The Irish people have always been possessed of the artistic temperament to a very high degree, and it is not surprising that the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art should have been one of the earliest to be started in the United Kingdom.
It traces its origin back as far as the year 1731, when the Royal Dublin Society was founded for the improvement of husbandry, manufactures, and other useful arts.
Its members, five years later, in 1746, announced, in the quaint phraseology of the period, that, "Since a good spirit shows itself for drawing and designing, which is the groundwork of painting, and so useful in manufactures, it is intended to erect a little academy or school for drawing and painting, from whence some geniuses may arise to the benefit and honour of this kingdom, and it is hoped that gentlemen of taste will encourage and support so useful a design."
This modestly expressed hope was destined to receive a more ample fulfilment than the most ambitious founder of the "little academy" could have dreamed, for amongst the long list of students who afterwards rose to fame we find the names of Comerford, the famous miniature painter; James Barry, Foley, and Hogan, the sculptors; and Mossop, the medallist; besides Ashford, Cuming, and Cregan, each of whom became presidents of the Royal Hibernian Academy; Sir Martin Archer Shee, who was afterwards president of the London Royal Academy of Arts; and there has been since its foundation hardly an Irish painter, sculptor, or architect of repute who has not received a part at least of his or her training in art within its walls. In the year 1849, when the society had four schools or departments for figure, landscape, ornament, architecture, and modelling, they were converted into a "school of design," and taken over by the Board of Trade, and day classes for women students were for the first time established. In 1860 the school was affiliated to the Department of Science and Art, though not directly administered by it. In the year 1879 it was formally taken over by the Government, and finally passed under the control of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland in 1900.
Since the taking over of the school by Government authorities the directors have laid great stress upon the industrial side of its art education, and such changes have been made in the examinations and competitions as specially to encourage students in the study of applied design in the school of art.
Enamelling, decorative lettering, and illuminating - arts which flourished exceedingly in Ireland in the olden days from the seventh to the eleventh centuries, when the world-famed Book of Kells and other Celtic manuscripts were written and decorated, and the beautiful Ardagh Chalice, the Tara Brooch the Cross of Cong, and the shrine of St. Patrick's Bell, each of them masterpieces of metal-work and enamelling, were accomplished - had been allowed almost to die out in Ireland until within the last twenty or thirty years, since when they have seen a striking revival under the fostering care of the modern governmental school of art, and the women students of the Dublin school have taken to these delightful crafts with special avidity, displaying great natural aptitude for the work, and turning out specimens of handicraft instinct with poetry and beautiful in design.
The Designing Room of the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. An interesting feature of the women students' work is found in the classes for the study of lace manufacture and design. Originality is a distinctive note of the work in this subject
The sumptuous book containing the "Address to Queen Mary from the Women of Ireland," consisting of thirteen large pages of illuminated Celtic work, which is in itself a monument of Irish art, was executed at the Metropolitan School of Art by the women students of the school.
The classes for the study of lace manufacture and design, more especially the latter, are a specially interesting and characteristic feature of the women students' work, and one in which they have shown so much taste and skill that they have carried off a large number of gold and silver medals and prizes; and the designs executed at the school are not only employed in many of the big lace manufactories which are scattered nowadays throughout Ireland since the revival of the lacemaking industry, but are also in great request at English lacemaking centres, while two of the students' specimen designs were lately bought by the Hungarian Government.
The students of lace design not only study the construction of the patterns of the antique laces of the best periods, but personally acquaint themselves with the technical requirements of the fabrics employed by learning to actually make lace themselves. They are, moreover, encouraged to go direct to Nature for inspiration for original "motifs," rather than merely adopt those already extant, and, governed by a practical acquaintance with the imitations of the materials in which they are to be carried out, to use their own inventive powers in introducing these original "motifs" into new and attractive patterns, which are readily snapped up by the manufacturer.
The art instruction given in the school, which is divided into two sections - elementary and advanced - includes drawing and painting and modelling from the figure, painting from still life, drawing and modelling from the antique; the study of the principles of ornament, historic ornament architecture, perspective, and anatomy, and blackboard work for students intending to become teachers in schools, and a wide course of study in the design class.
The craft classes include those for enamelling and metal-work, embroidery, stained glass, leather, and gesso work, and pottery making, and have proved so popular that new studios are in the course of erection.
The students of the Metropolitan School of Art are specially fortunate in the possession of a fine school library, containing numerous works bearing on the various subjects connected with art study, which is being constantly added to, and of a fine collection of casts (including a collection of a hundred casts of ornament presented by the newly established school of design at Somerset House in 1848), and a large number of water-colour drawings, which adorn the walls of the school. The school is, moreover, advantageously situated next door to the National Library, where every facility is afforded to students desirous of consulting the works on art which it contains.
Mr. P. O. Reeves, A.r.c.a., instructing women students in enamelling and metal working, crafts in which the Dublin Art School has a world-wide reputation
The Dublin National Museum is also open to students. And the Municipal Art Gallery, which was started, under the directorship of Sir Hugh Lane, a short time ago, and which contains, besides many choice works of the Old Masters, examples of the work of many of the modern painters of repute - John Sargent, Wilson Steer, and William Orpen, to mention only a few - provides a perennial source of direct inspiration to the young and enthusiastic artist. To be continued.