Dundee’s Art College began life in 1888 with the opening of the Technical Institute on Small’s Wynd. Evening classes in art were taught from the start but it was the arrival of Thomas Delgaty Dunn as art master in 1892 that saw the introduction of day classes and a significant increase in the range of subjects offered. In 1901, the Technical Institute was designated a Central Institution with a region-wide remit for art education. The various other art schools that operated in the city were disbanded and Delgaty Dunn faced the problem of accommodating some 300 students into two small art studios.
In 1910, after a lengthy fund-raising campaign, a new building opened on Bell Street. The new school, renamed Dundee Technical College & School of Art, hoped to be able to offer full four-year Diploma courses, but needed considerable extra resources to do so. In 1909, while the building was still under construction, a generous bequest came from out of the blue which seemed to provide the answer. James Duncan of Jordanstone had studied in Dundee before earning his fortune in South America, and in his will he bequeathed some £60,000 towards ‘founding in Dundee a School of Industrial Art, to be named and known in all time to come as the Duncan of Jordanstone Art School.’ He listed in some detail the subjects to be taught there and concluded by noting that the School should be run in collaboration with the Technical College but should be independent of it.
The problems were quickly apparent. Most of the subjects Duncan wanted his Art School to teach were already being catered for by the College, but the Duncan trustees were unable to come to an agreement with the College’s board of governors. For the next 20 years the bequest would remain out of reach. Delgaty Dunn retired in 1927, and it was down to his successor, Francis Cooper, to take up the challenge. His tenacity won the day – in 1934 a complete reorganisation led to the creation of Dundee Institute of Art & Technology, with the renamed Dundee College of Art given enough autonomy within that to satisfy the Duncan trustees. In 1935, a site on Perth Road was acquired for a new purpose-built art college and plans were approved in 1938 following a national competition. Just as everything was ready to go, the war intervened and the whole scheme was mothballed.
Cooper retired in 1953, just as the foundation stone of the new building was finally laid. It opened in 1955 and under the dynamic leadership of Cooper’s successor, Hugh Adam Crawford, the new college quickly built up a reputation far exceeding anything that had been possible before. New tutors, such as Alberto Morrocco, David McClure and Scott Sutherland, were among the best-known artists in Scotland and were soon attracting students from throughout the country. In 1962, the College finally became known as the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art.
One notable benefit of the new building was the space to begin a collection of artworks by graduating students. Although a few drawings and watercolours had been kept at Bell Street, regular collecting was begun in 1955 by Alberto Morrocco, selecting work by drawing and painting students from the annual Diploma Show every year from then on. Many of the early students whose work is represented would later return to the College as tutors, including William Cadenhead, Dennis Buchan, John Johnstone and John Grant Clifford.
The Collection represents the history of fine art education in Dundee. It provides a rare chance to see early work by artists who have often gone on to considerable success – the roll-call of graduates includes David Mach, Calum Colvin, Graeme Todd, Alan Michael, Christopher Orr, Susan Philipsz and Delia Baillie, all of whom are represented in the Collection (though not all by oil paintings). The many works by artists who didn’t achieve the same level of success are also interesting in revealing the changing methods of art instruction and the influence of particular tutors at different times in the College’s history.
In 1982, the Department of Drawing & Painting became part of a larger School of Fine Art and the collecting broadened to include printmaking, sculpture, video art and the many other media that make up contemporary fine art practice. Like many colleges at that time, Duncan of Jordanstone was looking increasingly to its next-door neighbour, the University of Dundee, to give academic endorsement of its work. In 1994, after much negotiation, the College became a Faculty of the University, and the College Collection became part of the University’s Museum Collections.
At that time, the College was still able to take its pick of students’ work without payment, a legacy from the days when students were given all their art materials free of charge and hence anything created with them was considered to be up for grabs – much to the annoyance of many students! With those days long gone and the Degree Show increasingly recognised as a commercial platform for students, the decision was taken in 2000 to begin buying students’ work, something which has considerably reduced the size and quantity of works selected, but which makes the acquisition of work for the Collection a much better way of rewarding students for their achievements.
While the majority of the Collection comprises work by students, there are a number of works by members of staff (such as Neil Dallas Brown, Jack Knox, Peter Collins and Ronald Forbes), works acquired as teaching aids (such as life studies by David Comba Adamson and James Watterson Herald) and presentation portraits of people connected to the College (such as James Duncan of Jordanstone, by George Reid; Francis Cooper, by John Macdonald Aiken; Alex Russell by James McIntosh Patrick, and John Gray, by Ian Fleming).
The accessioning of the College’s artworks into the University Museum Collections has allowed them to be properly catalogued and managed for the first time, but much work remains to be done. A significant number of pieces remain unidentified – for many years students were strongly discouraged from signing their work because they were not yet professional artists! Any help to identify the mystery works reproduced here would be gratefully appreciated.
Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services, University of Dundee
Text source: PCF / University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection
This description was originally written for a catalogue.