Painting collections

Introduction

Stanley Spencer's painting

There are over 700 paintings in the UCL Art Collections including old master portraits, portraits of College luminaries and work from the Slade Collections.

The majority of the paintings are student prize works from the Slade School of Fine Art dating from the 1890s to the present day. The most important prize was the Summer Composition Competition for which students produced large scale multi-figure compositions from a set title. Prizes were also awarded for life, antique, portrait and landscape painting and drawing. Student works continue to be presented to the collection every year through the prize system.

The college has also received regular gifts of work by Slade artists and the collection contains many important paintings, including works by Augustus John, William Orpen, Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Dora Carrington, David Bomberg, Edward Wadsworth, Winifred Knights, Paula Rego, Michael Andrews, Euan Uglow and Craigie Aitchison.

Chronological arrangement

The chronological arrangement of the Slade prize collection means that it also documents important changes in art practice and art education. It not only contains rare early work by many important artists represented in other collections, but also documents the practice of artists not represented in national collections and forms a counterpoint to other museum collections of 20th-century art in Britain, such as that of the Tate Gallery. Equally the collection is an important resource for the work of female artists, as the Slade was the first British art school to allow women to study art on equal terms by giving them access to the life model.

The Slade and UCL

The Summer Composition paintings

The Summer Composition paintings were intended as a continuation of the large scale 'history' paintings which had traditionally been the most prestigious form of subject matter for artists to undertake. In keeping with this, the set titles for the competition were usually drawn from the Bible, the classics or more recent literary sources.

Stanley Spencer's The Nativity demonstrates a particularly individual response to a traditional subject. The action is set in Cookham, the artist's home, and it has usually been interpreted as a dialogue between divine love in the form of the figures of the Holy Family and earthly love in the form of the lovers embracing in the centre of the picture. Spencer has drawn his stylistic inspiration from a range of sources including the Pre-Raphaelites, the Italian Primitives and Post-impressionist artists such as Gauguin whose work Spencer would have seen at Roger Fry's first Post-impressionist exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in 1910. The Nativity is also unusual for a student work in showing the mature style of the artist so clearly.

The Summer Composition Competition was intended to develop skills in large scale figure composition. Moses and the Brazen Serpent is painted in a 'competition style' with bravura handling of paint and deliberately difficult figure postures. Slade students were encouraged to study the work of the old masters both in the National Gallery and in the Slade Library, where many of the UCL Art Collections' old master prints and drawings were originally kept. In this composition John has skilfully fused elements from his study of old master painting – combining quotations from artists as diverse as Rubens and Michelangelo – with his own interpretation of the subject.

Edward Wadsworth's painting

Study from the living model

Study from the living model was a basic element in academic artistic training along with study of antique statues and the works of the old masters. The curriculum of the Slade was from the first designed to emphasise the importance of life painting and drawing above all other forms of study, in contrast to the Royal Academy where students spent long hours studying from the antique. Edward Wadsworth is better known for his work as part of the Vorticist Movement but this accomplished life painting demonstrates how his later modernist work was based on a sound traditional academic training in the life room. The painting is also historically interesting for the depiction of fellow students working in the life room.

Equal access

Augustus John's painting

The Slade was the first English art school to offer female students equal access to the life model, and a large number of the most distinguished students throughout the history of the school have been female. Paula Rego is one of the best known of the Slade's female students, and Under Milkwood follows the tradition of the self-sufficient exploration of an individual's imaginative world in the same way as Spencer's Nativity. Rego's monumental figures and use of vibrant colour and patterning convey in visual form both the strong characters and the rich textures of language in Dylan Thomas's play.

Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in London: The Slade and UCL

Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in London: The Slade and UCL (Public Catalogue Foundation, 2005) is a fully-illustrated catalogue of all oil paintings in the Slade Collections at the University College London, as well as those in the various departments of UCL. It is available to buy from Amazon.com.