Women's History Month: focus on Marion Richardson

Which artist does this highly expressive abstract painting remind you of? Kandinsky perhaps? In fact it was produced by a schoolgirl aged between 12 and 15 who attended Dudley Girls' School in the second decade of the twentieth century. She would have been taught by Marion Richardson (1892-1946), an influential art teacher and pioneer of the child art movement.

Marion studied at Birmingham School of Art before taking up her first job as art mistress at Dudley Girls' High School in 1912. There she developed methods of teaching art that were far removed from the traditional emphasis on copying and technical skill. Instead, she aimed to arouse children’s visual awareness, to encourage self-expression and to enable pupils to evaluate their own work. Her pupils would sit with closed eyes, perhaps listening to a description, and waited for images to appear in ‘the mind’s eye’. This resulted in vibrant, colourful paintings that contrasted starkly with more traditional pencil drawings. 

In 1917, Marion met the art critic Roger Fry at the Omega Galleries in London. Impressed by the portfolio of works by her pupils that she showed him, he included some of them in his exhibition of children's art, thus bringing her to public attention. Marion's exhibition of her pupils’ work at the Independent Galleries in London (1923-24) attracted considerable press interest, with Vogue nominating her for its Hall of Fame in January 1924. Such publicity created an increasing demand for her pupils’ work to be exhibited across the country and for Marion to give an extensive number of lectures to organisations and societies. In 1934, she toured Canada at the invitation of the Carnegie Trust, giving lectures for the public, teachers and university audiences. 

 Why not pop down to the Archives to find out more about her life and work?