Following hot on the heels of But What If We Tried? at Touchstones, Rochdale in 2019, which attempted to display the entirety of the borough’s publicly owned art collection at once, Manchester Art Gallery is offering an insight into its sculpture stores (only 3 per cent of the collection is usually on display at any one time). About 25 per cent can be seen in the current exhibition, Out of the Crate, which explores and highlights how the work came to be in the collection and asks for information about some of the work (it’s not always clear who the work is by or how it got there!).
Many of Britain’s best-known nineteenth, twentieth century and contemporary sculptors are represented in the collection, working across a variety of styles and media, from portraiture to modernism. My favourite piece was ‘Rocking Chair No. 4’ (1950), a tiny bronze sculpture by Henry Moore, which was bequeathed to the gallery in 2012 by Harry M Fairhurst, architect of the UMIST campus and the renowned Hollaway Wall. Freeze-framing a small moment of familiar tenderness, but blurring both human and animal forms, its intimate scale made me long to pick it up and handle it and see if it actually rocked!
Some of the sculptures in the collection had been purchased for educational purposes, from the Horsfall Art Museum, which aimed to bring beauty to industrial Ancoats, to pieces from the Rutherston Loan Collection (now accessioned into the main collection) which was established in the 1920s to lend work to schools and educational establishments in the north of England.
Although this scheme is no longer in operation, one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is documentation of a project involving a group of boys from Burnage Academy, who were asked to choose a sculpture to display in their school for a day via Art UK’s ‘Masterpieces in Schools’ initiative. Just as Pictures for Schools aimed to ask searching questions of child visitors through the provision of questionnaires about the exhibitions, and to encourage them to see themselves as patrons of art, the students were encouraged to look critically at the artworks, how they were made and what they represented, as well as to think about the role of a curator. It was fascinating to read their rationale about what would stimulate discussion and what their peers would find interesting, and the types of questions they asked of the work, such as “Is the paper ball an actual sculpture?” (their eventual choice of ‘Cobra’, a 1925 sculpture by Jean Demand, narrowly beat Martin Creed’s conceptual ‘Work No 88: A Sheet of A4 Paper Crumpled Into A Ball’).
Out of the Crate is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 28 November 2021: https://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/exhibition/out-of-the-crate/
I 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.”
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.
I 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 works 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.
Paintings 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.
Schools 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.
Perhaps 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.
I 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.
Unsurprisingly, 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.
I 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.
 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.
This week I made my fourth and final visit to see Nan Youngman’s papers at the University of Reading. It felt very much like a finishing up and plugging the gaps visit, and I know feel like I’ve looked at everything in the collection and seen the full scope of what’s there. I found out about some more minor details of the Pictures for Schools exhibitions such as how they were publicised – this included advertising at underground stations, and writing to London borough libraries to ask them to display leaflets.
One of the things I got from the trip was a real sense of who the educational buyers were from Pictures for Schools, and what types of artworks and which artists were particularly popular, through looking at a series of invoice books from 1949 to 1968 (although there are some gaps where invoice books are missing, including a long period in the 1950s).
Schools of all kinds, including secondary moderns, grammars, junior schools and independent schools purchased work from Pictures for Schools, sometimes on a one-off basis and sometimes as repeat buyers, with Manchester Grammar School being a particularly regular buyer (this interested me as Mrs Rutherston was frustrated that it failed to make use of Manchester Art Gallery’s Rutherston Loan Scheme, and seemed generally unimpressed with the quality of art teaching at the school). Other regular buyers included Greenwich Library in the 1960s, as well as various training colleges around the country, and occasionally adult, further and higher education establishments. Other buyers included county or city loan services linked with museums, including Reading Museum and Art Gallery (this service is still in operation and embroideries by artists including Constance Howard and Sadie Allen purchased through Pictures for Schools in the 1960s are still available for schools to borrow), Ferens Art Gallery, who made purchases on behalf of Hull Education Committee and the Leeds Loan Collection which was linked both with Leeds College of Art and Leeds Art Gallery.
Although, as I already knew, Derbyshire Museum Service made regular and extensive purchases, I revised my opinion a little about the number of local authorities making use of the scheme, who seem to be slightly less numerous and widespread than I thought, although Essex County Council, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Great Yarmouth, Cumberland/Carlisle, Northumberland/Newcastle, Lancashire, City of Coventry, Cambridgeshire/City of Cambridge, West Bromwich, City of Manchester, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Buckinghamshire, Oxford, Rochdale, the London County Council and later Nottingham and Scunthorpe and Bromley were enthusiastic and regular buyers from the scheme, with West Sussex, East Sussex, Norfolk, Bristol, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, East Yorkshire, Gloucester, Southampton, Bradford, Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Rotherham, Birmingham and Harrow Schools Art Library making purchases more intermittently. I also realised I may have overstated the links between Pictures for Schools and counties such as the West Riding, Hertfordshire and Leicestershire, who I know to have had extensive loan collections and to have valued art in schools. Whilst they did certainly support Pictures for Schools in its early years, they appear to have stopped being regular purchasers by the late-1950s and 1960s, perhaps because they had become accustomed to buying art on a more year-round basis and approaching and liaising with artists and galleries direct. Educational buyers from Wales (and very occasionally Scotland) also made occasional purchases, although Wales had its own Pictures for Welsh Schools exhibitions from 1951 and a one-off Pictures for Scottish Schools exhibition was held in 1967. One thing I am interested in finding out more about are the art advisers who visited Pictures for Schools on behalf of county education committees, some of whom seem to have had interesting artistic careers and involvement in their own right, including Robert Washington, long-running art advisor for Essex.
I noticed that prints were by far the most popular item, probably due to their affordability (many buyers purchased prints unframed) with embroidery also popular and sculpture noticeably unpopular. One name which really stood out was the print-maker Peter Green, who seemed to make extensive sales at each exhibition, as did fellow print-makers Philip Greenwood, Michael Stokoe and Richard Tavener. Something else I noticed was that buyers often stuck with one artist and continued to collect their work year on year. As I’d observed previously, I also came across more correspondence from schools and local authorities which had purchased work from artists and wished to follow up by contacting the artists to ask for biographical or other information to complement the use of the works as learning resources, and sometimes to arrange local exhibitions of particular artists’ work.
I recently received an email from another PhD researcher, Alex Woodall, who came across my blog when looking up the Rutherston Loan Scheme at Manchester Art Gallery. We met and had a natter in the Manchester Art Gallery and she told me about a couple of other museum loan schemes I might be interested in.
One is Artemis in Leeds, which started out as a picture collection for students and schools created by art lecturers at Leeds College of Art (later part of Leeds Polytechnic from 1970) about fifty years ago. I have been told that it appears to have started as a collection of reproductions which were used to make up teaching sets, as well as work commissioned from students and departments at the College of Art and examples of furniture and design, and later became a travelling exhibition which visited schools in Leeds, with lecturers available to discuss the collection and art education. Alongside this there was a small, separate collection of museum artefacts administered by a City Museum Education Officer. The aim was “to enable schools to have works of art and design easily available for display to form the basis of discussion and the development of ideas”. In 1974, following metropolitan reorganisation, these combined to become the Leeds Schools Museum and Art Loan Service funded and managed by Leeds Education Department, with the collection acquiring work through purchases and donations.
Today, artefacts and artworks are circulated to schools, with about 2,000 pictures available (although few records exist for the service from before 1974 and there is no evidence that work was purchased through Pictures for Schools, I was interested to see names such as Harry Thubron and Maurice de Sausmarez – a Pictures for Schools contributor, both of whom are associated with the Basic Design movement in art education, among the painters included in the collection’s page on the BBC Your Paintings website). All schools in Leeds education authority have access to the service, which is now called Artemis, free of charge, and can borrow up to thirty paintings for six months at a time. Schools in nearby authorities also sometimes use the service. In addition, training is now on offer for schools wishing to use paintings.
Nigel Swan from the service explained over email that: “Artworks are used in schools to enhance the environment with stimulating visual material, to provide exemplars of styles and media and for detailed study at high school level … the collections are well used and are constantly in demand.”
The services’s aims include providing children with a “‘hands-on’ experience; offering a “multi-sensory” opportunity to work directly with objects which means that “children and young people of all ages and abilities are able to access the collection in a meaningful way”; encouraging schools to use art to ”support subjects across the curriculum”; using pictures as a stimulus for “developing speaking and listening skills”; and “extending and developing the breadth of children and young people’s access to original art”. In all these regards, it is remarkably similar to the aims of Pictures for Schools when it was established more than 65 years ago.
Jane Zanzottera, Arts Manager of ArtForms, which provides art and music support for Leeds schools, added that the Artemis artefacts are “popular, well-used and easily accessed”, but that only a ‘handful’ of Leeds schools borrow pictures, which are chosen at a selection day organised for schools. She also mentioned that Leeds City Art Gallery has a long-standing picture lending scheme, set up in 1961, whereby members of the public can borrow pictures for a fee £48 per painting per year – one of the few remaining services of its kind in the country. The two initiatives have been working together in recently years to try and get more people of all ages, including teachers, to borrow art. So far this has been a success: apparently more schools are already borrowing art and engaging with the service.
Thanks to Jane and Nigel for sending me the information above.
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 recently made my third visit to the Nan Youngman collection at the University of Reading, and I now feel like what I look at is more about filling in the details and adding to a more complete picture of Pictures for Schools than helping to build my general understanding of Pictures for Schools and Nan Youngman.
Some of the interesting things I found during this visit included correspondence with the auctioneers Bonham’s regarding artwork which had been left unsold and uncollected after Pictures for Schools exhibitions in the 1960s: after debating whether it should be destroyed (it seems to me to be a real shame that this was even an option, if it was considered to be of good enough quality to have been selected for the exhibitions in the first place!), it was put up for auction. I also read correspondence between the Pictures for Schools organisers and Manchester Art Galley regarding the Rutherston Collection which was lent to educational establishments in the North of England. The keeper of the collection visited the Pictures for Schools exhibitions each year and reserved artworks which, if they were not sold first, were sent to Manchester to be approved for purchase for the collection by committee. I would love to know if the collection, which purchased work by Elisabeth Frink among other artists from Pictures for Schools, still exists. Another interesting set of correspondence related to the guide lecturers – who were seconded from Whitechapel Gallery’s Upper Gallery, or were Directors of Education – who took school parties around the Pictures for Schools exhibitions. There was some debate over how to provide the best experience for school parties and it was concluded that schools usually got more out of the visits if they had time to explore for themselves and ask questions rather than having each artwork explained to them. A large volume of correspondence from schools booking school visits and talks demonstrated the large volume of school visits which were made to the exhibition, with groups typically bringing between 20 and 30 and sometimes up to 70 children. Often, letters were followed up by notes of thanks saying how much the visits had been appreciated, but occasionally letters also expressed regret that the behaviour of students had got out of hand.
Shortly after reading Nan Youngman’s autobiography in the Tate Archive in London, which described a difference of opinion between Youngman and the rest of the Society for Education in Art when the Society voted to move overwhelmingly towards Herbert Read‘s ideas after 1945, it was interesting to find a chain of correspondence between Pictures for Schools exhibition treasurer Katharine Baker and Organising Secretary Joan Bartlett, and between Youngman and Joan Bartlett, in which some parties could barely conceal their frustration about the perceived inefficiency of the SEA and the lack of understanding it showed about its role in relation to the exhibition. Something else which backed up what I read in Nan Youngman’s autobiography, where she described the influence of Marion Richardson and her visualisation method, was a set of ‘O’ Level exam papers Youngman set for the Oxford Local Examination Board in the 1950s and 1960s, which asked examinees to choose a title from the list to help them conjure up a visual image.
Of tangential interest were photographs and reports relating to courses Youngman ran for the British Council both overseas and for overseas teachers in the UK. It was also nice to see another photo of Nan Youngman, this time holding a student’s work at the 1931 exhibition she held of children’s art at Wertheim Gallery. One curio was a bag filled with plastic discs which were used to draw lots at the Pictures for Schools exhibitions when more than one buyer was interested in the same artwork.
Something I am increasingly finding is that even if the basic information given in a catalogue listing does not seem promising, it is still worth looking at everything if possible as often information seems to have been put together in folders that does not seem to belong together – for example, a folder might seem to based on one topic, but then some interesting press cuttings have also crept in which show the critical attitude towards the exhibitions at different times. I had hoped to have finished looking at the collection during this visit, but it seems that I will need to return to Reading again to get a complete idea of what is there.