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Bloomsbury Institutions

Cultural

Art Workers’ Guild

Also known as St George’s Art Society/The Fifteeen/The Society of Art Craftsmen/The Art-Workers’ Guild

History

The Guild had its origins in two societies of artists, St George’s Art Society, formed predominantly by the pupils of architect R. Norman Shaw as a society for the discussion of art and architecture, and The Fifteen, a decorative art society who met in Lewis F. Day’s house in Mecklenburgh Square (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

St George’s Art Society first met on 5 May 1883 at 14 Hart Street; Ernest Newton was elected its President at this meeting (‘Report No. 1’, Art Workers’ Guild)

The Society continued to meet at 14 Hart Street to hear lectures such as that by W. R. Lethaby (published in The Architect on 30 June 1885) and to vote on questions such as whether there should be a qualifying examination for architects (to which they voted yes in 1883)

At the meeting of 5 October 1883, the Society decided that there was a need to bring art and architecture back together, as the Royal Academy (founded for architecture, painting, and sculpture) was now dominated by oil painters and had only 5 architects among its 70 members, and the Royal Institute of British Architects was dominated by surveyors (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

Its stated aim in the meeting of 22 October 1883 was to be “a new Society for promoting more intimate relations between Painters, Sculptors, Architects, and those working in the Arts of Design” (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

The name The Society of Art Craftsmen was proposed and agreed at a meeting in February 1884 (Minutes, 8 February 1884, The Art Workers’ Guild); various other names were subsequently proposed for the Society, including The Guild of Associated Arts, The Guild of Art-Workers, The Art-Workers, and The Society of Art-Workers

On 11 March 1884 the Guild officially came into existence, with its new name, the Art-Workers’ Guild, its first rules, and its first members, during a meeting at the Charing Cross Hotel (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

“The Guild was formed for the purpose of bringing into closer union all classes of Art Workmen, and for the furtherance of practical knowledge of various crafts…beyond the aims of any other artistic society” (Annual Report, 1885)

It held social meetings as well as exhibitions and practical demonstrations of various crafts (Annual Report, 1885); the average attendance at meetings was not quite 50 in 1887 (Annual Report, 1887)

There was a Junior Art-Workers’ Guild, founded as the Art-Students’ Guild, by 1896 (H. J. L. J. Massé, The Art-Workers’ Guild 1884–1934), and a Women’s Guild of Arts founded in 1907 with May Morris as Hon. Secretary and G. F. Watts as its first President

By 1885 the need for permanent premises and workshops was already being felt, as this “would give members the opportunity for experiment and manufacture, and the carrying out of actual works on the lines of old craftsmanship” (Annual Report, 1885)

More practically, George Blackall Simonds, the first Master (then called Chairman), said “We must have a place where we can smoke, and, if possible, get a drink” (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895); however, this was beyond their means at the time

By 1885 there were 66 members, up from 55 the previous year: 30 were painters, 18 architects, 5 sculptors, 3 designers, 2 metalworkers, an engraver, a wood engraver, a goldsmith, a potter, a paperhanger, a bronze founder, a wood carver, and a weaver and dyer (Annual Report, 1885)

By 1895 there were 182 members: 52 were architects and 50 painters, with sculptors also well-represented at 20 members (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

At the end of his tenure as first Master of the Guild, sculptor G. B. Simonds said “It is not a school, it is not a club, it is not a debating society. In the Art-Workers’ Guild I find something of the spirit of the studio-life of Rome” (Annual Report, 1885)

He was succeeded as Master by painter J. D. Sedding, the first to be called Master (and who had previously been known as both Chairman and President) and subsequently another painter, Walter Crane in 1888; the first architect to be Master was J. T. Micklethwaite in 1893 (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

The Guild was still meeting in temporary premises, firstly in Pall Mall, in rooms rented from the Century Club, and then from 1888 in Barnard’s Inn; in 1894 it moved to Clifford’s Inn Hall, Fleet Street, with increased attendance at meetings (Annual Report, 1894)

In 1894 its architect members convened specially to consider the “objectionable restrictions in the new Building Bye-Laws of the LCC”, and subsequently appointed a sub-committee to report on the matter; “It is to their labours that the incorporation of the Guild Amendments in the Building Act is due” (Annual Report, 1894)

By the 1890s the Guild had acquired the reputation of being the place to come if you wanted “a good man for a public post connected with the Arts” (Heywood Sumner, quoted in H. J. L. J. Massé, The Art-Workers’ Guild 1884–1934)

By the early twentieth century, the need for permanent premises was accompanied by sufficient finances to make it possible; there was a plan to be housed temporarily at the new Central School of Arts and Crafts in Southampton Row, but on 14 January 1913 no. 6 Queen Square was inspected and proved to be perfect for the Guild’s requirements (H. J. L. J. Massé, The Art-Workers’ Guild 1884–1934)

6 Queen Square had been built in 1713 but was still in very good condition when the Guild moved in; the inaugural meeting was held there on 22 April 1914 (H. J. L. J. Massé, The Art-Workers’ Guild 1884–1934)

In the early twentieth century, this building also housed the Design and Industries Association (founded 1915) and the British Society of Master Glass Painters

What was reforming about it?

Its mission to reunite different arts and crafts into a single society was revolutionary in 1880s England, and its collection of artistic interests remains impressively diverse

It has attracted the most influential and talented artists and craftworkers of successive generations

Where in Bloomsbury

Although the Guild was peripatic until the twentieth century, its nineteenth-century roots and members were firmly Bloomsbury-based

The first meetings of its founding organisation, St George’s Art Society, were held at 14 Hart Street, and the Society took its original name from its “meeting under the shadow of St George’s Church, Bloomsbury” (E. S. Prior, ‘The Origins of the Guild,’ Annual General Meeting, 6 December 1895)

Other members of the new Guild were formerly members of The Fifteen, the artistic society which met in Lewis F. Day’s house in Mecklenburgh Square

Many of its members lived and worked locally, including H. T. Blomfield (39 Woburn Square), Lewis F. Day (13 Mecklenburgh Square), W. C. Marshall (28 Bedford Square), Ernest Newton (14 Hart Street), A. Beresford Pite (5 Bloomsbury Square), E. S. Prior (6 Bloomsbury Square), J. D. Sedding (18 Charlotte Street), Selwyn Image (Southampton Street), George Lodge (5 Verulam Buildings), Walter Lonsdale (3 John Street), Thackeray Turner (12 Gray’s Inn Square), Cecil Brewer (2 Gray’s Inn Square), Edward Johnston (4 Gray’s Inn Square), Edwin Lutyens (29 Bloomsbury Square), Harold Stabler (206 Euston Road), F. W. Troup (14 Gray’s Inn Square), Hawes Turner (51 Tavistock Square), L. A. Turner (50 Doughty Street), and Arnold Dolmetsch (7 Bayley Street)

It bought the freehold of 6 Queen Square in 1914 and has been there ever since

Website of current institution

www.artworkersguild.org (opens in new window)

Art Workers' Guild, 6 Queen Square

Art Workers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square

Books about it

H. J. L. J. Massé, The Art-Workers’ Guild 1884–1934 (1934)

Gavin Stamp, ‘A Hundred Years of the Art Workers’ Guild,’ The Art and Work of the Art Workers’ Guild (exhibition catalogue) (1975); also available online via the Guild’s website (opens in new window)

Archives

Its extensive and uncatalogued archives are held on site at 6 Queen Square

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville

 

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