‘Lessons from Objects’: a Museum of Art and Design

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  • D A V I D J E R E M I A H Lessons from Objects: a Museum of Art and Design

    By the beginning of the 20th century Manchester School of Art had a purpose-built museum and a collection of historical and modern art and design which, amongst the provincial schools of art, gave it a unique status; only South Kensington could surpass its provision. It is no longer possible to savour the excitement of this influential collection; but the history of its formation and demise, its character and purpose, provides an interesting and perhaps timely reminder of the merits of an art and design training which chose to emphasise the importance of studying the history of the fine and decorative arts through subject analysis, with the past and present set side by side, unified in principle and purpose. A study of the course of events provides an insight into issues of far more than local importance. It illuminates some of the central concerns of schools of art over the past century, such as the arts and crafts concept, the influ-

    Journal of Art &Design Education

    Vol 3, No 2, 1984

    Watercolour by William Hunt (1859): donated to Manchester School of Art Museum by John Ruskin.


  • D A V I D J E R E M I A H Lessons from Objects


    Above Textile Court, Manchester School of Art: served as an all purpose gallery, with ceramics, metalwork and stained-glass cartoons sharing the space with both ancient and contemporary textiles.

    Below Gothic Court: looking across the central Textile Court towards the Renaissance Court. The latter is now a lecture theatre, while the Gothic Court, after a period as the College Library is now returned to an exhibition space for the original collection.

    ence of the Bauhaus and approaches to design for industry; and, above all, the relationship between the theory and practice of art and design.

    While the roots of the collection lie in the original foundation of the Manchester School of Design in 1837, the then limited accommodation in the Royal Institution, and the ever present financial struggle for survival, provided little opportunity to consider any schemes other than those of immediate pertinence. As far as the collection was concerned, this meant that attention was almost entirely devoted to the acquisition of classroom examples to illustrate the concept of art for industry and the applied arts. Thoughts of a permanent museum could only remain a dream, that is, until the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

    From the outset the School had been supported by some dedicated and generous benefactors. While it was still necessary on occasions to appeal for increased funds from local industry, the good relationship with particular manufacturers, many of them engaged in calico printing, proved crucial to the Schools survival. With the day to day requirements taking priority, the earliest acquisitions concentrated on drawing examples, particu- larly of textiles, although occasional treasures were added. For example, in 1847, James Thomson, outstanding among the early patrons, had a set of chalk drawings of antique Roman ornament executed in Italy specially for the School; in February 1859, John Ruskin gave a water-colour drawing by William Hunt, and, in 1867, Thomas Agnew gave five original drawings by Mul- ready.

    It is possible to see how the collection reflected the underlying principles of contemporary art education theory, but even so it was an erratic development. However, when the 1878 plan for the new building for the School of Art was published, it included a designated exhibition space, as well as provision for further exhibition extensions, to be built when additional funds became available. Anticipating this move, W. J. Muckley used his head- masters report in 1880 to promote a new and extended role for the School. It was to be established on the existing traditions, indeed it would do much to re-emphasise their importance, but it would also grasp the opportunity to make a new and radical contribution to the community.

    The New School may, to a great extent, be made an Art Gallery for the education of all who join its classes, whether engaged in Art proper, or Industrial Art.. . . Inexpensive cabinets might be fitted up in various parts of the School, to contain objects which may be presented, or perhaps purchased as opportunity offered. The large Exhibition Room of the building might always be used for this purpose, and objects, judiciously collected and placed in it, might form the nucleus of a more complete and appropriate Museum for Manchester in time to come. A selection of the Decorative Textile Works from Persia


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  • D A V I D J E R E M I A H Lessons from Objects

    and India ought to be acquired at once to hang in frames on the walls of the New School.. . . These designs may not always suit the taste of the present, but as time goes on, and when the population becomes more cultivated in Art mat- ters, they will certainly become duly recognised and appre- ciated, and they would form the basis of education for the future designers of this country.

    The opening exhibition in April 1881, reflected something of this policy, including objects of art from India, lent by the Authorities of South Kensington, and numerous objects of Modern Ceramic and Metal Work, as well as a small but very valuable Collection of Paintings. In certain respects it antici- pated the future exhibition policy, with its mixture of local and national loans, oriental, historical and modern exhibits of fine and decorative art. Muckley was particularly concerned about modern design practice, suggesting that local textile firms should supply the School with contemporary examples of industrial and decorative art. Unfortunately no record or examples have sur- vived to indicate the success of his appeal.

    As there was still no purchase fund, the collection continued to develop in a fortuitous, although not an inappropriate manner. Of those items acquired in the 188Os, the most signifi- cant contributions were a collection of patterns of Carpets, Hangings, Calico Prints and Wall Papers, designed by Mr William Morris, and executed by Messrs Morris & Co given by Mr C. P. Scott in 1884, and supplemented the following year with further examples of textiles and paper-hangings. In 1886 there was an array of gifts, Dried Alpine Flowers and four Japanese Books, a collection of engravings, Pun Pipes (illustrated and given by Walter Crane) and Keats poem Endymion illus- trated by E. J. Poynter. Such acquisitions ensured that, with the loan collections from the City Art Gallery and South Kensing- ton, the School was able to maintain a varied range of temporary exhibitions.

    The decision to include space for further building extensions was a demonstration of optimism that few could have expected to be justified for some considerable time. However, as events turned out, within the space of a decade the foresight was to be rewarded. The opportunity came as a direct result of the Man- Chester Jubilee Exhibition of 1887. Along with the rest of the country, Manchester celebrated the Queens Jubilee, and it did so with such skill and on such a scale that extraordinarily large profits were accumulated. In pursuance of its intention of put- ting it to use for the community, the Executive Committee was able to offer a gift of S10,OOO for the erection and equipment of a wing upon land adjoining the School of Art. The donation was readily accepted in December 1889, but it was the Summer of 1896 before the Technical Instruction Committee was able to announce that the money would be used to erect a building suitable for the purpose of a Museum of the Arts and Crafts, to be devoted mainly to the display of


  • (a) casts of Architecture and of monumental Art; (b) a collection illustrating, either by original examples or by good copies, some of the best obtainable designs in the chief branches of Art workmanship; (c) a selection from the valuable Bock collection of textiles belonging to the City. In this way the students of the School of Art, for whom the Museum is primarily intended, will have the advantage of imme- diate access to accredited examples of form, colour, design and workmanship.

    When the museum was opened by the Lord Mayor on the 28 October 1898, it possessed a Textile Court, Italian Court and a Gothic Court, as well as an increasingly impressive range of contemporary art and craft work, and examples of oriental art workmanship. The linkway, with its Axminster carpet, J. Sparrow stained glass and terracotta decoration, led directly from the original school building into the textile court which, measur- ing some 68 x 40, formed the centre stem of a T shaped plan. On either side there was open access to the side galleries and two side courts. The ample top lights were supplemented by electric lights to allow for evening work, and the basement rooms provided both teaching and storage space.

    Museum Extension 1896-98

    k l t o l i o n Cour t

    0 . I T e x t i l e Cour t

    I Goth i c 0 . Court

    School of A r t , 1880-81

    -t- S t r e e t E n t r a n c e

    Plan of the museum at its opening in 1898.

    D A V I D J E R E M I A H Lessons from Objects

    Some four years before the official opening of the museum, the initial steps had been taken to develop the School collection into a teaching museum. Earthenware by William de Morgan,


  • D A V I D J E R E M I A H Lessons from Objects

    assorted metal work from William A. S. Benson & Co, were purchased in 1894; two Walter Crane designs for earthenware by Maw & Co, and further items from de Morgan in 1895; and in October 1896, for a total of over 5112, a range of metalwork and ceramics from the Arts and Crafts Society, Essex House. These supplemented the Morris work already in the collection, and in particular his masterpiece of late 19th century art workmanship, the Adoration of the Magi tapestry, which Councillor William Simpson, calico printer, had commissioned for the School.

    Without doubt it was the presence of Walter Crane which helped to reinforce the Schools commitment to the ideals of the arts and crafts movement. Appointed as the Director of Design, a post which he held from 1893 to 1897, he was the Schools celebrity, and for a salary of 5600 per annum, he paid teaching visits to the School for one week of each month. At the same time, working on the general principle that copies of good quality work were better than third-rate originals, the School determinedly set about meeting its academic obligations by assembling an extensive collection of reproductions of historical examples. The importance attached to this section of the Museum is well illustrated by the size of its budget. In 1895, 576 was spent on electrotypes from Elkingtons; two years later, in an extraordinary spending spree, the School laid out 5555 on casts of Mediaeval sculpture and architectural decorations, 542 on reproductions from the Louvre and Sevres Museum, 5280 on copies of Italian Renaissance sculpture, and 562 on ceramics from Cantigalli. The encyclopaedic character of the Museum was completed when, for some 5250, the committee purchased copies and original examples of Japanese, Persian, Moorish and Chinese art objects, of which the Japanese lacquer work and wall carvings, acquired 1896-7, are perhaps the outstanding examples.

    The quality of these existing collections acted as a stimulus to any interested local patron. William Simpson gave a marble Byzantine water vessel from Venice in August 1900; Charles P. Scott added to his earlier generosity in July 1900 with the donation of ancient Egyptian textiles and a Kurdestan carpet, and Sir Edward Donner gave three cartoons for stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones; Noah, Adoration of the Kings and Reception into Paradise. This particular gift inspired the School to expand this area of study examples. In the same year, 1901, the School paid 570 for three cartoons, St Paul, The Great Shepherd and Moses, by one of its famous ex-students, Frederic James Shields. Photographic reproductions of Shields work for the Chapel of the Ascension, Bayswater, were pur- chased in 1905 and 1906, while in 1912, three cartoons by Shields were acquired along with two by Ford Madox Brown and one by Burne-Jones from Charles Rowley. The remaining examples of cartoons and stained glass came from the local craftsman W. J. Pearce, the Northern Art Workers Guild, and the Fine Arts Society, London. The arrangement of the Textile


  • Byzantine Water Vessel, Venice. Clock, with oxydised silver case and cut steel frame, W. A. S. Benson & Co.

    The water vessel (1) was donated in 1900 by William Simpson. As the Deputy-Chairman of the school, Simpson had already demonstrated his generosity to the school with his gift of the Burne-Jones/Morris Tapestry Adoration of the Magi which can be seen hanging in its specially designed niche in the Textile Court. The clock (2) was purchased in 1903. In the same year, the school purchased a Lethaby Mantlepiece, Tiffany Glass, and American Indian artefacts from John Wanamaker, New York. Such items balanced a specialist collection of art and craft metalwork, ceramics and textiles which had been assembled over the previous decade.

    Court, apart from the special niche for the Morris tapestry, was subject to periodic change, for not only did it house the large- scale temporary exhibitions, it also displayed at other times, selections from the collection. In other words, textiles were complemented by ceramics, metal and stained glass, providing a centre for the comprehensive teaching of design, in contrast to the two cast courts, which perpetuated those traditions of aca- demy drawing that had been sustained by the National drawing competitions.

    The opportunity to maintain the purchase of contemporary art and craft work was ensured by a 5200 gift from the calico printer, John Royle, which, along with the donations of Neville Clegg, another calico printer, was to be spent at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the New Gallery, London in October 1899. John Royle gave a further donation in 1907, for the purchase of

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  • D A V I D J E R E M I A H Lessons from Objects

    art and craft jewellery and silverware, while Neville Clegg presented examples of modern textiles.

    Between 1898 and 1908 the School purchased some 150 textile pieces, largely made up of designs by William Morris and Charles F. A. Voysey. These works, apart from their intrinsic quality as fabric designs were prime examples of the value of the association of the artist and manufacturer. Equally well repre- sented in the collection were examples of contemporary design and craftwork in glass, ceramics and metal. These included glass by George Walton, Powells of Whitefriars, Salviatis and the Tiffany Studios in New York; metalwork by W. A. S. Benson was complemented by other pieces from the Guild of Handicraft and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society; work from Wedgwoods a...


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