The BSR Photographic Archive contains photographs of the sculptures and studies made by John Skeaping (1901-1980). The images include a bust of Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and some self-portraits, as well as models and sketches of works in progress. The collection also holds correspondence and administrative documentation which detail some of what was valued in sculptural and artistic practice and education from the 1920s until after the Second World War. Several detailed letters to the BSR’s administrators reveal Skeaping’s process and reflections on his residency, detailing how he learnt and developed his practice whilst in Italy. Some of the correspondence reports on, negotiates and explains the reasons for the different processes he was adopting. They also reference his desire to make trips out of Rome to places such as Florence, as well as what had helped him to move on and become productive and informed.
Skeaping’s request that he spend more time traveling and seeing art outside of the confines of the School and Rome were met with a reply from the BSR’s Honorary General Secretary, Evelyn Shaw. Shaw maintained that the BSR’s overseeing administrators would want to see students working at the School during their visits. These letters reveal some of the tensions and conflicting values between the students and the administration. Nevertheless, Skeaping did spend time in Florence, Siena, and elsewhere; his later letters to the BSR report on his time visiting museums, his sketches and studies of architecture, and the plans for his works. He mentions how he would like his work to be returned to England, and briefly talks about his marriage to Barbara Hepworth (which has “in no way impeded my course of study”). A Directors’ report, as well as Skeaping’s own re-application requests, detail the work that Skeaping did during his scholarship, listing his plans, studies and complete and incomplete pieces.
There is also an informative report Skeaping made after re-visiting the BSR in 1949. In it he made recommendations for how to create a good environment for emerging sculptors visiting Italy from Britain. This report tells us something of Skeaping’s time at the School in the 1920s, and what he felt would be conducive for students of art. Alongside training, he recommended that the BSR be more receptive to new ideas and intercultural exchange. He also noted what had changed in the period, and “the vital and happy co-operation which exists between all students and the Director”, which “is in contrast to the time of my studentship at the school some twenty years ago”.
After speaking with those in residence at the BSR, Skeaping reported that the main weakness of art students at the BSR was their lack of Italian which prevented them from conversing and interacting outside the School. He also noted the importance of art history tutelage and recommended that they resist the temptation to simply continue their previous practice or produce work straight away without absorbing the influences around them.
He stressed the importance for students to learn from the art and culture of Italy, and also made recommendations on materials and facilities: marble is expensive and should be funded, while “direct terra-cottas (not squeezes or casts)” should be encouraged so that the students “better appreciate the Etruscan terra-cottas in the museums that one of the chief treasures of the Roman district”. He noted, however, that the BSR “is still very badly equipped for sculpture”, and made recommendations for the purchase of new equipment.
The collection also contains news cuttings relating to Skeaping’s later activity, such as a review of his book written after a trip to Mexico in the 1950s, as well as his obituary in The Times (1980). The latter gives an overview of how his work was assessed at the end of his life.
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For a full bibliography and further reading, see here.