The National Portrait Gallery have this rather nice photo showing students and staff of the Royal College of Art in around 1900. Walter Crane (in the white hat) is in the centre. The man on his left in the bowler hat is Beresford Pite, the professor of architecture, and on the far right in the front row is Edouard Lanteri, the professor of sculpture.
Photos like this were taken every summer at the RCA in what is now the John Madejski Garden of the V&A. Crane was College principal from 1898-9, when he made major changes to the curriculum, introducing more practical courses in place of pettifogging detailed drawing, copying from casts and designing on paper.
He wrote of his time there, “As far as the existing constitution of the school and its relation to the Board of Education would allow, I endeavoured to expand the range of studies, especially in the direction of Design and Handicraft; and in order to give the students some insight into the relation between design and material, I was fortunate enough to obtain the services of accomplished artists to give lectures, and demonstrations where possible, in their special crafts.” But he didn’t like all the form-filling that a government post demanded and a bout of flu sapped his energy.
The interesting thing about this photo is that all the students are women. About half the enrolled students were women and about half the graduates became full-time teachers. But why this group was taken isn’t clear.
Those like me who have only known the RCA’s Darwin building in Kensington Gore may be interested to know how long it took to build – fifty years if you count from when the decision was made. The College was previously tucked into corners of the Victoria & Albert Museum, where it had been since 1863, and from the turn of the century it was obvious that the premises were too small and badly laid out, incluing sheds and annexes a long distance from the main building in Cromwell Road.
In 1911 a government committee said that some of the RCA’s teachers were producing students with a bent towards handicrafts and little to offer industry but at the same time the inadequacies of the building were frankly acknowledged.
The Board of Education readily accepted the need for better accommodation. (Reading the files, it’s evident that Sir Humphrey – actually Sir Robert Morant – had decided what the committee should say long before the minister set it up.) They rejected the suggestion that the existing building might be upgraded and decided a new one was needed. In 1912 plans (below) were drawn up by Beresford Pite, professor of architecture at the RCA.
Two world wars intervened and it was only after the second, under the rectorship of Robin Darwin, that serious plans got underway. Looking at Pite’s plan, a new building may have been needed in the ‘sixties anyway if it had been implemented.