Birmingham Municipal School of Art

Arthur Gaskin

The Birmingham School of Art differed in its teaching from the South Kensington system used elsewhere in England. It specialised in the applied arts, and became very influential and renowned for its teaching of metalwork, jewellery, enamels, design and book illustration. It aimed to raise the general level of commercial design in the country, and as well as artists, the student population included designers, artisans, builders and architects.

Speaking in the 1890s, William Morris commented on the importance of the Birmingham School in book illustration. Students there included C. M. Gere, Arthur Gaskin and E. H. New, who all worked for Morris, as well as many talented designers such as Gertrude Bradley, Celia Levetus, Florence Rudland, G. C. France (Georgina Gaskin), Joseph Finnemore, H. Payne, Bernard Sleigh, Mary Newill and Winifred Smith, and painters of Pre-Raphaelite sympathies such as Kate Bunce. The Birmingham School concentrated on a revival of the styles of traditional wood engraving, starting with the white line on black in the tradition of Blake, and with strong solid lines, rather than the more detailed but often less powerful sketchy or cross-hatched look of 'modern' engravers and etchers of the 1890s. Walter Crane concluded that "it may be claimed for it that both in method, sentiment and subject, [the work of the Birmingham School] is peculiarly English, and represents a sincere attempt to apply what may be called traditional principles in decoration to book illustration."

Various examples of the output of the School are exhibited in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and because of the link with William Morris, decorated books by Birmingham School artists can be seen at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

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