The Fine Arts Department at University College Reading, is a most important one, and being recognised as a school of art by the Board of Education, its students are eligible to compete for all the prizes, scholarships, and certificates offered by the Board. It is a centre for the Board of Education's examinations in art, and prepares students for the Art Class Teacher's and Art Master's and Art Mistress's Certificates, besides granting its own diploma in Fine Art to students who have worked for no fewer than nine terms in the college, and produced work to the satisfaction of the examiners.
In 1860, or thereabouts, an art school was first established at Reading, under the headship of Mr. C. R. Havell, a member of an old Reading family. In 1881 it outgrew its earlier home, and was removed to a newly built art school in Valpy Street, adjoining the Municipal Art Gallery. In 1892 the school was incorporated into the newly formed University College, and, on the removal of the college to a larger area in 1906, a block of new studios and class - rooms was built to meet the growing demands. The Art School at Reading is one of the few where work is actually an integral part of a highly developed scheme of higher education, and the advantages are such as to make its whole scheme of study unique. Its students have access to a good library, where classical, archaeological, biographical, and general literature all find place. In the athletic ground and students' common rooms art students hold social converse with other- students who may be studying horticulture, science, dairying, philosophy, domestic economy, or who may be taking "honours history and literature."
The art student, in this way, gains breadth of view and has an ever-changing variety of humanity within her ken. The animal painter, again, has access to the zoology professor and his museum. And the flower painter can learn the rudiments of botany and gain first-hand knowledge of plant life.
The staff, all of whom are young and energetic, constantly preach the doctrine of hard work. Students, therefore, are prepared early for the arduous conditions under which the professional artist works, be she painter or handicrafts-woman.
The department hopes soon to be recognised as a school of drawing in the full sense of the word, not merely academic drawing, but drawing in the sense that Titian, Rembrandt, and Velasquez understood it. To this end memory drawing is largely used, and forms an important feature in the life and composition classes. All students, whether elementary or advanced, undertake these exercises regularly.
The emphasis placed on drawing does not, however, mean that students are kept for dull years working in black - and - white without being allowed to touch colour. The more elementary students are often allowed to express their ideas of objects placed before them in colour, and, as is now slowly being recognised, such colour exercises keenly stimulate their sense of form.
Again, it is held that every student should undertake at least one craft, etching, colour-printing, or illuminating, which is directly dependent on drawing. The students' experiments in these processes force them to realise the necessity of training themselves to draw, and they learn as much from their failures as from their successes.
An attempt is also made to consider the practical outcome of the students' term of training. At the outset it is very difficult to predict that a student will be able to earn a living by art. But the Director holds that every effort should be made to assist advanced students to work to practical ends.
The life class, where professional models from London sit, is the centre of the department, and receives close attention. But around it are grouped various crafts and processes of a distinctly practical and professional character. These classes, moreover, in turn depend on the teaching given in the design and composition classes.
Printing in colour from wood blocks, a craft ignored in most art schools, is taught by the Director himself. The process follows that of the Japanese, though the prints are not necessarily Japanese in style.
The design is made by the student, cut, and printed by hand in water colour. No press is used, and the process from first to last is under the entire control of the designer. The simple convention of the prints, with their bold line and frank patches of colour, teaches the use of line as required in broad work such as posters and advertisements, which offer such lucrative openings to the designer.
To the study of etching much importance is attached, since it insists on the necessity of good drawing. Illuminating and formal writing, again, is a recognised study, in that it affords a training in design, with delicate form and clear use of pure colour, which is very valuable.