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Spotlight on the Slade – October 2015 update

By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 1 October 2015

Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stooping Nude Child, 1900, Black Chalk, UCL 6003 (The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis. By permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a Registered Charity)

Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stooping Nude Child, 1900, Black Chalk, UCL 6003 (The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis. By permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a Registered Charity)

Blog post by Helen Downes, Paul Mellon Centre Research Curator, UCL Art Museum

UCL Art Museum’s Spotlight on the Slade project is well underway with the first phase of the project: Full cataloguing of the collection of some 1,700 drawings.  Dating from the 1890s to the present day, this collection of largely prize-winning drawings offers a unique insight into student work and teaching methods at the Slade.  Current focus is on the late 19th, early 20th Century and is yielding some interesting findings. For the first time, the demonstration sketches and comments added to student drawings by tutors as they walked around the life room are being recorded in the object catalogue – small sketches of a head, a torso, or a comment, ‘quick poses, Tonks liked these’, provide an insight into how the life room operated.  Under drawing tutor Henry Tonks, a knowledge of both anatomy and the work of the old masters was key to achieving an accurate portrayal of the human form.  These notes and sketches, together with the visible corrections and re-workings made by the students themselves, demonstrate the emphasis on life drawing as a learning process, the sketch as a process of exploration.

While illustrating these values, some early works by well-known figures in British art also display a sometimes surprising style, such as this drawing by Percy Wyndham Lewis.  Better known for his Vorticist work which embraced and depicted the machine age with abstract angular forms, this chalk drawing of a boy, made for the Slade Scholarship when Lewis was 18, reveals his work under drawing tutor Henry Tonks.

The wealth of work by women artists in the collection provides another valuable insight into teaching at the Slade.  As the first art school to admit female students on equal terms to their male counterparts, and one of the only school at the time to allow women to draw from the nude model (albeit in a separate life room and with the male model lightly draped), the Slade’s emphasis on the importance of life drawing to all students is clear.  Further research into individual artists will enrich this knowledge and help us understand women’s experience during and after leaving the Slade.

Additional findings which have emerged so far include a previously un-recorded list of some 360 works included in an exhibition at the Slade to mark UCL’s centenary in 1927 – work on matching the list to works in the collection is underway.  An emerging theme is that of the life models themselves, who appear and re-appear throughout these works, the same pose worked by different artists or the same model appearing in drawings years apart.

Another is the gaps that can be identified through the cataloguing and research process: Not all prize-winning works entered the collection and what does the prize system tell us about the changing values within an art school?  And, research into artists such as Clara Klinghoffer, whose first solo exhibition in 1919 brought immediate national success at the age of 19 is enriching our knowledge of lesser known artists represented in the collection.

Alongside cataloguing and research, links are being made with organisations which have related holdings and plans are underway for future collaborations and an exhibition which will highlight some of the hidden strengths of this rich collection – watch this space!

Spotlight on the Slade is generously supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

For further information on the project please go to our Current Research webpage.

Blog post by Helen Downes, Paul Mellon Centre Research Curator, UCL Art Museum

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