'Under Strange the art school became one of the best in the country'

ALTHOUGH Scarborough was late in establishing its municipal art school, under the direction of its first headmaster, Albert Strange (1855-1917), it became one of the leading provincial schools in the country.

The principal promoter of an art school for Scarborough was its MP William S Caine. The school opened in autumn 1882 in premises in Aberdeen Walk that had previously held Sydney Corrie’s dancing school. However, within two years the building was found to be too small and premises previously occupied by Harland’s Baths were converted specifically for the art school.

The school, at the corner of Vernon Road, now Boothby’s Garage site, remained here until the premises were bombed in the Second World War.

From the beginning the art school taught the National Course of Instruction for Government Schools of Art which consisted of separate courses in drawing, painting, modelling and design. Individual subjects included freehand and model drawing, geometry, perspective, still life, monochrome painting, oil and water colour painting and book illustration design, architecture, anatomy, and wallpaper and linoleum design.

In the 1880s a system of payment by results operated which helped to finance the national art schools.

National competitions were held and a limited number of gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to students, grants being made to the respective art schools in proportion to these awards.

Under Strange’s teaching and direction Scarborough students performed very well in the national examinations. As early as 1886 it was announced that Scarborough Art School was the second most successful in the country and in that year work by Strange’s students was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy.

In 1888 Edith Robinson was praised by the Government examiner for her work which earned her a bronze medal. The following year her sister Ellen Robinson was one of only three students in the country to gain maximum marks in the national examinations. In 1895 Harry Wanless won the only silver medal awarded that year for oil painting and in 1898 the work of three Scarborough students, including Wanless, was chosen to be included in an exhibition of British art held in Budapest.

Albert Strange at first studied law but changed direction and attended art school, initially in his home town of Gravesend, before moving to the Slade School in London.

However, another interest, sailing, took over and he spent five years in France living on his boat and sailing along the Brittany coast and painting local scenes.

He returned to England where be became a certificated art master obtaining a post as second master of Liverpool College of Art.

In 1882 Strange had his first work accepted by the Royal Academy and he was appointed first head of Scarborough School of Art, a post he held until his death in 1917.

Besides teaching, Strange was a productive artist exhibiting his work throughout the country as well as providing illustrations for various books including JS Fletcher’s Picturesque History of Yorkshire.

He designed decorative covers for the Humber Yawl Club Yearbooks being himself a keen yachtsman and yacht designer. He produced many yacht designs, still used today, and was a founder member of Scarborough Sailing Club in 1895 being the chairman at its inaugural meeting, the captain being one of his students – Ernest Dade.

In 1902 Strange was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Humber Yawl Club. Many of Strange’s art students were also keen yachtsmen, several becoming marine artists, two of whom, Frank Mason and Charles Pears, being official Admiralty war artists.

At the beginning of the 21st century the department of art and design at the Westwood Campus of Yorkshire Coast College is the direct descendant of the school started so successfully in 1882. The Albert Strange Society is dedicated to a study of his boat designs.

l A full biography can be found in Albert Strange, Yacht Designer and Artist by J Leather; a more detailed account of the school’s first 50 years can be found in The Origins and First Fifty Years of Scarborough School of Art (1882-1907) by Anne and Paul Bayliss in the Transactions of Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society, Number 35, 1999, pages 18-35 and details of some of Strange’s students are in Scarborough Artists of the Nineteenth Century also by Anne and Paul Bayliss. All these publications are available in Vernon Road Library.