Slade School Drawings Collection


Henry Tonks' anatomical drawing

Life drawings dating from the 1890s by students at the Slade School of Art form one of the largest parts of the collection. From its inception in 1871 the emphasis at the Slade was on what the first Professor Edward Poynter described in his inaugural lecture as 'constant study from the life model.' Whilst other art schools advocated detailed and lengthy compositions, placing great emphasis on delicate modelling, Slade students were encouraged to make numerous rapid linear sketches from the model.

William Rothenstein, a student in the 1890s, described the uncompromising drawing materials used by Slade students: 'We drew on Ingres paper with red or black Italian Chalk, an unsympathetic and rather greasy material... The use of bread or indiarubber was discouraged... at a time when everywhere else in England students were rubbing and tickling their paper with stump, chalk, charcoal and indiarubber.'

Henry Tonks

Henry Tonks, Slade Professor between 1917 and 1930, was a formative influence – and a formidable presence – in the life class for 38 years. Prior to his appointment as Assistant Professor at the Slade in 1892 he had been a surgeon, and then Demonstrator in Anatomy at the London Hospital Medical School. This prior training in anatomical drawing formed the basis of his approach as an artist and as a teacher. Tonks always claimed to know little about 'Art'; 'all I can do,' he would say, 'is to give you a few facts about drawing.'

Slade students were also encouraged to study drawing techniques from Old Master prints and drawings in the British Museum, the National Gallery and indeed in the collection at UCL.

Augustus John's drawing

This is one of the many demonstration drawings Henry Tonks made for his students in the life room at the Slade. Drawings such as this were essential to Tonks's method of teaching, as he felt that only by showing students what to do, rather than by talking, could he make progress. This drawing is inscribed 'Notice the constant change of line to form the contour.' He would often make careful demonstration drawings on the sides of his students' drawing boards.

Augustus John

When he was at the Slade, Augustus John was known both for his exceptional draughtsmanship and his flamboyance. This drawing would have been executed fairly rapidly in the life room. The lines are bold and energetic. John's method was to repeat a line describing a contour if the first was not right, and since students were discouraged from erasing lines, pencil marks are visible by the sides of the final outline, particularly around the model's upper arm on the left and his leg on the right.

Gwen John's fellow art students

This intimate, spontaneous drawing depicts Gwen John's fellow art students from the Slade in her home at 21 Fitzroy Street: Rosa Waugh stands on the right, her brother Augustus John wears a hat, and her sister Winifred John who was studying music in London at the time sits with Michael Salaman. With characteristic reticence and self-effacement, although John includes herself in the composition, it is as a pale promenader outside the window with her back to the room.