Join me on the journey from art student to exhibition in The Work of Art, based on modern British paintings in UK public collections.
The first step to becoming a professional artist is usually attending an art school. Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980) was both a student and teacher at Edinburgh College of Art, an experience she depicts in Rest Time in the Life Class of 1923. A Life Class is a lesson during which models of both sexes pose, sometimes in the nude, for the purpose of studying and drawing the human figure. Due to concerns about exposure to the naked human form, it was not until 1910 that female students at Edinburgh College of Art were permitted to attend one, in segregated classrooms.
Johnstone celebrates this milestone in women’s rights in her painting, in which she is seen demonstrating at the upper right. The figures in the foreground are her students Kay Price and Belle Kilgour, whilst the model is Poppy Lowe, a regular sitter at the college. Johnstone joined its staff in 1914, due to the mobilisation of male colleagues for service in World War One. However, she had to leave her post following her wedding to the artist David MacBeth Sutherland in 1924, due to the Marriage Bar legislation which prevented married women from holding full-time teaching positions.
After completion of your training, you need a studio in which to work so that you can embark on your career as an artist. Studio Interior (Red Stool) of 1945 by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) is a joyous image of No.1 Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, into which she moved in 1945. Barns-Graham also studied at Edinburgh College of Art and on the suggestion of its Principal, Hubert Wellington, moved to Cornwall in 1940. She quickly became a member of what is now known as the St Ives School, alongside artists including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.
Porthmeor Studios are purpose-built, light and airy studios, with large windows which overlook Porthmeor Beach. In her painting, Barns-Graham concentrates on the architecture of her new working environment, from the verticals of the panelling and window frames, to the horizontals of the window-sill and ceiling beams. Three blank canvases can be seen, including one ready on the easel, beside a prepared palette on a red stool. The atmosphere is of optimism and the potential for new work to be made imminently.
Once your studio space is established, you need to get to work, as we can see in Self-portrait of 1931 by Mary Adshead (1904-95). Adshead trained at the Lycée Victor Duruy in Paris and at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She was a renowned muralist and her prolific career also embraced easel painting, illustration and design; she was a long-term exhibitor with the Women’s International Art Club, on whose committee she served and was a member of the New English Art Club.
In Self-portrait, the viewer is placed in the position of the mirror from which Adshead is painting her reflection. Her right hand steadies the canvas on which she is working, whilst her left hand holds a paint brush, poised to apply the next brushstroke. One side and the reverse of the canvas are partly visible, whilst further equipment and materials can be glimpsed on the adjacent table. The tight composition includes part of a painting hanging on the wall behind Adshead, as well as a curtain to the right and the chair on which she is sitting. She deliberately shows herself in the process of working, sharing a moment of concentration and presenting herself as a smart, serious artist.
Once you have created a body of work, the next step on your journey to becoming an artist is for it to be exhibited in public, as shown in Interior of Glasgow Corporation Art Galleries of c.1926 by Charles Dowell (1876-1935). Dowell studied at Glasgow School of Art and specialised in painting seascapes. He was a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours and served as a Vice-President of Glasgow School of Art.
In this interior scene, two women are seen through a doorway, their backs turned to the viewer as they contemplate the painting hung on the wall in front of them. The grandeur of their surroundings is offset by the gentle palette, subtle technique and contrast between near shadow and far suffused light falling from unseen laylights above. Glasgow Corporation was the local government authority for the city between 1895 and 1975 and the painting depicts part of the McLellan Galleries on Sauchiehall Street. Dowell worked discreetly at a distance from the art lovers, creating an atmosphere of calm reverence for artists’ endeavours, within a suitably grand setting.
Hopefully multiple sales, exhibitions and worldwide fame are to follow for the artists whose work is on show.