Object of the Week 361: Alice Joyce Smith, Drawing of Drapery, First Prize (Equal), 1918
By , on 5 October 2018
It’s not difficult to imagine what Alice Joyce Smith (b.1896) felt when she learned she had won the very first Drapery Drawing Prize awarded by the Slade School of Fine Art back in 1918. How she handled sharing it as First Prize (Equal) with fellow student artist Dorothy Josephine Coke (b.1897) is another matter. We have yet to uncover any letters, diaries or personal narratives recounting her time at the Slade, so we will probably never know whether she thought Dorothy a friend or foe, or whether the fact that she had also received prizes for Figure Drawing, Head Painting and Figure Painting made her feel in another league.
Looking at her submitted drawings, it’s easy to see why Alice won this particular Prize. I especially like the one pencil drawing of drapery slung over a chair (LDUCS-6061). Here the folds, the curves of material, the patterns made by the gaps and creases become her subject. Her other submission is more about the drapery worn (LDUCS-6063). It could be a portrait of a friend, an intimate sketch of a woman as she reads, but also a record of the ways her dress shapes her seated body.
We know little about the artistic ambition, struggles and successes of the artists emerging from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1918. What we do know about the Slade’s Drapery Drawing Prize is mostly the result of research completed by Helen Downes, former Research Curator at UCL Art Museum. Helen led a project titled Spotlight on the Slade Collections (funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art), which focused on cataloguing, digitising and public engagement to increase access to this unique resource, and did much to find new information about the women who at one time dominated the Slade’s prize system.
Helen has recounted that drapery drawing has long played an important role in artistic training, something clearly evident in works by the Old Masters and the many student studies of the antique. This was also true of education at the Slade, where drapery drawing would have supported students’ ability in portraiture as well as the Summer Composition Prize, a more traditional, large-scale painting prize, with set narratives or titles taken from history, literature or the Bible. Both these categories were potential areas of future employment for emerging artists.
We have learned something about Alice’s chosen career path by looking through inventories, UCL registry files, census and other public records. She was born in Hackney, leaving school in April 1911 with a two-year scholarship for Bloomsbury Trade School, the first to train women as photographic assistants. The grant was extended and in April 1913 she went, presumably as a trainee, to Val d’Estrange Photographers in Sloane Street. 1914 not only saw her register part-time at the Slade, but records also state that she had a miniature accepted by the Royal Academy. It is often assumed that women attending the Slade were from middle-class backgrounds, but Helen was able to discover that Alice’s father worked as a Scavenging Superintendent and, following his early death, her mother as a Lavatory Attendant.
Alice studied at the Slade until 1919, with a break in 1916-1917. In 1918, prize lists record that in addition to the Drawing of Drapery Prize, she was awarded First Prize for Head Painting, Figure Painting and Figure Drawing. In 1919, she was awarded a six-month travelling art scholarship and, in 1922, was one of four finalists for the prestigious Scholarship in Decorative Painting awarded by the British School in Rome. It was Thomas Monnington, then completing his final year at the Slade and later to become President of the Royal Academy, who received the award. Of Alice Joyce Smith, nothing further is currently known.
My next artwork of the week will be Dorothy Josephine Coke’s, Drawing of Drapery, First Prize (Equal) also from 1918, which I hope will give more life to this aspect of the Slade Collections. In the meantime visit UCL Art Museum to a see a selection of the drawings alongside REDRESS, an exhibition and series of public events weaving new life into the Slade’s once prestigious Drapery Drawing Prize (25 September – 14 December 2018). For a short time only Sophie Bouvier Ausländer, Katherine Forster, Seungwon Jung, Zeinab Saleh and Naomi Siderfin consider drapery drawing in its broadest terms, including cloth, clothing, fabrics and fashion, to redress the current relevance of this long-standing art school tradition.
Andrea Fredericksen is Curator at UCL Art Museum. Object of the Week 361 was written with Helen Downes, former Research Curator at UCL Art Museum. See Prize & Prejudice: The Slade Class of 1918, 2018