For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites.Growing up in Birmingham, I was very fortunate that the city’s art gallery had an outstanding collection of Pre-Raphaelite work (perhaps that’s why I became a fan?).
Over the past few months, I’ve visited Birmingham Art Gallery on a number of occasions and always make straight for the rooms featuring the works of Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Madox Brown, Burne-Jones and Millais and others.
On my last two visits to the gallery, I’d be particularly drawn to two pictures in particular: “Sigismonda Drinking the Poison” (1898-99) and “The Sleeping Beauty” (1903) – see above.
Joseph Edward Southall (1861-1944) was the artist.
I knew virtually nothing about Southall, apart from the fact that he was one of the “Birmingham Group” of artists.
Well, over recent days, I decided to look out for other examples of Southall’s work and was particularly drawn to two paintings he undertook much later in his life (when he was approaching 70 years of age): “The Botanists” (1928) and “The Return” (1930) – again, see above!
At the end of January, I posted a photograph I’d taken of a fresco at the Birmingham Art Gallery as my facebook “cover picture” (entitled “Corporation Street, Birmingham” and dated March 1914). I didn’t know the name of the artist at the time, but very much liked the image – see above. Two days ago, after “researching” online, I discovered the name of the artist… it was, surprise, surprise:
Joseph Edward Southall.
I’ve subsequently looked into Southall’s background. He was born in Nottingham in 1861, but moved to Birmingham at a very early age. He was educated at Quaker schools in York but returned to Birmingham in 1878 and was actually articled as a trainee with the leading local architects' practice Martin & Chamberlain, while studying painting part-time at the Birmingham School of Art (at Margaret Street, I think).
I’ve just completed an elevational drawing of Vittoria Junior School of Arts+Crafts, Birmingham - the secondary school my father attended from the age of 13 (now Birmingham School of Jewellery). The Birmingham School of Jewellery and Silversmithing was established in 1890 in a converted goldsmith's factory as a branch of the School of Art The building incorporated a school for educating subsequent generations of silversmiths and jewellers. The architects for conversion project were Martin+Chamberlain – to whom, you might recall (if you’ve been paying attention) was articled a certain individual by the name of:
Joseph Edward Southall.
Photo: top (L>R): “The Sleeping Beauty” (1903) and “Sigismonda Drinking the Poison” (1898-99); middle (L>R): “The Botanist (1928) and “The Return” (1930); bottom: Corporation Street, Birmingham (1914).
PS: Yes, I appreciate that Pre-Raphaelite art isn’t to everyone’s taste (and, frankly, I personally prefer Southall’s later work). I came across this quote from artist/art critic Roger Fry, who described Southall as "a little slightly disgruntled and dyspeptic Quaker artist who does incredible tempera sham Quattrocentro modern sentimental things with a terrible kind of meticulous skill". That’s telling him!