Wednesday, 27 July 2016

John Howard Hale: First principal of the Blackheath School of Art

It seems a little remiss of me to not have started my blog on the history of the Blackheath School of Art with John Howard Hale who was its first principal.

When the Blackheath School of Art was founded in 1895, John Howard Hale was its first principal. Hale led the move from the premises in Bennett Park to its new location behind the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music in 1897.[1] I would like to think that Hale was involved in the design of the building which is still in use today. When it was designed by Gabriel and Edmeston (who were also responsible for the Blackheath Halls and the Conservatoire) and built, it was described as follows:
The school buildings… are of red-bank Leicestershire brick, with roofs of Sedan Green slates, and a leaden flat top, in which nearly seven tons of lead were used. The building consists of the large studio 60 ft. by 30 ft., and 27 ft. high, divided by two portable partitions which, when removed, can be used as tables for exhibitions; a class-room, which is used for modelling and carving; a secretary’s room, a small lumber-room and two well-ventilated lavatories. The studios are lighted with extensive north lights in roof and walls. The ceilings are in fibrous plaster, panelled and the floors are partly granilitic and partly wood blocks. There are two entrances to the studios, with vestibules, and the doors are of teak wood. For warming purposes ordinary coal fires are used, and the lighting is by gas coronas. The whole outside area is concreted, and the front enclosed by a wall and railing. At the rear a cycle-shed has been erected.[2]
J.J. Henderson New School of Art and Science 15 Nov 1897.Source: Blackheath Illustrated Review 1896/ 97, p. 71.
John Howard Hale, Morning Mist, oil on board.
Source: WH Lane and Son ( 

John Howard Hale, Trees before a landscape setting, oil on board.

Source: Eastbourne Auctions Lot1347

A traditional landscape and figure painter Hale studied at the following schools of art: Farnham, Royal College of Art, South Kensington and the Westminster School of Art under Fred Brown. He continued learning in Amsterdam focusing on traditional Dutch seventeenth century and nineteenth century landscapes the influence of which can be seen in the paintings illustrated below. He further developed his landscape painting technique with George Boyle, who was a south east London artist influenced by the paintings of Corot, earning him the moniker ‘The Corot of Catford’.[3]

Teachers during this period included Hugh Bellingham Smith, Terrick Williams, Frederick Marriott, Harold Nelson, Miss B Goff (Bertha or Blanche which was explored in an earlier blog) and Frederick Halnon. Students during Hale’s time at the school included Charles Folkard, Nora Cundell, Blanche Goff, Percy Noel Boxer, Dorothy Wheeler and John Skeaping.

At his retirement party in 1928, Hale was lauded for the hard work he put into the school and his 41 years of dedicated service at the Blackheath School of Art and its predecessor the Government Art School. His hope post retirement was that he could dedicate some time to concentrate on his paintings. Sir George Hume, a member of the BSA committee, who presented him with his leaving gift realised at this point ‘a little what a place the Art School occupied in the Neighbourhood, and of the splendid work it had achieved in the past’.[4]  At the event Madame Tester-Jones and her students at the BCM performed, bringing both of the schools together to celebrate his career.

The article that reported on this event concluded with the following words, summing up John Howard Hale’s time in Blackheath:
‘Mr Hale leaves behind him in Blackheath as a remembrance of his 41 years’ work there the School of Art, which when he was first associated with it, occupied a Private House in Bennett-park, and which, greatly helped by his personal enthusiasm and interest in it, has acquired its present excellent studios and additions made to them just before and just after the war.’[5]

Hale's leadership cemented the great reputation of the school and paved the way for the exciting times under his successor John Edgar Platt (more about him soon). Hale lived for another 27 years after his retirement dying in his early 90’s, in 1955. Hopefully the opportunity to devote his time to painting rather than the development of the school of art was just the tonic in retirement.

[1] Blackheath Local Guide and District Advertiser, 7 August 1897, p. 14. The brief details of the move appear in an advert worded: “Blackheath, Lee and Lewisham Government School of Art. Late of 27 Bennett Park & Art Studios, With which the Alexandra Hall Classes are now amalgamated, HAS NOW REMOVED To the New Building adjoining the Concert Hall”.
[2] ‘The Blackheath, Lee, and Lewisham Government School of Art and Science’, Blackheath Illustrated, Review, 1896-97, p. 72.
[3] Christies Sale 9178, Lot 144, British and Continental Pictures, 30 August 2001, South Kensington. The lot note shows that George Boyle was known as the Corot of Catford.
[4] ‘Blackheath School of Art: Presentation to Mr J. Howard Hale’, Blackheath and District Advertiser, Jul / Aug?, 1928, pp. 14-16.
[5] Ibid.