I recently visited a small exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield about the School Prints, which emerged at a similar time to Pictures for Schools. The School Prints commissioned work by many of the artists who sold work at Pictures for Schools, including Julian Trevelyan, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein and LS Lowry, and several of those involved in Pictures for Schools, including Nan Youngman, Herbert Read and Audrey Martin, were on its advisory panel. Ultimately, however, Pictures for Schools, and supporters such as Henry Morris, Director of Education in Cambridgeshire, reacted against the School Prints, believing that it did not go far enough, and that ‘original’ artworks such as paintings, sculptures and textiles were of more value to schools.
Some of the prints on display at the Hepworth had been accessioned from the West Yorkshire education service, although there was no mention in the exhibition of the fact that the West Riding, under Director of Education Alec Clegg, had once been regarded as one of the leading local education authorities for the provision of artworks to schools, and had created one of the country’s largest county loan collections. However, these efforts to provide artworks to local schools clearly still played some part in the cultural memory of the area. During my visit, a woman turned to the woman she was with and reminisced about attending a brand new school which had opened in 1952, and had a large, bright work of art on the wall which, she speculated, ‘must have had something to do with this’.
I was pleased to see quotes from students from a local secondary school, who had been trained as ‘art ambassadors’, on display alongside the artworks. My favourite comes from 13-year-old Alison Alute, who said: “All the different things going on in this painting makes a little voice in my head scream with excitement!”
I have reviewed the School Prints exhibition for Corridor8 at http://corridor8.co.uk/article/school-prints.
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.
I also used the Easter holidays as an opportunity to visit the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex, along with the nearby village of Great Bardfield, in the north of the county. The Fry houses works by the group of artists associated with Great Bardfield from the 1930s until the 1960s, including Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree, John Aldridge, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein, George Chapman and Walter Hoyle, with the artists famously passing on not just techniques to each other but decorating their homes and furniture. Saffron Walden is fairly close to Cambridge, where Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman lived and socialised and many of the Great Bardfield artists, along with others from across the wider area of East Anglia, were involved with and sold work through Pictures for Schools. The museum was smaller-scale than I expected, but I spotted several of the artworks which were sold at Pictures for Schools, including Sheila Robinson’s print ‘Knife Grinder’, a vivid and personable portrait of a now exotic profession, and the softer ‘Trent Bridge’, which shows her own children sitting on a bridge. One work, a busy cockerel by Michael Rothenstein, was produced for schools in collaboration with the London County Council and another of his works was sold through the School Prints. There were a lot of works depicting the local area in colourful detail, from market squares to country paths, churches and the artists’ homes – although the large, fuzzy shapes of Michael Rothenstein’s more abstract prints were among my favourites – alongside material relating to the artists’ sociable village life in Great Bardfield and the open houses that were held in the artists’ homes and studios.
As well as artworks, there were commercial products, from printed fabrics to book covers and illustrations for books such as the Shell Guides to Britain as well as the quaint Life in an English Village, which depicts places still familiar today such as local shops and the schoolroom. There were also designs for murals in public places such as ships and the Festival of Britain, along with Bawden’s humorous, cartoonish advertisements for companies such as Twinings tea and Fortnum and Mason. Among my favourites were pieces of pottery designed by Bawden and Ravilious and produced by Wedgwood, and pottery produced for P&O liners. I particularly loved a series of plates, bowls, etc themed around the garden and depicting leisurely uses of the garden in light lines and a hazy yellow palette, from weeding and picking produce to lazing under a tree, along with a set using a collection of garden implements to decorative effect.
Although I associate the eastern side of the country, and Essex in particular, with a flat landscape, the countryside around Saffron Walden was surprisingly hilly, with lots of windy country lanes. It felt unlike anywhere else I had visited in England, a small and unrepresentative pocket living up to the olde-worlde image so many people associate with England. Saffron Walden, like many of the villages around it, comprised narrow, slightly tilting, streets of old buildings, painted in pastel colours, many of them adorned with swirling patterned paint and tiles, interspersed with thatched cottages, with the centre dominated by a large church. Directly behind the museum was a large formal park with a walled garden, rose garden, ornamental hedges and greenhouses, one of several well-maintained green spaces, with others including a very large village green. Today, the narrow streets of Saffron Walden are congested with traffic, and the town centre is full of gastropubs, craft shops and clothes boutiques.
It must have been an adventure for Edward Bawden and co, when they moved into their homes without electricity in the 1930s, although they maintained one foot in London, catching the daily bus to London to teach at various art schools. For me, it felt cut off, islanded in the middle of fields. It was all very pleasant, but as a city dweller it all felt too enclosed, too pretty and picturesque, too quiet and idyllic. It felt like looking in from the outside, where one would always remain in relation to that kind of place, the type of place one goes to forget about the real world, and I found myself yearning for the life and variety of the city. Yet, conversely, maybe that is why the work of these artists and the moment in mid-twentieth century life and culture associated with them is still so appealing and in many ways still and timeless. These paintings and prints represent places and buildings that have been there for centuries, and will continue to be there long after we are gone, as life changes to a greater or lesser extent around them.
I also enjoyed this Radio 3 programme about Bawden and Ravilious’ friendship, presented by Alexandra Harris, which was on a couple of months ago.
I recently listened to this interesting Radio 3 programme about the life, art and friendships of Eric Ravilious, presented by Alexandra Harris, author of Romantic Moderns. It was interesting to hear more about Great Bardfield artists and their life in Essex, as several of this group regularly contributed work to and sold work through Pictures for Schools (Ravilious’s wife, Tirzah Garwood, was one of the early best-sellers at Pictures for Schools, and her realist, detailed collages of village and rural life were consistently popular with child visitors to the exhibitions; other regular contributors from this group included Ravilious’ lover Helen Binyon, Bernard Cheese and Sheila Robinson, George Chapman, Michael Rothenstein and, most notably, Edward Bawden, who consistently sold well through the entire lifespan of the Pictures for Schools exhibitions).
The programme is still available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer here.
A few weeks ago I was in Leeds for the day and visited the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds, where I saw some Edward Bawden linocuts in ‘real life’ for the first time in a display drawn from the gallery’s permanent collection. I turned the corner to find them unexpectedly, and was taken aback by their bold size and scale, having assumed them to be small works on paper and not large-scale. I have a strong suspicion the two works, ‘Brighton Pier‘ and ‘Lindsell Church‘, were purchased by the West Riding School Museum Service from Pictures for Schools in the late-1950s, as the West Riding was a regular purchaser from Pictures for Schools and the accompanying labels said the works (along with some others in the gallery) were transferred from the Yorkshire Education Resource Service in 2002.
I was also recently recommended a really lovely Radio 4 programme about Brenda Rawnsley and the School Prints, a short-lived 1940s attempt to create and sell lithographs to schools by contemporary artists, chosen by a committee of experts which included people who went on to be involved in Pictures for Schools including Herbert Read and Nan Youngman. Like Pictures for Schools (and Nan Youngman), the School Prints was driven by a single-minded , determined woman, and the programme effectively told both her story and the story of the artworks through interviews with figures including her son (who recalled using unsold prints as wrapping paper at Christmas time!). Although there are key differences, such as Pictures for Schools’ emphasis on originals as opposed to reproductions, the programme covered a number of themes and issues I have been considering in relation to Pictures for Schools. These included the role of art in the classroom as a way of encouraging discussion and the skills of looking, and the presentation of a particularly positive, unchallenging version of Englishness, along with the choice of artists and subject matter for schools – subjects depicted in the School Prints, such as ploughing fields, fishermen, fairgrounds, markets and a puppet-show, wouldn’t have been out of place at Pictures for Schools (indeed, several of the artists who created work for the School Prints later contributed and sold work through Pictures for Schools, including Barbara Jones, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein, LS Lowry and Julian Trevelyan).
As part of my ongoing quest to try and discover what has become of county collections of original artworks purchased for loan to schools I have been speaking to a former art advisor in Cambridgeshire who retired a few years ago. At its peak Cambridgeshire had one of the most extensive collections of its kind, of over 400 works (the collection still exists and is operating to some degree), which is perhaps unsurprising given that Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman was employed as art advisor there for ten years under Director of Education Henry Morris, who was himself a keen advocate of art in schools, the importance of educational environments and the development of ‘good taste’ in children.
The collection was set up in 1945 (the year after Youngman started working for the county and two years before the establishment of Pictures for Schools) and followed on from schemes such as the School Prints Ltd; prints are still strongly represented because the council had very good links with Walter Hoyle, head of Printing at Cambridge School of Art, who recommended printmakers to purchase work by, for example Philip Sutton. Money was set aside by the local authority to purchase artworks (an early purchase being a painting by LS Lowry), alongside voluntary donations from schools, and secondary heads helped to select the artwork. Heads could choose what they wanted, meaning that the county ended up with a very eclectic collection, although sculptures are limited. It seems that initially there were two collections – one for the city of Cambridge and one for the county, which later merged.
Rob Howard became art advisor in Cambridgeshire part-time in 1981 after being head of art at a school in Huntingdon, and he also had experience of borrowing original works of art to use as part of school projects. Whilst this is outside the period I am directly looking at (the Pictures for Schools scheme itself only ran until 1969), it was fascinating to hear from him how a county collection was administered, but particularly how original works of art were put to use in schools. He explained that original works of art (often involving animals/portraiture as these come up a lot in secondary school art projects) were used alongside reproductions of artworks as a starting point for discussions and ideas. Howard pointed out that lots of the art curriculum is about looking, and that original works of art are a good way of showing children how artists look at things. Artworks can also be used as a way of enlarging children’s focus on a project, he said. Howard followed in the footsteps of Youngman (who he admired and met a couple of times towards the end of his life), and another of his predecessors as art advisor, Roy Bell, who took over from Nan Youngman and believed that children should talk about artwork, describe it and consider how it was put together, always starting with four questions: “What is this? How is this put together? Why and how did this work come about? What do you think about it?” One-word answers were not accepted.
The children Howard taught came from a council estate, and art wasn’t really part of their culture – they were more likely to have had pop posters, or reproductions at best, on their walls at home – so being exposed to artworks and finding out that people could hang them on their walls, and in some cases make a living from making art, ‘blew their minds’ and ‘changed their perspective’, an experience that Howard believes stayed with them. Howard believed that children needed to hold original works of art, so passed artworks around including the collection’s Lowry in its frame. Artworks were also taken around different locations in the school, touring classrooms and corridors. Howard said that primary schools made more use of artworks than secondary schools, and he remembers visiting a little village school with a Lowry hanging behind the head’s desk and a group of children sitting around on the floor copying bits of it.
Initially, the collection was free to use. Howard explained that in terms of distributing the collection it was run as an auction once a year. All the paintings were laid out in a classroom – a sight of ‘awe and wonder’ – and heads and teachers attended to take up to six pictures, or seven if there were any left over, which could be kept for a year. Howard recalls that all of the pictures went out – they had to as the classroom went back into ordinary use afterwards and there was nowhere to store them. Most Cambridgeshire schools and those in the outlying village colleges were involved, with free delivery in the city – heads from further afield could take paintings away in their cars, an arrangement which worked on trust. Howard recalls that these exhibitions attracted enthusiasts, and that it was a mini-social gathering taking place after school with coffee.
However, the problem came in the 1980s when the government decided schools had to pay for everything and the National Curriculum was introduced (in 1988), meaning that there was a very tight budget and the enjoyment was taken out of looking at paintings. Works were no longer purchased but loaned from elsewhere and the collection was mothballed in the 1990s before Howard decided to bring the collection out again and produced a catalogue with background information as part of a package that could be used as a learning tool and made available on CD. He also tried touring small exhibitions of 5 of 6 paintings. However, the schools that took this up tended to be richer schools and secondaries, who used the paintings more as decoration, and eventually works started to be lent out to go in council offices at Shire Hall.
In recent years some of the more valuable works have been sold – along with oversize works which are difficult for schools to accommodate – with a view of reinvesting the proceeds in the collection. My next task is to find out the current status of the collection and to what extent schools are still making use of it.
One project which aimed to embed art in schools in the post-war period was the School Prints scheme, which was started in 1946 under the direction of Brenda Rawnsley, who built upon a company started by her late husband Derek Rawnsley which rented reproductions of famous artworks to both state and private schools with accompanying notes. Artists were invited to submit sketches for School Prints, and successful submissions were reproduced in return for a fee and ongoing royalties. Subscribers to School Prints received four lithograph prints per term, or twelve per year, and prints were also available to the public at a slightly higher price. Like many attempts to expose schoolchildren to art, School Prints relied upon the enthusiasm and dedication of an individual: Brenda Rawnsley, whom Ruth Artmonsky portrays in her history of the scheme as a “feisty, energetic, enthusiastic woman finding her way in the post-war art world” (Artmonsky, 2010). Artmonsky places School Prints within a zeitgeist of bringing ‘good’ art to the people, and educating people’s ‘aesthetic discernment’. Like other attempts to take original artworks into schools, the School Prints scheme was guided by a committee of ‘experts’, the Art Advisory Council, which included Herbert Read and Nan Youngman as well as a representative from the Arts Council, a child psychologist, the Chief Art Inspector to the London County Council, Audrey Martin, Art advisor for Hertfordshire and Alex Barclay-Russell, art master at Charterhouse.
However, there are clear differences between the School Prints project and Pictures for Schools. Unlike Pictures for Schools, which encompassed a variety of art forms, artworks were confined to lithographs, and there was ongoing uncertainty on the part of Rawnsley about the extent to which artworks reproduced in editions in the thousands could be sold as original artworks. Unlike Pictures for Schools, School Prints was aimed solely at primary schools. School Prints met with limited success as, although Artmonsky characterises the artists involved as being largely ‘parochial and conventional’, the artworks and their subject matters were nevertheless found to be too ‘novel and advanced’ for schools, and the project extended only to three series of prints; a later scheme, initiated by Rawnsley in the 1950s, which involved selling schools moulds of artists’ sculptures through the Victoria and Albert Museum, which they could reproduce themselves, was similarly a commercial failure. Whereas Pictures for Schools often featured the work of young artists and recent graduates, School Prints invited contributions from more established artists, several of whom had been part of the state-sponsored ‘Recording Britain’ scheme in wartime – this type of subject matter was considered suitable for children. Finally, the scope of School Prints was not geographically limited to schools in England and Wales as with Pictures for Schools, nor featured solely British artists, as Pictures for Schools did: Rawnsley aimed to eventually extend the project to the countries across the Empire, as well as the United States, and prints were sold as far away as Antigua, South Africa, Kenya and India. Furthermore, the final instalment of School Prints featured the work of famous European artists such as Picasso who were reaching the end of their careers (Artmonsky, 2010).
School Prints followed on from earlier schemes to introduce original artworks to schools in the form of prints, such as prints given to schools as part of a series produced by the Post Office. Another print series for educational establishments, Contemporary Lithographs, ran between 1937 and 1938 and aimed to sensitise students to really looking at pictures and inspire their own creativity, in line with contemporary ideas that people had an innate desire to learn and respond if they were given the opportunity. Contemporary Lithographs focused on original prints by living artists, working on the assumption that good pictures did not always belong in museums, and considering prints to be better value for schools than watercolours and oil paintings. Its unique selling points were ‘quality, accessibility and originality’. However, like other schemes for aesthetic education, the public and schools often did not share the taste of those behind Contemporary Lithographs and found the abstract and non-representational artwork included in the scheme challenging (Artmonsky, 2010).