Background and Influences
Late Victorian Glasgow
In the late 1800s Glasgow was a place of enormous change and innovation, a thriving, industrial metropolis with a hugely expanding skyline and a population of over three-quarters of a million.
Self-titled second city of the empire and one of the richest cities in the world, Glasgow was an important centre for trade and manufacturing with international links and outlook. Exhibitions hosted by the city in 1888 and 1901 showcased it manufacturing and industrial might across the empire, the latter drawing eleven million visitors, the largest ever in Britain and more than double that attending the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Glasgow was the workshop of the world in ship and locomotive building, heavy engineering and textiles, industries that relied on a range of supporting trades and services, such as skills in furnishing and joinery. As such, design and design skills were built into the city’s DNA and contributed to its industrial processes and commercial success.
Fra' Newberry and the Glasgow School of Art
In 1885, at the age of 32 Francis (Fra’) Newbery was appointed Head Master of the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) where he remained for over twenty years. At that time the school was under the control of the Department of Science and Art of South Kensington which had established government Schools of Design to improve the education of designers and support the output and success of British industry.
Newberry had trained at South Kensington and under his forward-thinking leadership, the GSA continued to evolve and flourish. By 1890 it was recognised as one of the leading art schools in Britain. Inspired by the ideals of William Morris, Newbery extended teachings away from a narrow focus on the fine arts, introducing a wide range of courses in applied arts such as pottery, embroidery, metalwork, stained glass and woodcarving. Practising artists were employed as teachers and he continued to stress the need to create designers for the city’s manufacturing industries.
The profile of the school and its students continued to grow gaining the attention of the public and critics alike. Newbery took an active interest in his students, inspiring them to explore their creativity and to achieve their full potential. A key figure in organising a new building to house the art school, he was instrumental in the appointment of Mackintosh as its designer and also responsible for bringing together The Four in the early 1890s, recognising similarities in their work.