William Harbutt

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William Harbutt (13 February 1844 – 1 June 1921) was a painter and the inventor of Plasticine.

Born in North Shields, England, Harbutt studied at the National Art Training School in London, and eventually became an associate of the Royal College of Art. He was headmaster of the Bath School of Art and Design from 1874 to 1877, and then opened his own art school at The Paragon Art Studio, 15 Bladud Buildings,[1] Bath with his wife Elizabeth (Bessie), a well-known miniature portrait artist who exhibited works at the Royal Academy of Art and the Chicago World's Fair, and in 1887 was commissioned by Queen Victoria to produce portraits of herself and her late husband Prince Albert.

Harbutt invented Plasticine around 1897 as a non-drying modelling clay for use by his students. At the time he was living in Hartley House, Alfred Street, Bath; later moving to The Grange, High Street, Bathampton. In 1899 Harbutt was awarded a trade mark, and in 1900 a factory was set up at nearby Bathampton to manufacture the product for commercial sale. Harbutt travelled widely to promote the product, and his theories about the teaching of art by allowing children free expression. He died of pneumonia while on a trip to New York in 1921.

Harbutt was also a councillor on Bath rural district council and Bathampton parish council. He and Bessie had seven children, six of whom survived infancy and worked in the family business. The Harbutt company, owned and run by Harbutt's descendants, continued to manufacture Plasticine in Bathampton until 1983.


The Paradise in Plasticine garden, a creation of journalist and presenter James May displayed at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show included a bust of Harbutt sculpted by Jane McAdam Freud.[2]


  1. ^ "Post office Bath Directory". Page 125 Harbutt William-artist and teacher-The Paragon Art Studio. Historical Directories. 1884–5. Retrieved 15 November 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Paradise in Plasticine