Joseph Edward Southall was born in Nottingham, and worked as an assistant to the painter W. B. Richmond RA. His speciality was Tempera painting, and together with G. F. Watts, Walter Crane, Holman Hunt, J. D. Batten and others, he set up the Society of Painters in Tempera. An early picture at the RA was Gismonda (1898), a very flat, formally composed picture, in the manner of Rossetti. One of Southall's pupils in Tempera was the painter and designer Arthur Gaskin. Southall became RWS in 1925.
Paintings by Southall can be seen in the Birmingham gallery, and he also made the mural there that confronts the visitor on the entrance staircase. A self-portrait with his wife is at the National Portrait Gallery.