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Slade Archive Project Phase II

By Slade Archive Project, on 20 April 2020

It may seem that things have been quiet with the Slade Archive Project – even more so now, given the current Covid-19 crisis – but we have been busy working on a number of exciting developments and will continue to do so working remotely in the coming weeks.

Last year we embarked on a new phase of the project which looks towards the school’s 150th anniversary in 2021. After reflecting on the various activities undertaken in Phase I, we have developed a number of aims for Phase II. We are approaching this milestone as a chance not only to celebrate the Slade and its alumni, but also to:

  • enhance and challenge known histories of the school and its legacies, through both internal and external research, and with a particular focus on transnational scholarship and international knowledge exchange
  • continue to develop, showcase and improve access to Slade archive collections, in part through digital technologies
  • promote cross-disciplinary engagement with the Slade’s archive collections, including, but not limited to, those emerging through fine art practice
  • use the Slade’s 150th anniversary as a springboard to explore different approaches to engaging with institutional histories
  • continue to pilot different ways to use, enhance, create and disseminate archival resources
  • foster collaboration across different disciplinary boundaries and through internal and external partnerships
  • integrate teaching and learning opportunities, public programming and outreach activities with research activities
  • and disseminate our findings through open access platforms.

Current areas of activity are:

  • Transnational Slade (Phase II), in collaboration with the ‘Slade, London, Asia’ Research Group, part of ‘London, Asia’ research project led by the Paul Mellon Centre, which includes a current pilot activity with ResearchSpace, British Museum
  • Slade Film Department (1960-1984), ‘Materiality, Archives and the Slade at the Nexus of Art School Filmmaking’ (working title) research project led by Brighid Lowe and Henry Miller
  • The curation and cataloguing of Slade archive collections, in collaboration with UCL Library Special Collections and UCL Department of Information Studies
  • William Townsend Journals digital project (with UCL Library Special Collections)
  • Slade Photo collection cataloguing project (with UCL Library Special Collections)
  • Tracing artistic heritages through the architectural fabric of the Slade

Vital cataloguing and conservation activities underpin these activities and research aims. The wonderful team at UCL Library Special Collections have been hard at work reappraising and upgrading the catalogue records for the Slade archive collection. This is an ongoing, collaborative effort to make what is an eclectic and disparate collection of records more accessible for researchers. We are grateful for the work of the UCL Library Special Collections team – Sarah Aitchison, Katy Makin, Kathryn Meldrum, Colin Penman, Rebecca Sims, Robert Winckworth, Angela Warren-Thomas and Steve Wright – who have together undertaken this mammoth task. UCL Library Digital Collections now has a dedicated area for digitised Slade Archive materials. We hope to add more records in the months to come.

From 2015-2018, the UCL Art Museum’s ‘Spotlight on the Slade’ Project also made great headways in cataloguing Slade collections. This research project was supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and sought to increase access to UCL Art Museum’s Slade Collections through research, cataloguing, digitisation, collaboration and public engagement. As part of this research, colleagues at the Museum discovered that approximately 45% of works in UCL Art Museum’s collection are by women artists. This is an astonishing statistic: typically, permanent collections in Europe and the US contain between 3-5% of works by women.

We have also updated guidelines for researching the Slade archive collections, and welcome additions to our growing bibliography on the topic of the Slade and its many histories.

In 2018, we marked the 150th anniversary of the death of the school’s namesake and founding father, Felix Slade (1788-1868). Slade, a lawyer and notable collector of glass, engravings, books and bindings, bequeathed endowments for the founding of three Slade Professorships of Fine Arts: at Oxford, Cambridge and University College London. Funds for a studentship were also bequeathed for UCL, and which formed the foundation to establish a new School of Fine Art for the teaching of professional artists, which opened three years later, in 1871. To coincide with this commemoration, UCL Library Special Collections digitised the Slade foundational papers which are now available online as part of UCL Library Digital Collections. As the papers reveal, a central idea behind the Slade school was its location within the university, and for much of its existence, the Slade shared its site with other UCL departments, including chemistry and physiology. Edwin Field (1804-1871), a lawyer, translated the terms of the bequest, and promoted the idea of establishing ‘a school of art in connection with a university, with a view to the collateral advantages that such an alliance could afford’.

A drinks reception was also held in Felix Slade’s honour, harking back to an earlier tradition of the annual Slade strawberry tea, with Slade staff, students, alumni and supporters congregating for berries and bubby in the UCL portico. We were lucky enough to have three descendants of Felix Slade join us, who generously shared their family stories and documentation with those wanting to know more. A small exhibition was also set up in the adjacent UCL Library Flaxman Gallery, showcasing some gems from the Slade archives.

The centre item featured here is by Elinor Bellingham-Smith (1906-1988), a preparatory sketch for an uncompleted painting depicting the Strawberry Tea on the lawn outside of the school on 26 June 1930.

This day marked the retirement of Professor Henry Tonks. An account of the event was recorded in the journal of the Bellingham-Smith’s friend and fellow Slade student, the painter William Townsend (1909-1973). His journals are in the care of UCL Special Collections.

The last official appearance of Tonks was an impressive and tragically simple piece of staging. At the end of his remarks he stood up and saying “I do not like saying goodbye, so there will be no official leave taking”, walked quietly with his jerky [?] walk to the door, leaving the long line of the staff, still in their places, whilst we clapped frenziedly, and for once, with real feeling and appreciation. Strawberry tea on the lawn. Tonks and Steer and Daniels from the National Gallery sit on chairs, at the edge of the crowd […] other visitors smiling and joking and drinking tea, and eating strawberries and cream. Tonks in his grey suit, looking a grey and tired, but not unhappy, old man.

Journal of William Townsend, 26 June, 1930. UCL Special Collections

William Townsend was also a Slade alumnus, who later joined the staff at the Slade, becoming Professor of Fine Art in 1968. This sketch was donated to the school by Townsend’s daughter, Charlotte Townsend-Gault, in 2017.

Printmaker Stanley Jones: Archived oral history

By Slade Archive Project, on 25 November 2014

To celebrate the 2014 Slade Print Fair, we’ve published excerpts from another archived oral history interview – this time with Slade alumnus and former tutor in printmaking, Stanley Jones. Jones is a much-admired master printmaker with a particular passion for lithography. He was a student at the Slade from 1954 to 1956, and later tutor in printmaking from 1958 to 1998. (This means he is likely to be found in some of the Slade’s annual class photos – can you help us spot him?)

In the late 1950s, not long after graduating from the Slade, he set up the Curwen Studio with Robert Erskine. He continues to generously share his enthusiasm for printmaking, as demonstrated with his vision for the Curwen Print Study Centre which he co-founded with Sue Jones in 2000.

The interview excerpts published on SoundCloud were taken from a recording conducted in 1992 by Stephen Chaplin (then archivist at the Slade), and digitized in 2013 as part of the Slade Oral History Project. In his interview Jones reflects on the changing practices and personalities of printmaking at the Slade and beyond.


Voices of War: UCL in World War I

By Slade Archive Project, on 4 August 2014

Anyone wishing to see Henry Tonks’s death mask on display now has a rare opportunity to do so. With the help of the conservation team from UCL Museums & Collections the delicate mask has been cleaned and prepared for exhibit and it is currently on display as part of a thought-provoking exhibition, Voices of War: UCL in World War I. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between students of the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the MA in Museum Studies programmes and runs to 5 April 2015 at the A.G. Leventis Gallery, UCL Institute of Archaeology.

Stephen Chaplin interview

By Slade Archive Project, on 27 February 2014

As part of his research into the Slade history, Stephen Chaplin had the foresight to undertake a series of audio interviews with former Slade staff and students in the early 1990s. Over the past few months we’ve been selecting highlights from those interviews and publishing them online through SoundCloud. But now the tables have turned and the interviewer has become the subject of the interview. Excerpts from an oral history recording undertaking with Chaplin in 2013 have just been added to the growing collection on SoundCloud, and provide rich evidence of his contribution to the ‘biography’ of the school’s archive. He reminisces about his entrance interview in 1952; the teaching staff’s interpretation of the so-called ‘Euston Road School’ orthodoxy; encountering Bernard Cohen painting as a young student; art history teaching at the Slade in the 1950s; working with Lawrence Gowing; and tells the story of how he came to be charged with the task of ‘sorting out’ the Slade archive. Listen to the clips here.

Stephen Chaplin working on the Slade archive, c. 1992

Stephen Chaplin working on the Slade archive, 1992.

Slade print fair

By Slade Archive Project, on 21 November 2013

Next week the Slade will host the inaugural Slade Print Fair.

The event will not only celebrate the Slade’s rich & varied printmaking culture, it will also raise much needed scholarship funds through the sale of prints and multiples by Slade alumni, staff and current students – the list of names is impressive indeed!

To mark the occasion, we’ve added some excerpts from an interview with Bartolomeu dos Santos to our growing list of highlights from the Slade oral history collection. Dos Santos (1931-2008) was a student at the Slade from 1956-1958 where he became enthralled by the possibilities of printmaking. He joined the staff in 1961, becoming Head of Printmaking and eventually, in 1994, Professor of Fine Art. In these excerpts he talks candidly (and complete with Portuguese accent) about his early days as a student at the Slade in the mid-1950s.

There will also be a Slade Archive Project display on site for the run of the print fair so if you’re in London do come by. It’s a great opportunity to see some of the intriguing items from the archive and to contribute to the new class photos crowdsourcing project.

28-30 November 2013
Slade Research Centre
, Woburn Square, 

Crowdsourcing the Slade class photos

By Slade Archive Project, on 28 October 2013

Today we launch our new online resource which brings to life some of the most requested items from the archive – the Slade class photos.

The Slade has a fascinating, but currently incomplete, collection of annual class photographs dating from 1931. The black and white panoramic images reflect the school’s rich history, capturing the likeness of Slade students and faculty through the decades. We’re asking former staff and students, scholars and members of the public to help us complete the collection and identify the sitters through a new website designed by UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

We’ve already listed all of those who appear in this photograph from 1953, including William Coldstream, Lucien Freud, Henry Moore, Sam Ntiro, and Paula Rego. Can you help us identify other faces captured through the years?


The feedback provided by visitors to the site will result in a dynamic archive and research resource, giving us an opportunity to compare crowdsourcing platforms and begin to trace the impact of Slade alumni around the world.

Visit the new website here.

This project is a collaboration between UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and the Slade School of Fine Art, as part of the Slade Archive Project.

Slade Sketch Club, 1899

By Slade Archive Project, on 24 September 2013


Another remnant of ‘Ye’ Slade Sketch Club, a beautiful little leaflet dating from 1899.

Slade students were encouraged to join the Sketch Club, which was structured around a series of set composition subjects and monthly prizes. The 18th-century traditional song and poem ‘Sally in our Alley’ included in the list of composition subjects shows how the club encouraged the exploration of themes beyond traditional biblical and classical subjects. The inclusion of poetry, drama and literature as optional subjects continued under William Coldstream’s professorship. Slade alumni of the 1950s, for instance, have described how T.S. Eliot’s classic poem ‘The Waste Land’ and Dylan Thomas’s 1954 radio drama ‘Under Milk Wood’ were two of the themes set for the summer composition competition. It’s not clear when (or why) the club disbanded; any leads from Slade alumni on this subject would be most welcome.

Set subject to draw, Slade Sketch Club 1899.

Slade Sketch Club, 1895

By Slade Archive Project, on 16 September 2013

SladeSketchClub 1895(Web)

Evidence of the Slade Sketch Club found carefully tucked away in an archive box.


By Slade Archive Project, on 19 August 2013

Stamps photo

Remember these? I spent a few minutes trying out these remnants of a bygone era of administration … and found signatures of former Slade Professors Bernard Cohen and Patrick George in the mix.

Crisis of Brilliance

By Slade Archive Project, on 4 July 2013

The latest exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery has a lot to offer for those interested in the Slade’s history. A Crisis of Brilliance presents work by David Bomberg, Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, C.R.W. Nevinson and Stanley Spencer – a group of provocative artists who studied at the Slade from 1908-1912. The exhibition is based on a publication by David Boyd Haycock which charts the artists’ intersecting social circles to situate their developing artistic practices within their wider cultural context.

The school’s registers, or ‘singing-in books’ as they are known colloquially, have recorded the signatures of some of these well-known artists. Each register lists ladies on one side and gentlemen on the other. Over the years students have used the books to practice their sketching, as the back of this register shows. It would be quite a task to identify the artists at work (perhaps even some of the tutors pitched in?) but suggestions are welcome!

The register covers the years 1907-1909 and on the 20th January 1909 we can spot the signatures of Mark Gertler, Rudolph Ihlee, Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot, Richard Nevinson, David Sassoon and Stanley Spencer. Dora Carrington and Paul Nash would not arrive at the Slade until the following year.

Slade Register, January 20, 1909

Slade Register, January 20, 1909

The ‘signing-in’ ritual still exists. Current students are asked to log in each day as they enter the school. The books are still divided by gender as a reminder to students that they are part of a long heritage; the Slade was the first art school to admit women into the life room.

Unfortunately most of the early registers are in need of repair. The Slade does not have an archive reading room or dedicated staff to facilitate research enquiries, so it is difficult to provide public access. As part of the Slade Archive Project, we hope to undertake conservation of these treasured record books so scholars, curators, alumni and family historians can delve into their pages.