I was recently contacted by Cheffins Fine Art of Cambridge with the news that they are handling the sale of the Cambridgeshire local authority collection, which includes 400 pictures by artists including Malvina Cheek, Robert Tavener and Tirzah Garwood.
The collection was established in 1947 – the year the first Pictures for Schools exhibition took place – under the aegis of Pictures for Schools Chairman Nan Youngman, who worked for Director of Education Henry Morris as the county’s art adviser from 1944 to 1954.
Although not entirely unexpected – since I started my PhD I’ve had a lot of difficulty finding out about the location and status of the collection, and I understand that individual works from it have been sold previously – it’s sad if it’s true that not enough schools in Cambridgeshire are interested in making use of the service, especially as Derbyshire School Library and Museum Service is still lending pictures to schools and has been reaching out of late via a social media presence.
Read more about the rationale behind the sale in this Cambs Times article from August 2015.
Pictures for Schools: Bringing art to Manchester’s post-war classrooms
Pictures for Schools was a scheme founded in 1947, which aimed to get original works of art into ‘schools of every kind’ so children could grow up with art as part of their everyday environments.
Between 1947 and 1969, annual Pictures for Schools exhibitions were held in London (with the exception of 1957, when a venue in London could not be found and the exhibition was instead held at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery). Here, contemporary artworks by living British artists were displayed and sold at prices affordable to educational buyers. Contributors ranged from well-known names such as LS Lowry to students who were obscure at the time but later went on to make a name for themselves.
Local education authorities, education committees and museum services across the country made the annual trip from London to make purchases from the scheme, and extensive collections of artworks were built up in towns, cities and counties large and small for loan to schools. Several schools in Manchester benefited from the opportunity to buy work, and education committees in Lancashire, Rochdale and Manchester were among the regular buyers from Pictures for Schools. Another purchaser was Manchester Art Gallery’s Rutherston Loan Collection for educational institutions in the north of England.
However, over the decades schools have closed, changed name or merged, and local authorities have come under pressures such as boundary changes and financial constraints. Many of these collections have now disappeared with little or no acknowledgment that such a service once existed. Does Pictures for Schools have a legacy in Manchester today, and can these artworks still have any relevance in the twentieth-first-century classroom?
The talk will take place on Wednesday March 16, 6.30pm, in Room 307, 3rd floor, Geoffrey Manton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University, Oxford Road, Manchester M15.
Free; all welcome
My interest in the artists who contributed to and sold work through Pictures for Schools, as well as the education authorities that purchased work from Pictures for Schools (and an enthusiasm for visiting and understanding more about post-war built environments more generally) recently led me on a day trip to Coventry.
I was on the trail of the artist Steven Sykes, whose work was very popular at Pictures for Schools, during which time Sykes also taught at Chelsea School of Art. He regularly submitted both drawings and works on paper to the scheme, as well as reliefs and sculptures. Many of them were themed around animals, and proved to be popular with child visitors. I first became interested in Sykes because he designed two large murals either side of the stage in New Century Hall, a concert and conference venue in the Co-operative’s former tower block headquarters at New Century House in Manchester, dating from 1963.
New Century Hall is a large ballroom with a sprung dance floor and charismatic 1960s light fittings, and many famous bands played there over the decades. Sykes’ tall murals are stylised depictions of musicians, which sparkle when the light hits them. Like other regular Pictures for Schools contributor Julian Trevelyan, Sykes was a camouflage artist during the war, and a war artist. In the 1960s, he turned his garden and home in Sussex into an ornate work of art.
Sykes was also responsible for the Gethsemane chapel in Basil Spence’s modernist ‘new’ Coventry Cathedral, the winning candidate for a replacement after the medieval cathedral was bombed in the Coventry Blitz of 1940. The Gethsemane chapel, which dates from 1959-60, is a glittering room featuring an angel in richly decorated concrete inlaid with mosaic which gleams like gemstones, against a golden backdrop.
It’s the most opulent and luxuriant piece of art in the building, most of which is far more sparse and restrained, from John Piper’s angular stained glass windows to the muted tones of Graham Sutherland’s giant Christ tapestry to John Hutton’s etched glass angels and saints, both still and suspended in action, which catch the light from the large windows to dramatic and striking effect.
Despite its vast scale, the cathedral, with its polished concrete, fossil stone floor (like that of the Royal Festival Hall in London) and decorative and functional use of wood, feels warm and human-scale. This struck me as a great contrast to the other 20th century cathedrals I have visited, in Liverpool (particularly the Anglican cathedral), which seem designed to strike the fear of god into the visitor with their oversize scale and austere atmospheres.
The cathedral, which interacts and is juxtaposed effectively with the ruins of the old cathedral, is an ideal place to get a sense of the two sides of Coventry, old and new, and to get an idea of the cityscape that Coventry’s 20th century reconstruction replaced. It stands on a hill-top, from which narrow streets descend, filled with cosy shops and restaurants. As the autumn leaves swirl to the ground, for a moment you think you could be in Canterbury, or in Montmartre, even, as a busker plays the accordion
The round, light-filled Chapel of Christ the Servant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, on the other hand, looks out onto the brutalist architecture of Coventry university, including a high-rise accommodation block, though the modernist campus is effectively landscaped with green space.
Also in the vicinity of the cathedral is the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, opened in 1960 and extended and modernised in recent years. Like many of Coventry’s buildings, its municipal modernism incorporates light-filled areas and large windows, notably in the stairwell. I understand that the Herbert’s collection includes a number of artworks purchased by Coventry Education Committee, as well as a former schools loan collection. City of Coventry Education Committee was one of two major Coventry buyers at Pictures for Schools, the other being City of Coventry Training College, whose collection is now on display at the University of Warwick. There was much crossover in both the artists and the types of artworks chosen for the respective collections, with artists including Kenneth Long, Mary Fedden and George Chapman.
On display in the Herbert are many artists and artworks dating from the era of the Pictures for Schools exhibitions, and representing some of the most popular artists as well as the type of urban, everyday social realism that predominated at Pictures for Schools. These included the ‘kitchen sink’ painter John Bratby, whose 1959 painting ‘Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day’ layers thick paint onto the canvas to create exaggerated net curtains looking out over suburban back gardens. LS Lowry offers views of gravestones outside a village church, and Ebbw Vale in Wales. ‘Landscape with Tank’ by Prunella Clough, meanwhile, from 1957, is an unconventional landscape depicting stark, geometric shapes in shiny, dark shades of grey, including the gas tank of the title. George Chapman, one of the artists associated with Great Bardfield in Essex, is represented by ‘Miner Returning Home from Work’ (dating from ‘before 1960’), a large and tall urban scene depicting a miner descending a hill through jagged streets, angular roofs, stairs and sharp edges, overlooked by TV aerials. Another very popular artist was Kenneth Long. Long’s ‘Huntingdon Street Bus Station, Nottingham’, from 1957, depicts sketchy figures in drab greens, highlighting humdrum details such as pigeons and chip wrappers. In common with Joan Eardley’s ‘Glasgow Boy With a Milk Bottle’ (1948) and the grimy, dark face of Chapman’s miner, the impression given of life in post-war Britain in these paintings is drab, poor and restrictive, a far cry from the modern world suggested by the architecture of rebuilt central Coventry and conventional, hopeful narratives of reconstruction.
I was also very pleased to see a fairly large sculpture by Betty Rea, the partner of Nan Youngman, depicting a woman stretching in bronze fibreglass. Other sculpture included John Greaves’ women chatting on a church bench, and a girl waiting for a bus. The most extraordinary sculpture on display is ‘Coventry Sculpture’ by Peter Peri, another artist who submitted work to Pictures for Schools and was renowned for his work in educational settings, dating from 1958-59. The large sculpture captures pinched, rust-coloured clay figures in action, interacting with a metal tower structure. The figures capture both light and strength, suggesting sport, movement and height. They’re running, doing, jumping, climbing, throwing, building, carrying, passing, lifting, stretching, interacting and collaborating. Peri is himself in the sculpture, as a bearded figure – and the only still character!
Elsewhere, Coventry’s post-war architecture boasts an impressive range of murals, many of which are tactile and seem to invite sensory exploration. These include William Mitchell’s 1966 characteristic concrete doodles on the front of the former Three Tuns pub (now a fried chicken shop), and Gordon Cullen’s large, tiled mural of 1958, now restored and relocated in the Lower Precinct of Coventry Shopping centre, which makes effective use of both pattern and abstract forms and colours, as well as narrative details from Coventry’s history and industries, from clock and bicycle manufacture to post-war planning and rebuilding.
Another 1960s mural, in Sainsbury’s, shows the expansion of Coventry, and seems to be held in high regard by staff. Another effective retail mural is carved detailing outside the large Coventry Co-operative premises, built in 1956, depicting aspects of co-operative history and symbolism, as well as products. Unfortunately the building, which still retains its original lettering as well as a plaque for the CWS (Co-operative Wholesale Society) architects’ department, is soon to be vacated by Heart of England Co-operative Society and probably demolished.
As well as faith, education, art and retail, the people of post-war Coventry were catered for in leisure. However, another piece of Coventry’s post-war cityscape whose days are numbered is the 1960s Olympic-size pool. Like much of Coventry, its light-filled windows, which envelop swimmers in sensations of space, spectacle and modernity, are now grimy and neglected.
As a whole, the centre of Coventry feels very un-English. The cathedral, and the city centre as a whole, feel like transplants from Northern Europe, from Scandinavia, from Rotterdam, where cities are more mixed use, and living in maisonettes above shops, or in blocks towering above the city centre, is normal. The city centre is dominated by 20th century structures and street patterns. Despite a number of empty shops, the central shopping area feels lively and public spaces are pleasant. Coventry, with its lingering independent and specialist shops, also feels strangely retro, a city from a different decade. The type of place where a specialist pipe repair shop can survive, and a remnant from a different time and society. Visiting really gave me a sense of the context into which artworks in Pictures for Schools were received, the priorities and cultural attitudes of the time, and the types of environments to which they belonged.
Photographs by Natalie Bradbury and Steve Hanson.
When I visited the National Arts Education Archive Leonard Bartle gave me the phone number of Trevor Rawlins, a former exhibitions and events manager for the Inner London Education Authority from 1972 until the year before it was abolished in 1990. Mr Rawlins was previously an art teacher and head of department at a school in Brixton before moving into an administrative role at the ILEA. His role there included organising exhibitions of children’s work, and Mr Rawlins was keen to talk to me about the collection of original works of art built up by the ILEA’s precursor, the London County Council, after the Second World War (in 1965 the Greater London Council was established to replace the London County Council and the ILEA was formed as a separate education authority). From what I have read about Pictures for Schools, I know that the exhibitions were one way in which artworks were purchased for the collection, both in the days of the ILEA and the LCC.
Mr Rawlins explained that those behind the collection identified young, up-and-coming artists whose work could be circulated to schools, comprising 700 or 800 works encompassing everything from oil paintings to wood block prints. A design collection of around 1,000 objects was built up in parallel (interestingly, this collection and its use in schools is currently a subject of a PhD being undertaken at Camberwell College of Arts). Schools could borrow artworks for three to six months then change around if they wanted to. Rawlins explained that this “worked very well until artists became very well-known”. Twenty or thirty years after they were first bought, some of the artists were at the top of their game and bringing in considerable amounts of money; sometimes artworks were worth £7/8,000, sometimes as much as £20,000. Eventually artworks became so valuable that the ILEA didn’t dare send them out, for example those by Elisabeth Frink, because of worries about insurance. Lots of people were going in and out of schools, and could brush up against artworks in corridor. Another worry was that works were signed so it would have been easy for anyone with a bit of nous to look up their value. Rawlins thinks those responsible got bored with the idea, and it became too much trouble.
By the time Rawlins arrived at the ILEA the collection had been in storage for many years in museum conditions – Rawlins thinks the last time it was used could have been the late-1950s. He was responsible for cataloguing the collection to be sold off by the London Residuary Body to private collectors at auction (either at Sotheby’s or Christies) when the ILEA was disbanded, and found that a lot of the artworks were missing. It seemed that a lot had been stolen, and the person who had been in charge had been given the sack. Although the money raised by the sale could have been invested in new artworks, it probably disappeared into the ether.
Mr Rawlins also mentioned a collection in Wiltshire, which is something worth looking up.
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).