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Object of the week 384: Rosemary Young, Bull, 1951

NinaPearlman28 June 2019

This blog is written by a team of UCL Museum Studies students – Sarah Waite, Lok Hei Wong, Patricia Roberts and Yiting Fu – and draws upon their research project into the Slade School of Fine art historic sculpture prize, undertaken in collaboration with the UCL Art Museum as part of their MA degree.

See image credits below

We had the fantastic opportunity to focus our Collections Curatorship course project with UCL Art Museum on an area of the Slade collection that is under-researched. During our research, we uncovered this small bronze sculpture in the UCL Art Museum’s store. Bull (1951) was modelled by Rosemary Young (b.1930) , who was a student at the Slade from 1949 to 1953, and then cast by Reg Butler (1913-1931), who taught at the art school. The artwork won the Slade Sculpture Prize in 1951 and is the only prize-winning sculpture retained by the School and now part of UCL Art Museum’s Slade Collection . A highly sought after honour, to receive a Slade prize meant that the student’s work was recognised as exemplary by a panel of the most highly regarded artists and academics in Britain.

Rosemary Young

During her time at the Slade, Young was under the tutorship of Professor A.H. Gerrard, sculpture assistant Frederick Edward McWilliam and artist Reg Butler.

After Young graduated from the Slade, she went on to become an assistant in Reg Butler’s sculpture studio. Young gave up her own work for an extended period in order to focus on casting and producing Reg Butler’s work, eventually becoming his second wife. In this period of Young’s life, the narrative of her work becomes subsumed into the role of ‘assistant’.

Young describes how none of her female peers at the Slade became successful artists, and reflects on how the expectations of the feminine role in the 1950s were incompatible with developing a career as a famous artist:

(To become a famous female artist at the time) you had to be a very very extraordinary person […]it was almost as if, not through any fault of his, he (Butler) just sucked it away, he drew it out, drew all your energy away from creativity, into being part of a partnership”. (Butler, 1999, p.138)

During our research project, we have been particularly interested in giving the Slade’s female sculptors the recognition that they deserve, after having been excluded from the art historical canon for many years due to the intersecting factors of socialised and institutionalised sexism.

Whilst Young’s contribution to British Sculpture may be overlooked today, at the start of her career she was a part of the ‘Young British Sculptors’ exhibition which toured galleries across Germany between 1955 and 1956. As well as being one of only two female sculptors to have shown work in this exhibition, Young had only recently graduated from the Slade. To have been selected by the British Council to represent her country internationally was a huge honour and a mark of her significance to British sculptural practice at the time.

Furthermore, she exhibited work alongside work by Robert Clatworthy and Takis Vassilakis at the Hanover Gallery in 1955. John Berger’s review of the Hanover Gallery exhibition captures the character of Young’s work:

Her excitement must surely derive from the degree to which she can bend, separate and impress a gentle, calm form into vitality” (Berger 1955).

To learn more about Young, her oral testimony is available here and her exhibition history can be found here

A prize-winning sculpture: Bull

The Slade has never actively collected prize-winning sculpture. However, the exception is Bull. Whilst it is unknown why this sculpture in particular was retained by the School, it is likely that the connection to Reg Butler, played a significant role. It is one of the earliest examples of the unique shell bronze casting method that the famous British sculptor used to make many of his later works. Therefore, Bull is likely to be a commercially valuable sculpture, as well as an interesting work that documents how his shell bronze casting method developed. Furthermore, given Butler’s affection and high regard for Young, it can be speculated that he was able to influence the Slade to collect Bull whilst he was still working as a lecturer.

Whilst the rest of the prize-winning works remain unknown, Bull acts as a tangible representation of the missing sculpture prize collection as a whole: a sculpture to sit upon the ‘empty plinth’. Young’s sculpture represents the qualities that would have made a prize-winning work: rigorously honed technical training, combined with individual creativity and vision. Bull can also exemplify the diversity of sculptors that were winners of the Slade sculpture prize, which was unusual for traditional art schools at the time. Created at a time when female sculptors were in the minority in the British art sector, it acts as a physical reminder of the prevalence of female sculptors at the Slade, who were accepted into the school in equal numbers as the male candidates, and who won sculpture prizes more regularly than their male counterparts.

Finally, a prize-winning work marks a time of potential for a student, a turning-point in their careers as artists. Bull embodies Young’s first exposure to the shell bronze casting method which would become the predominant casting method for her sculpture in later years. We imagine the other prize-winning works to also be sculptural embodiments of artistic progress and promise.

To find out more about the history of the prize-system at the Slade that dates back to the formative years of the School and continues today visit Spotlight on the Slade.

To find out more about the history of women artists at UCL and journeys in gender equality across the disciplines more widely visit Disrupters and Innovators and Prize and Prejudice

 

References

Butler, R. & Whiteley G. (1999-2000) ‘National Life Stories: Artists’ Lives: Rosemary Butler’. The British Library. [online] Available at: https://sounds.bl.uk/related-content/TRANSCRIPTS/021T-C0466X0094XX-ZZZZA0.pdf [Accessed 10/03/19].

Berger, J. (1955) ‘Two Views’. New Statesman. London.

Image credits listed in order of appearance:

Rosemary Young, Bull, 1951. UCL Art Museum LDUCS-10010

Photograph of Rosemary Young working alongside Reg Butler in his studio. (photographer unknown) © Witt & Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Object of the week 382: Isaac Cruikshank, French Happiness, English Misery (1793)

NinaPearlman24 May 2019

This blog post is written by Lisa Bull, UCL Museum Studies 2019-20

contrasted images of life in France and Britain during the French Revolution

Isaac Crukshank, French Happiness, English Misery, 1793, etching, hand coloured

UCL Art Museum is home to an impressive collection of French and British satires from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This collection is the result of a generous gift by Professor David Bindman made possible through the Cultural Gift Scheme and it forms the basis for a series of exhibitions on visual satires chronicling the French Revolution. The new addition to this series will be Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints 1792-4 due to open at UCL Art Museum in January 2020.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries satire was the key means to spread news. Satire was and still is an effective means of stimulating debate due to its accessibility. Their intention to have a clear message and the relatively quick method of production meant they could be enjoyed by many. They are often aimed at ridiculing an individual, policy or group in society but while retaining an important moral message. Satires are still a key form of media utilised in most news forums, but here in the twenty-first century social media has filled this gap and is essential for us to keep in touch with current affairs.

My role is to help catalogue the works by British satirists in this collection, such as William Hogarth, James Gillray, Isaac Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson and Charles Jameson Grant. (more…)