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Birmingham Municipal School of Art

Birmingham Municipal School of Art, by J. H. Chamberlain (1831-1883). 1884-85. Orange-red local brick, "a flaming challenge to the stone classicism of the Council House" with grey Derbyshire stone dressings "with a touch of pink" (Foster 69). Margaret Street, Birmingham. In 1885, this became the first such municipal school in the country.

Left: Gothic-style foundation stone on the wall, laid by Richard Tangye. Along with the wealthy Louisa Ryland, the Tangye brothers were major benefactors to the institution, as they were to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Right: Upper part of the entrance bay, with the gable over the porch decorated with carvings of foliage in little squares. [Detail] Leaves also feature in the decorations above. Describing the building as an "elaborate Venetian Gothic invention," John Swift says that its "internal and external decoration reflected Ruskinian ideas on the variety of Nature as the fount of all art" (77).

Left: On the north wing, a large medallion of lilies scrolling over a terrace, carved by the Leicester sculptor Samuel Barfield (1830-1887). Right: The beautifully detailed and varied south side of the School of Art along Edmund Street, with more leaf and flower motifs. When William Morris spoke at the prize-giving here in 1894, he urged the "diligent study of Nature, and, secondly, intelligent study of the work of the ages of art" as correctives to becoming "mannered," reminding the students that "the pleasure of creating beautiful things ... is the greatest pleasure in the world" (22, 25).

The staff of the School of Art were mostly followers of Ruskin and admirers of the Pre-Raphaelites, drawn from Birmingham's cultural élite. The School "was instrumental in shaping the Fine Arts in Birmingham and the surrounding region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.," says Sian Everitt, explaining that "[t}he majority of the artists in the loosely termed Birmingham School were students or staff (often both) at the School. Staff and students operated almost as an unofficial guild, undertaking numerous private commissions in the region."

Related Material


Everitt, Sian. Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. Web. 26 August 2012.

Foster, Andy. Birmingham. Pevsner Architectural Guides. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2005. Print.

Morris, William. An Address Delivered by William Morris at the Distribution of Prizes to Students of the Birmingham Municipal School of Art on Feb. 21, 1894. London: Longmans, 1898. Internet Archive. 26 August 2012.

Sculptures in Stratford upon Avon (contains a short biography of Samuel Barfield). Cotswolds.Info. Web. 25 August 2012.

Swift, John. "Birmingham and Its Art School: Changing Views 1800-1900." Histories of Art and Design Education: Collected Essays. Ed. Mervyn Roman. Bristol: Intellect Books, 2005. 67-90. Print.

Last modified 259 August 2012