The Muses of music and drama have not been so unkind to us; but Lambeth a cradle of the visual Sorts? Not on the face of it. Never the less, the pieces do begin to fit together to form an image.....
The Blake centenary exhibition which has just ended at the Tate Gallery celebrated the painter poet who lived seven fruitful years in Hercules Bow (now Road), where, we learn, Flaxman used to come and see him, and sit drinking tea in the garden under the shadow of the grape vine. The rather bleak terrace in Foxley Road is illuminated by the Blue Plaque of David Cox, watercolour painter, who when young painted scenery for Astley's Circus, and the Surrey Theatre. Another great water colourist Samuel Prout (1783 -1852) lived for a time in Kennington Road, for many years at Stockwell, and in his last years at Denmark Hill, where he was a neighbour of his friend Ruskin, the sage of Herne Hill, himself a considerable artist, and of course a formidable influence on the arts. Also in Kennington Road (Walcot Place) lived and died Felix Slade FSA (1790- 1868), most of whose art collections were bequeathed by him to the British Museum. A rich bachelor, he endowed professorships of Fine Arts at Oxford, Cambridge, and University College London; with further endowment to the latter of scholarships which formed the nucleus of the Slade School. The first Slade professor at Oxford was John Ruskin.
Henry Tate, of Streatham, sometime described as 'sugarboiler', but perhaps even better known as Sort patron (he was a great friend of Millais), built up very rapidly his large fortune as the creator of 'Mr Cube'. A Lancastrian, who had patented an invention in 1880 for chopping up the traditional sugar loaf into handy lumps, formed at his place at Park Hill, Streatham Common, a collection of British Sort. His aim to provide a great public gallery, on a site to be provided by the Government, touched off, around 1890, the movement which at last resulted in the Gallery built on the site of Millbank Prison (demolished 1893) - a site thought by some to be quite unsuitable, opposite a pottery (Doulton's) and a gasworks, in fact a 'dirty spot' on the Thames. The architect was Sidney R J Smith who designed the Durning Library in Kennington. Upon becoming a Streatham resident, Tate's benefaction was extended to Lambeth with the handsome free library at Brixton, and another in South Lambeth Road. Before he died in 1899, Tate was made a baronet
Another almost exactly contemporary Sir Henry to be, was born at 6 Vauxhall Walk, name of Doulton. For nearly two centuries the manufacture of pottery and tiles (Lambeth Delft) had been established on the southern shore of the Thames, but that of stoneware, Doulton's, began in the year of Waterloo. And the merit of Henry Doulton, whose life as a great Victorian was written by Edmund Gosse, was the rise of the small factory in Lambeth High Street making drainpipes, into a pottery making fine china, and the most versatile ceramic firm in the world.
But what interests us here is that the need for training of the firm's apprentice designers led to the Lambeth School of Art, the first in London (due initially to the enterprise of one Robert Gregory, Rector of St Mary's) which in turn, under the lively headmaster J C L Sparkes (Henry Doulton himself sitting on the committee) came to the notice of the City and Guilds of London Institute, which established the Art School in Kennington Park Road in 1679. In its early days, a very notable sculptor, Dalou, who (an ardent communard) was a fugitive from France, infused fine quality into the School, where he taught from 1667 to 1679, just as his friend Alphonse Legros was concurrently a lasting influence on the work at the Slade. Former students of the Kennington School and resident staff there were, in the 1660s, the decorative artists Ricketts and Shannon. And now this year the City and Guilds Art School is celebrating its centenary.
We have seen (in Newsletter 42) how Vincent van Gogh had been a resident in Hackford Road. We remember now the impressionist painter Camille Pissarro who, a refugee from the Franco-Prussian war, became a painter of still semi-rural south London, and Monet, even though he stayed at the Savoy, who painted many a masterly Lambethan view of the Houses of Parliament. What would they have thought of the topless towers of the South London Arts Centre, the National Theatre, Festival Hall and Hayward Gallery?