X Close

Slade Archive Project


Archive Project


Archive for the 'Item of the week' Category

Preparing for the Chelsea Arts Ball, 1926

By Slade Archive Project, on 8 May 2013

It became known for its exuberance, excess and glamour, but the Chelsea Arts Ball had a modest beginning in 1908 as an annual fundraiser for the newly founded Arts Club. By the time it moved to the Royal Albert Hall in 1910, its place in the London social calendar was set – and London’s art school students led the way.

Held on New Year’s Eve, the Ball was given a new theme each year. Elaborately dressed art students represented their schools with extravagantly decorated floats that were driven directly into the Albert Hall, only to be destroyed by the revelers at the stroke of midnight. A short clip from Pathé’s archive, showing the 1954 ball in full swing, sets the scene.

Slade students preparing for the Chelsea Arts Ball, 1926

Slade students preparing for the Chelsea Arts Ball, 1926

It’s hard to spot Slade students in the Pathé archive, but a generation earlier someone was savvy enough to take this photograph outside the Slade, as a group of students test run their gallant personas in preparation for the 1926 Ball. The label on the back of the photo doesn’t explain what theme is being enacted here (though we might hazard a guess), but it does identify one notable figure in the group: William Coldstream, who can be spotted by his fashionable symmetrical fringe (centre of photograph, left of horseman).

Coldstream was a first-year student at the time of the 1926 ball. He would go on to marry (and later divorce) fellow student Nancy Sharp and, in 1937, co-found the influential Euston Road School with fellow Slade alumni Claude Rogers and Graham Bell. After service in the War, he worked briefly for the GPO Film Unit and taught at Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts before being appointed Slade Professor in 1949, a post he would hold until his retirement in 1975.

A horse in the studio

By Slade Archive Project, 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.

Unlikely objects in the archive

By Slade Archive Project, 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.


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

What does the Slade Archive look like?

By Slade Archive Project, on 13 February 2013

Here is a little peek behind the scenes in the archives. The ‘Slade Archive’ is in fact not a single archive, but is made up of four collections which have been dispersed across UCL; there are materials held in UCL Special Collections and UCL Records Office, UCL Art Museum and within the Slade building itself, so the shelves you see here hold only one part of this rich collection.

Archive shot

As of yet, little has been done to digitize and link these collections online. Even more, there are materials here in dire need of repair and conservation before digitization can take place. Through the Slade Archive Project, we hope to develop plans for its future care, but also gather new information, accounts, photographs and other documents from former students, staff and scholars and create online resources for alumni, scholars and family historians which will trace the movement and impact of former Slade students and generate new research about the School and its ongoing legacy.