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Professor Louise Campbell
University of Warwick
Emeritus Fellowship

Artists at home and at work in twentieth-century Britain

Louise Campbell explores the studio as lived artistic environment and the relationship of planning, decoration and design to the activities which it housed

George and Mary Watts reading in the niche in the Red Room at Limnerslease, Compton, Surrey, c.1894–95. The house was built to a design by Arts & Crafts architect Sir Ernest George and today forms part of the Watts Gallery Artists Village.
Photo: Glass plate negative. Watts Gallery Trust.

Although studios often feature in accounts of the rise of the professional artist and of academic training, the design of the studio and the studio-house has received patchier attention. During the Victorian era – a golden age for British artists – studio architecture emerged as a spectacular new genre. Between 1900 and 1940, as artists began to feature alongside celebrities and entertainers in the illustrated press, the studio acquired a new importance. The desire to exert control over space, lighting, and viewing conditions – and the wider aesthetic and social freedoms symbolised by that control – made this a highly significant terrain. In an increasingly competitive and commercialised art world, artists reclaimed the studio as a place distinct both from the work of the interior decorator and from the interiority and contemplative quality conferred on it by northern European art. 

My book examines the studio environment from several angles. Firstly, I consider the consequences for artists of the volatile market for contemporary art between the Edwardian era and the Second World War. The varied uses which artists made of architecture – occupying and reconfiguring Victorian studios and commissioning new ones – show them coming to terms with the past and in the process inventing different modes of being modern. Many scholars looking at studio design have concentrated on architects rather than clients, and on formal and spatial innovation rather than function. Instead, I focus on the lived artistic environment, placing people in the buildings and looking at how they used them. Finally, I assess the changing relationship between artists and architects. The fin-de-siècle Arts and Crafts Movement had encouraged artists to work with architects and to develop an architectural imagination. However, within ten years the formalisation of training for architects threatened to isolate them and destroy this compact. My book asks what happened to their relationship in its aftermath. 

By scrutinising the physical surroundings of artistic life in twentieth-century Britain, I will demonstrate the ways in which architecture can articulate personal values, artistic affinities and professional aspirations, and in the process underline the importance of artists as patrons of architecture in the modern period.

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