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Evolution of the Art School in Context

The Art School’s influence on art education, nationally and internationally, is evident in the acceptance of its philosophy of the artist as teacher which continues to this day.

The German Werkbund adopted this method of teaching, it later went on to develop into the Bauhaus. In a recent letter to the Observer Newspaper and Art Monthly by a former Professor of the Royal College of Art the art school was singled out for its ‘magnificent job’ in ‘maintaining the transformative power and joy of education through art’.

1750 - 1853

The Industrial Revolution took place between 1750 and 1830, it all but destroyed the creative heritage of the Nation. Thousands of artisans were forced away from the countryside to the great cities, where industrial mass production had removed the need for their skills. Although a great success in terms of financial gain, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a stark warning, the lack of national creativity was evident when compared to that of other nations.

As early as 1829 Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) the eminent cultural critic and author, had been worried about industry’s anti-design sentiment ‘nothing is now done directly by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance, the artisan is driven from his workshop.’ John Ruskin also talked about ‘the removal of individual expression from the mass manufacturing industries’. In his book, The Stones of Venice (1853), Ruskin made a direct connection between art, nature and morality. He believed the decorative arts affected the individuals producing them. The machine dehumanised and led to a loss of dignity as it removed the worker from the artistic process and thus, nature itself. Ruskin’s words had a powerful effect on a Victorian society made rich on the very conditions he was criticising. Starting to develop a philanthropic sentiment, many Victorians were keen to change the living and working conditions of the poor and moves were made towards re-skilling and educating the population.

Observing the success of the 1844 French Industrial Exhibition, in raising the profile of industrial and creative achievement, it was thought advantageous for Britain to hold such an event. Prince Albert championed its cause ‘for the purpose of exhibition, competition and encouragement’.

The Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park in 1851. Among the exhibitors was The Doulton Pottery who showed their sanitary salt glazed ware as well as decorative chimney pots. The Great Exhibition was extremely successful in showing the country’s developments in modern forms of construction and production, and a financial success, the profits going towards the creation of the South Kensington Museums. However, compared to products from around the world, the British were embarrassed at the low quality of design. With the loss of the Artisan in the move towards cheaper mass production, the tradition of aesthetic beauty and design from the arts had been lost.

There was a Workhouse in Princes Road Lambeth, a short walk away from the Doulton Pottery.

In 1853 the Reverend Robert Gregory (1819-1911) took charge of St Mary the Less in Princes Road. He was appalled at the poverty and so decided to set up education and training for the children and poor of the surrounding area. He established schools for boys and girls in Princes Road (now known as Black Prince Road). In 1854 he established a drawing school in the parish schoolroom. John Sparkes was employed as the Art Master, this was the beginning of The Lambeth Art School.  Sparkes went on to become one of the most important teachers of the time, eventually becoming Head of Lambeth Art School whilst also being the Head of South Kensington Art School, which became the Royal College of Art. He also taught at Dulwich College and was one of the authors of the original catalogue for the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The art school was soon training apprentices for the local industries of Doulton and for Maudsleys engineering works where static steam engines for marine use were produced alongside machinery for the Royal Mint and the shields for the first Thames tunnel, the first underwater tunnel in the world. John Sparkes struck up a friendship with Henry Doulton who agreed to Sparkes’ request to allow students to have access to pottery ware to explore decoration and design possibilities, this was agreed as long as it happened at the art school.

The growing success of the Rev. Gregory’s project to introduce education to the area led to him purchasing a plot of land on the edge of the old Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens which was being carved up to develop better living conditions for the poor. He employed the Architect John Loughborough Pearson to design a new art school in a complex that included a new boys and girls school, an orphanage and the new town church of St Peter's. It was designed in a Gothic style and the first stone was laid by the Prince of Wales on the 27th June 1860.

Lambeth Art School moved into its new premises in Miller’s Lane, now known as St Oswalds Place.

In the 1871 Kensington Exhibition Henry Doulton decided to show the students' work. His reputation was at stake. He didn’t need to worry. The acclaim for the new designs that poured in, from Europe and further afield, was to change the future for Doulton and the Lambeth students forever. The work pointed towards what was later to become British Art Pottery. The designer Christopher Dresser said it was the first example of the artist leading industry. This was the first important reaction against the effects of the Industrial Revolution, doing much to regain confidence in the ability of Britain to produce products with aesthetic quality and design. The new Lambeth Ware was reviewed in the Art Journal, much was made of the fact that the makers were ‘… guided by the nature of the material …’ The counter revolution of the Arts and Crafts movement had begun, a balance between manufacture and the hand of the artist was restored. Examples of the work were purchased for the Royal Collection. Now studios were set up at the pottery for the art school’s painters, sculptors, designers and decorators.

The Great French sculptor Dalou (Rodin's colleague) takes refuge in Britain from Revolutionary Paris where he is tried in absence  for his part in the Barricades. He teaches at the Art School and is later responsible for introducing students to Rodin as assistants who go on to win Gold Medals at the Salon in their own right.

The student's work was taken to all the great trade fairs throughout Europe and the rest of world where Gold Medals and awards were won in Vienna, Philadelphia 1876, then Chicago 1893 (where a huge collection of 2,000 works were exhibited) on to the Paris Great Exhibition of 1900 where Doulton shows experimental works that become sought after by collectors and become a major influence on Art Nouveau. Amongst the most famous painting and sculpture students from Lambeth Art School working for Doulton during these exciting times were names like George Tinworth (Doultons leading sculptor), Arthur Barlow, Hannah Barlow and her sister Florence, Frank Butler, Mark Marshall, Elizabeth Fisher, Bessie Youatt and  Eliza Simmance, also the Martin Brothers who later went on to found their own pottery producing Martin Ware, in the true spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement, until 1914. In addition sculptors from the art school who worked with Doulton were later responsible for terracotta architectural fittings and decoration on landmark buildings such as Harrods, the Savoy Hotel and Selfridges.

Significant Alumni during this Period

William Anderson 1842-1900  Surgeon and Anatomist in London and Japan.  His collection of Japanese art was the best in the world  at the time and formed the major part of the British Museum collection. He was the Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Anatomy .

Robert Wallace Martin 1843-1923  Studied at the art school alongside his brothers Walter Martin and Edwin Martin. They produced the famous Martin Ware at their ceramics workshop in the true spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

George Tinworth 1843-1913  Born in Walworth – became one of Daulton’s leading artists and sculptors.

William Ouless 1848-1933  Went on to become a renowned portrait painter under the advice of Millais, painted the portraits of amongst others Thomas Hardy and Charles Darwin.

Harry Bates 1850-1859  Went on to study under Rodin in Paris – his work can be seen in the Musee D’Orsay, Paris alongside work from the Arts and Crafts Movement.  

Hanna Barlow 1851-1916  Her recruitment from the art school to Doulton Pottery was seen as one of Doulton’s greatest achievement – along with her brother Arthur and sister Florence they specialised in animal, bird and flower subjects.

FW Pomeroy RA 1856-1924  Worked for the Arts and Craft Society. Sculpted figures on the side of Vauxhall Bridge.

Stanhope Forbes RA 1857-1947  One of the most important painters of the time – he founded the Newlyn School.