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Archive for March, 2013

A horse in the studio

By Liz Bruchet, on 26 March 2013

One of the earliest photographs in the Slade archives, undated.

One of the earliest photographs in the Slade archives, undated.

What is a horse doing in the studio? The memoirs of Jessie Hall, a young student studying at the Slade in 1885, help explain. Now housed in UCL Special Collections (and charmingly titled My Year at the Slade School: The very happiest year of my life! Shall I let it pass unrecorded? No! The poorest moments of it were better than letting it sink into oblivion!), Hall’s memoirs describe one particular assignment in the life drawing room:

“A Horseman Bringing News of a Battle to the Inhabitants of a City”, that was the subject for this month and I made up my mind to do it. The model was posed in various positions … one position one day, another the next, sometimes the same model for the different poses, sometimes the model was changed. I wondered what we were to do about the horse for the horseman, and imagined that we would have some of the equine plaster casts up for the occasion.

I was agreeably surprised! We were told to go down to the Lower Life [room] one afternoon, where the men students studied, where one side of the room had a paved floor and a huge pair of double doors to enable animals to be brought in as models from the livery stables behind the College. There stood a live horse as a model! It is not easy to draw a horse in 20 minutes. Sketching as fast as my poor powers would let me, I never could get the legs in.

Hall Biography, 1924, p.4, UCL Special Collections, MS ADD 327

Hall’s accounts – rich with detail of the day-to-day life of the Slade student – recall the students’ nervousness as the tutors inspected their work, with particular awe for the ‘prophetic eye’ of the Slade Professor Alphonse Legros. She lists the subjects studied in the Antique Room, describes the smell of warm paint infused by the water pipe heating system in the life room; of being selected by the Professor to sit in the best seat in the Life Room; and of working through the weekend to prove she was much more than a dilettante.

Global mapping & uncharted territories

By Liz Bruchet, on 19 March 2013

The legacy of noted figures like Henry Tonks has been well documented, but what about students who came from afar and left the UK when their studies ended? Where did Slade students come from and where did they go on to base their practice? What impact have they had on art worlds internationally? What influences and inspiration did they take with them from their time at the Slade? What connections can be drawn between Slade archive materials and the living histories of artists from around the world? How do we draw these materials together and make them accessible to scholars, curators, family historians, and alumni?

Through the Slade Archive Project we hope to chart some of the lesser-known histories of the school, and trace the footpaths of those artists from cultures and countries beyond the UK, where language barriers, large distances and in some instances, contested artistic traditions, have historically limited an exchange of information. We are delighted to announce that Dr Amna Malik, Lecturer in History and Theory of Art at the Slade, has recently been awarded a UCL Grand Challenges Intercultural Interaction grant to work with Dr Melissa Terras (UCL Centre for Digital Humanities) to begin this research by tracing the influence of artists and Slade alumni, Ibrahim El Salahi (b. 1932 Sudan) and Khalid Iqbal (1929-2014 Pakistan). Iqbal studied at the Slade between 1952-1955 and El Salahi between 1956-1959 and both then went on to have pioneering roles in the development of art and art education in their respective countries, an aspect of the international impact of the Slade that has yet to be mapped. Stay tuned!

Unlikely objects in the archive

By Liz Bruchet, on 6 March 2013

Archives can contain all manner of unlikely odds and ends. As a Research Assistant on the Slade Archive project, I have been charged with the task of scoping the archive to determine what can be made more publicly accessible. Walking into the archives for the first time, I came across this surprise: a death mask of former Slade Professor Henry Tonks (1862–1937).

Tonks death mask Tonks was a painter and draughtsman with a reputation for being a fierce but highly influential presence at the Slade. A surgeon by training, he had a successful career at Royal Free Hospital in London before being invited to join the teaching staff at the Slade in 1893 by Frederick Brown, then Principal of the School. Tonks’ understanding of anatomy and his fine draughtsmanship are legendary and his teachings are said to have impacted notable students such as Augustus John, Stanley Spencer, Wyndham Lewis, Mark Gertler and Rex Whistler.

According a the story still told at the Slade, it was William Coldstream (1908-1987) and Walter Thomas Monnington (1902-1976) who cast this mask shortly after Tonks’ death in 1937. Understandably squeamish what was involved in making the mask, they fortified themselves with drink to the extent that they made a quite a mess during the casting process … or so the story goes. Besides showing how informal oral histories can work alongside archive objects to shed light on the personalities and events behind the Slade’s history, this mask is an example of just how many connections can be drawn through the various Slade archive materials held within UCL: there is a bronze bust of Tonks sitting proudly in the Housman Room at UCL, various photographic portraits of him in the Slade archive, some of his artworks in UCL Art Museum and his papers in UCL Special Collections – and this posthumous portrait by Walter Thomas Monnington, also in the collection of UCL Art Museum – which provides a curious counterpoint to the mask in the archive.

LDUCS_3031

Henry Tonks at the Vale: Head of Tonks, dead, 1937, pencil on paper, UCL Art Museum, University College London, 273750