BELFAST

(Provincial Societies and Schools of Art)

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

In 1836 was formed The Belfast Association of Artists. Its members were: Hugh Frazer, President; Samuel Hawksett, Treasurer; N. J. Crowley, Andrew Nicholl, Robert Warrington, J. W. Millar, Henry MacManus, W. Henry Maguire, John F. Jackson, W. C. Nixon; and Honorary Members: Martin Cregan, Gaetano Fabbrini, Thomas Kirk, Patrick MacDowell and Henry Bell. The first exhibition of paintings, sculpture and architectural designs by the members of the Society was held on the 6th September, 1836, in the Museum, College Square, North. No records have been found of further exhibitions; but the Society does not seem to have prospered, and after an existence of six years was replaced by The Fine Arts Society, established in 1843 for the advancement of the Fine Arts in Belfast. The members met at intervals, when papers on art subjects were read, and the members submitted their works for inspection and criticism. Several exhibitions were held under the Society's auspices. In 1852, under the presidency of Lord Dufferin, 224 works by Irish and British artists were shown in the Commercial Buildings in Waring Street; another exhibition, consisting of 334 works, was held in 1854, and the final exhibition of the Society was held in Donegal Place in 1859, when 402 works were shown. In 1891 the Belfast Art Society became fused with another Society, The Belfast Ramblers' Sketching Club, and continued to hold exhibitions.

In 1849 was projected The Belfast School of Design, primarily intended for rendering the linen and damask manufacturers independent of other countries for their designs and patterns. The School was opened in 1850 in rooms rented from the Academical Institution, with Claude L. Nursey, who had previously been master in the Leeds and Bradford schools, as head master, and with David Raimbach as second master. The Government Inspector's report upon the School in 1850 says: "The School at Belfast has opened under most favourable circumstances. The students on the books amount to 148, 133 males and 15 females. Of the male pupils seven are entered as designers for sewed muslins and six as designers of damask. The latter are all established designers, and their adhesion to the School may be taken as an important promise of its success. Eleven of the pupils are entered as engravers, and of these several are draughtsmen and designers for the paper bands and envelopes used in tying up rolls of linen. The value attached to these ornaments in preparing the packets of linen for the foreign markets, the decoration which is lavished upon them, the taste and care with which it is thought necessary to get them up, and the extent to which they are imported into Belfast from London and Paris, render them no unimportant article of trade.

In the year 1847, when the establishment of the School of Design in Belfast was first taken into consideration, one stationer at Belfast had made a beginning in the manufacture of these articles, and had a press at work embossing them. The same stationer has now nine presses at work, and others of the trade have taken up the business. Most of the bands yet made are of an inferior sort, but there are attempts to improve the quality; some are taking the place of the more simple French patterns and the sale is increasing. The establishment of the School has been happily timed for the encouragement of a branch of trade so favourable to the development of artistic skill, and there is every prospect that by the help of the School the "linen bands" will become a home manufacture, and secure to the town of Belfast an annual expenditure."

Although Nursey displayed great zeal and powers of organization in the management of the School it failed to attract sufficient support, and on the withdrawal of the Government subsidy it was closed in 1855 after an existence of five years.

In 1870 the Government established a School of Design in connection with South Kensington, which was carried on successfully for thirty-six years. T. Lindsay, afterwards head master of the Rugby School of Art, and George Trobridge, were masters. After the passing of the "Agriculture and Technical Instruction Act" in 1899 the Corporation of Belfast decided to avail themselves of its provisions, and in 1901 the School was taken over by the Corporation and made a department of the Municipal Technical Institute, and a fine new building was erected which was completed in 1906.

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