The Slade Prize Collections (1897 to the present day)

In 1868 the lawyer and collector Felix Slade (1790 – 1868) bequeathed £45,000 to set up professorships in Fine Art at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London. His bequest to University College London included six scholarships in Fine Arts for students under the age of 19, providing the impetus and the funds to establish the Slade School of Fine Art. The Slade was founded in 1871 and aimed to provide a progressive art training based on intensive study from the life model, as at the Académie des Beaux-Art in Paris. The location of the school within a university was also seen as an opportunity to provide art students with a more complete education and to draw on the expertise of the scientific departments to assist with teaching anatomy, the chemistry of pigments and perspective. The first Slade Professor Edward Poynter established a curriculum that was dominated by study from the life model with subsidiary elements such as drawing from the antique and the draped model, and courses of lectures in anatomy, perspective and archaeology. From 1872 Poynter instituted annual prizes for life painting and drawing, antique painting and drawing, and composition.

The Slade student prize collection is unique among public collections of British art in having been formed by selecting the work of artists before they embarked on their professional careers and therefore with no foresight of their subsequent status in the art world. Many of the most important British artists of the 20th Century studied at the Slade and the prize collection has examples of works by Augustus John, William Orpen, Stanley and Gilbert Spencer, Dora Carrington, Edward Wadsworth, James Dickson Innes, Rex Whistler, Paula Rego, Michael Andrews and Victor Willing; in many cases they are the earliest works by these artists in a public collection.