects of the history of British art education, borrowed from individuals and institutions including the Women’s Art Library in London. They encompass manifestos, books, magazines, pamphlets and student journals, including material from Art & Language in Coventry and King Mob at Goldsmiths in London, along with exhibition publicity, films, some evocative photographs of demonstrations and occupations, and prints and posters relating to these demonstrations, and correspondence between students and university officials. Through these artefacts, the exhibition draws out links with wider and international movements for change such as the Situationist International and radical feminism. Many of the publications were amassed and distributed by Ron Hunt, the librarian at Newcastle University, who must have some tales to tell!

Many of the objects, as well as being fascinating documents of the time and a particular educational and social moment, raised important questions about the purpose and uses of art in the post-war context, a period in which the government and other authorities had started by promoting the potential and responsibility of art to take on an explicitly social role in both educating and improving the lives and leisure of the masses. Should art, and the critical and technical skills students developed at art schools, be used for the good of society, as in the street theatre workshops discussed in the exhibition, or should it be enlisted into the commercial services of advertising, against which students at Hornsey were partly protesting? One of the most intriguing items in this regard was Ken Garland’s 1964 First Things First manifesto, recently updated fifty years on, which enlisted the signatures of several designers to rail against advertising and call for design which worked for the public good. It would be interesting to know what came of the signatories, and where their future careers led them …

At a time when the value – and cost – of studying arts subjects, not just at school but at degree level, is being questioned, and when university buildings are still being occupied through student protests, it was strange not to see present-day imagery and examples in the exhibition, despite this providing the starting point for the exhibition catalogue.

The catalogue is well worth a read and is accessible as PDF at www.specialcollections.mmu.ac.uk/files/wewantpeople_guide.pdf.


The Society for Education in Art and the beginnings of Pictures for Schools

I recently visited the Special Collections at the University of Leeds, which contains the papers of influential art critic and educational theorist Herbert Read. Among the Read collection are copies of Athene, the journal published by the Society for Education through Art (SEA), with which Read was closely involved. I read through some back issues of Athene from the late 1930s to the late 1940s to get a sense of why the SEA was formed and what it wanted to achieve, some of the key figures involved in SEA, what debates were going on around art education at the time, why it was felt that there was a need for original artworks in schools, and how and why Pictures for Schools was set up and developed (the exhibitions were administered by the SEA, with artist and educator Nan Youngman acting as a driving force). There is a lovely anecdote about Nan Youngman improvising by using the Earl of Sandwich’s castle in Cambridgeshire to teach her art classes (evacuated from London) during the war, which conjures up some great images of children painting among antique furniture and paintings!

The New Society of Art Teachers in Secondary Schools (known as the Society for Education in Art from 1941) was formed in 1937 with the aim of bringing together art teachers who believed in the importance of up-to-date teaching methods (Athene, Spring 1939). The SEA worked with other groups and individuals with similar aims and interests, and members were brought together at annual conferences and exhibitions. The Society also undertook and publicised research into art teaching, and aimed to establish a Central Institute of Art Eduction where teachers could work alongside psychologists, educationalists, artists and others with an interest in art education (Athene, Summer 1941). In 1943 Audrey Martin, soon to become art advisor for Cambridgeshire County Council, carried out a Leverhulme Trust-funded report on the current state of art education on behalf of SEA, and the results were published in the Society’s journal, Athene. She set the context of current art provision: at the time, art education in secondary schools and schools of art came under the supervision of the Board of Education’s Inspectors of Art, and some local education authorities, such as London, also had their own art inspectors. In other areas, including Birmingham, Leicester, Brighton and Cheltenham, art teaching under all schools was maintained by the Local Authority, supervised by the Principal of the local College of Art. Although the membership of SEA was composed primarily of specialist arts and crafts teachers, many schools did not yet have such specialists among their staff and the SEA argued the need for more specialist teachers to be trained in the years following the Second World War. Martin observed that most students left school at 14 and that, for the most part, subjects deemed to be useful for obtaining jobs were prioritised in schools at the expense of creative subjects, which were deemed to be ‘frills’ by teachers and parents (Athene, Spring 1943).

SEA used its journal Athene, published from 1939, to discuss current teaching ideas as well as to champion the status of art education within the educational system, promoting the idea that art should not be seen as a subject offered in isolation, but should be considered to be an integral part of the whole education system and as being central to individuals’ development (Athene, Spring 1948). Nan Youngman served on the editorial board from 1940 until 1943, and art critic Herbert Read and artist Mary Hoad were also on the editorial board around this time. Athene featured visits to art studios at schools around the country (often public schools due to their superior funding, facilities and resources); examples of children’s artwork; opinion and debate, reviews of books and exhibitions; profiles of art educators and theorists; correspondence; and guest articles by teachers, psychologists, and others interested in art education, not just in the UK but internationally. Athene did not merely focus on education in visual art; it also covered drama, creating writing and other creative subjects.

SEA advocated an ‘imaginative and creative’ approach to art teaching rather than the prevailing ‘purely mechanical methods’, and saw art teachers as having two functions: not just to develop children’s talent, but to foster an appreciation of good craftsmanship and design and so help with the formation of a generation with good judgement and good taste. One way in which the SEA hoped this could be achieved was by enabling schools to have access to works of art so that the “study of the art of the world should no longer be the happy hunting ground of the specialist and the cultured and interested few, but should be made accessible in some degree to every boy and girl during school life”. During the 1930s and immediate pre-Second World War years, the SEA was involved in a scheme (and promoted other, external schemes such as the School Prints) which circulated reproductions of both contemporary and classic paintings to county councils, although it was limited in its scope and did not reach all schools (Athene, February 1940). The Society surveyed teachers about the effectiveness of such schemes, with positive responses, and saw the need for such schemes to be extended nationally (Athene, Summer 1940). It also published articles in Athene detailing similar schemes already in operation at a local level, for example the Leicester Schools Service Department, which had been offering museum objects for short-term loans to schools since the early 1930s. In this scheme, objects were chosen from the permanent collection, from birds and animals to maps, postcards and illustrations, and circulated to schools with the co-operation of the Local Education Authority. A catalogue of objects available was supplied to teachers so they were able to plan lessons around loaned items. Also in Leicester, the College of Art collection loaned items for longer periods, with the education authority making an annual contribution towards its maintenance (Athene, February 1942). The Victoria and Albert Museum also had a circulation department, and there were regional circulation schemes in operation in Derbyshire and Lancashire (a textile collection). In 1943, there were eighty museums around the country offering items from their collections for loan to schools (Athene, December 1943).

In addition to offering reproductions of paintings, the SEA used its Picture Circulation Scheme to circulate photographs of good examples of new architecture and design in everyday use, believing that exposing children to contemporary ideas in architecture and planning was essential in enabling future citizens to play a full part in democracy. In 1940 the SEA was asked to advise on the education committee of the Central Institute of Art and and Design, which formed a committee to consider the place of the artist and the arts in reconstruction after the war (Athene, Summer 1940). It was agreed that art should be central to any long-term education policy. As SEA founder Alexander Barclay-Russell explained in Athene in 1941: “If democracy is to survive … it will require an education in which far more thought is given to the imaginative and emotional development of every individual to enable him to play a part in leadership and citizenship. It must be the aim of every school to enable the complete and mature nature of man to develop through their teaching and so educate the rising generation so that they can produce beauty about them by their own choice and discrimination.” (Athene, Summer 1941) The SEA was also concerned that children should be aware of town planning, looking ahead to reconstruction after the Second World War, and dedicated an entire issue of Athene to the topic in 1942, where it debated the merits of new using styles and methods of construction versus taking a more traditional approach (Athene, February 1942).

There were ongoing concerns about the quality of visual resources available for use in schools – partly because the type of resources available was limited by commercial possibilities and by the tastes of teachers. As artist and editor Mary Hoad observed in 1945: “There are pictures in existence for teaching purposes, but the depressing fact is that almost without exception they are aesthetically bad. There is a crying need for aesthetically good ones … it is essential that teachers who want pictures should be given the chance of getting hold of those which possess an aesthetic quality, in addition, or rather, bound up with, that other quality which makes them useful for a specific lesson.” (Athene, Spring 1945) There was also debate over the whether reproductions had the same impact in schools as original works of art and about whether there was more value in showing children reproductions of masterpieces, or works of art which were original, but not masterpieces. Both Nan Youngman and Henry Morris, Director of Education for Cambridgeshire, wrote strongly-worded letters on the subject, in support of original works of art. Nan Youngman had been convinced of the effect of original works of art on children since her London County Council school was evacuated to Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire during the Second World War. Youngman was given use of three rooms of Earl of Sandwich’s castle near Huntingdon for art classes. The castle contained a collection of artworks built up by the family over time, as well as more recent additions by the Earl of paintings by Courbet, Renoir, Cezanne and sculptures by Dobson, Breszka, Skeaping and Hepworth, alongside pictures sent by refugee artists for safekeeping. In a letter to Athene in 1940 Youngman enthused about the effect on her students of being in close proximity to such artworks: “It is the most lovely of the fantastic things that could have happened, that we should be working in the same house as such pictures. Our LCC furniture, brought in lorries, looks extraordinary in the rooms, but the children’s pictures seem quite at home. The effect on the children is very marked. They look at the pictures a great deal, and discuss them among themselves, continuing to be conscious of them in a way which they do not continue to notice reproductions. They are impressed that for so many years a family has cared enough for painting to build up such a collection. This makes the idea of caring for pictures more real to them.” She also noted that since being exposed to the artworks the children painted with more enthusiasm than before (Athene, February 1940).

In 1945, looking ahead to the new Education Act which came into force the following year, Henry Morris wrote to Athene with his ideas for the display of artworks in schools. He stated that “never was there a time when children were more in need of the potency and influence of the real unique work of the artist”, and advocated that Local Education Authorities become the main patron of the artist and sculptor (Athene, Winter 1945). In 1946, it was announced in Athene that a special exhibition committee had been formed by the SEA with the aim of holding a special exhibition of artwork for schools in London in 1947, supported by the Arts Council (Athene, Winter 1946).

The first Pictures for Schools exhibition, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1947 and opened by the then Parliamentary Secretary of the Minister of Education, was a great success, with 250 artworks chosen from 1,000 submissions, to be suitable for children aged from four up to the age of 15. Works were purchased by county councils in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Dorsetshire and the Isle of Wight, as well as by the Circulation Department at the V&A, with sales amounting to £1,542 (Athene, Spring 1948). The SEA received a commission of 20 per cent on any sales to cover the exhibition’s costs, and raised enough money to pay back the Arts Council for its support (Athene, Summer 1949). Children who visited the exhibition were invited to vote for their favourite painting in the exhibition, and over 6,000 votes were cast – although organisers admitted that children seemed to choose the artworks which appeared most familiar to them, such as those depicting animals, flowers and landscapes (Athene, Spring 1948).

The exhibition received favourable press coverage and the SEA drew the conclusion that it had found a new market for works of art. Due to the success of the exhibition, it was decided to hold a second in 1948, with the aim that eventually works will “hang in schools of every kind, from tiny village schools to secondary schools in cities, as well as private and public schools”, and the organisers planned to hold an accompanying conference for Directors of Education, teachers and artists to discuss the best means of developing the work begun by the exhibitions (Athene, Spring 1948). To further allow even more people to see the artworks involved, a selection was made from Pictures for Schools which was available to travel to provincial towns for display (Athene, Summer 1949).