The Studio magazine and Black British history

Over the last few months I’ve been researching art journals and magazines from the 1920s and 1930s, which are held in the collections of the British Library. One of these journals The Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art holds a wealth of fascinating information on the artworld which relates to the Black presence in Britain

The Studio magazine was set up by Charles Holme in 1893, a businessman from Bradford who was a textile trader and “Oriental art” collector, so from the start of the magazine the production of visual culture and its links with imperial trade were entrenched within the magazine. Brian Holme, Charles Holme’s grandson, recalled “Charles Holme’s son (and my father), Geoffrey Holme, who was to take over The Studio Ltd. in 1919, maintained that his father’s pre-Studio days as an East India merchant had greatly influenced the editorial direction and general high quality of the early issues of the magazine. Looking back now at the many articles on Oriental art, particularly Japanese “applied art”, quite obviously it had.” (Bryan Holme: 1) As Catherine Delyfer stated in her investigation into the beginnings of the journal “the type of art promoted in The Studio and the myths created to shape and solidify the cultural identity of the artist in this magazine are intricately linked to the backgrounds and interests of its founding fathers.” (Catherine Delyfer: 438) The Studio focused on arts and crafts and applied arts as being of equal merit to fine art, and it explored the processes of production as a constituent of art, with the artist as craftsman.

The journal included articles on movements in art, annual and one-off exhibitions, traditions and developments in art within a variety of countries, and kept its readers up to date with reviews of exhibitions occurring in different cities, mainly within Europe and the US, though also those occurring in countries including India and Japan. It also had a section on events and exhibitions occurring in London and through the journals descriptions of art work being shown or even just short references to the titles of pieces of artwork we get some tantalising glimpses into some of the art produced in Britain referencing black cultures or representing people of African or Asian heritage.

A few of the references found in The Studio so far are:

In Volume 88 there is a visual reproduction of a charcoal drawing by Glyn Philpot entitled ‘Head of Negro’ (The Studio, Volume 88, 1924, p. 4).

In Volume 111, there was a review published of the “52nd Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, held at Prince’s Galleries.” The exhibition gave the correspondent an impression of “rather insipid competence.” According to the correspondent, some of the notable pieces within the exhibition included  “David Jagger’s A Modern Negro”. (The Studio, Volume 111, 1936, p. 49).

In terms of Black students based in London during the interwar period, we see in the 1920-21 volume of The Studio references to Aina Onabolu. Onabolu was a Nigerian student who trained in London and Paris in the early 1920s, before returning to Nigeria to work as a major artist and teacher of art, described by Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie as “Nigeria’s pioneer modern artist” (Ogbechie: 36). He studied at the St. John’s Wood Art School, where he won a prize for his student work. The Studio states “amongst the names of prize winners at the St. John’s Wood Art Schools, as noted in our last issue, was that of Mr. Aina Onabolu, of Lagos, who is said to be the first native of West Africa to receive an art training in Europe. He has been studying portraiture more especially, and on returning home proposes, we are told, to instruct his fellow countrymen in European methods of painting pictures, about which native art is ignorant. It will be interesting to see what success will attend the innovation. The chief form of art practised by the natives is woodcarving in high and low relief, and colour is usually applied to the figures. They also excel in metal and leather work, and display a good deal of taste in ornamentation.” (The Studio, Volumes 80 and 81, August 1920-June 1921, p. 114).

I’ll be exploring these images and references in further depth throughout the project, trying to trace some of the objects mentioned within these contemporary sources and will explore the images and references in relation to contemporary politics and art, and theories relating to colonialism, imperialism and race.

References:

Delyfer, Catherine ‘The Studio and the Craftsman as Artist: A study in periodical poetics (1893-1900)’, Cahiers Victoriens et Édouardiens, number 71, April 2010.

Ogbechie, Sylvester Okwunodu. Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008.

Introduction by Holme, Bryan. “the Studio”: A Bibliography : the First Fifty Years, 1893-1943. London: Simms and Reed Ltd, 1978.

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