Scotland

Letters from Rodin, Wells and Morris uncovered at Glasgow School of Art

Sculptor Auguste Rodin was one of those who wrote to the art school
Image caption Sculptor Auguste Rodin was one of those who wrote to the art school

Letters written by some of the great figures of the late 19th Century have been uncovered at Glasgow School of Art.

William Morris, HG Wells and Rodin are among those who wrote to the head of the art school, Fra Newbery.

Archivist Rachael Jones discovered a box of material in the art school's archive that had not been catalogued.

She said it contained "real gems" about an incredibly dynamic period in the school's history.

Image copyright GSA
Image caption The iconic Mackintosh building was badly damaged in a fire in 2014

Francis Henry Newbery was director of The Glasgow School of Art from 1885 to 1918, a time when its international reputation was growing.

Newbery was also responsible for commissioning a young Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design the world-famous building which now bears his name.

Image copyright GSA Archives
Image caption William Morris letter 14-1-1889 (pg1)

Among the archives, Ms Jones found a pack of four letters written by the designer and social reformer William Morris discussing an invitation to give some lectures in Scotland in the spring of 1889.

In the earliest of the letters, dated 14 January, Morris declares that he does not like to say no, but that he has "memories of early spring in Glasgow from last year which rather terrify one".

GSA lecturer Dr Helen McCormack said the letters revealed Morris was a much more frequent visitor to Glasgow than had been previously believed.

Dr McCormack said Mackintosh, who was still a GSA student in 1889, would have had the opportunity to attend Morris' Arts & Crafts lecture.

"It is generally agreed among scholars that Mackintosh's work, not least the building at GSA which bears his name, conveys some stylistic and architectural details determined by Arts & Crafts ideals," she said.

"Here in these letters we learn about an event at which the young designer would almost certainly have learned about these principles from one of the leaders of the Arts & Crafts movement, William Morris."

Image copyright GSA Archives
Image caption Letter from Sir John Lavery to Fra Newbery (1897) page 1
Image copyright GSA Archives
Image caption Letter from Sir John Lavery to Fra Newbery (1897) pages 2 and 3

Also in the correspondence is a letter from one of the original Glasgow Boys, the leading artist Sir John Lavery.

He sent the letter to Newbery after he had early view of works to be shown in the 1897 Biennale.

Lavery says he expects that the Italian papers are surpassing each other in praise of Newbery's work.

Image copyright GSA Archives
Image caption Letter from HG Wells to Newbery 1927

Meanwhile, a letter from War of the Worlds author, HG Wells, shares reminiscences of the time he and Newbery were associated with the South Kensington system in the late 19th Century, at the time when "Darwin's Bulldog", TH Huxley, was giving his final lectures.

Image copyright GSA Archives
Image caption Letter from Rodin to Newbery April 1901
Image copyright GSA Archive
Image caption Letter from Rodin to Newbery 1903

The international reputation of Glasgow School of Art under the direction of Newbery is underlined in two letters from one of the world's greatest sculptors, Auguste Rodin.

In the earlier of the two letters (1901), Rodin writes to Newbery asking about the public reaction to plasters of two of his famous sculptures - St Jean and Les Bourgeois de Calais - that had been sent to The Glasgow International Exhibition, the major event that marked the opening of Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery.

"The wonderful thing about an archive as rich as ours at the GSA is that it contains so many exciting items," says Ms Jones.

"We are sure that many more gems will be discovered as we continue work on the thousands of documents, photographs and artefacts that are held here in the archives."

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