Royal Female School of Art

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Life class at the Royal Female School of Art, 1868

The Royal Female School of Art was a professional institution for the training of women in art and design. It was founded in 1842, as part of the Government School of Design, predecessor of the Royal College of Art. It initially offered classes to girls and women who expected to work for a living after training. However, by the 1870s fee-paying courses attended by middle-class women outnumbered the subsidised classes.[1]

The Female School of Design was moved in 1849 out of Somerset House, which until then accommodated both male and female classes, and remained in separate premises for the rest of its life, notably in Gower Street from 1852, then Queen Square from 1860. When Henry Cole took over management of the Schools of Design in 1852 he established more advanced and technical classes for women within the senior, central school, which moved to South Kensington in 1858.

Many of the students of the Female School of Design (now known as the Female School of Art) moved on to study there, and some of them returned, over the course of the 1850s, to the Female School of Art as teachers. Others were sent to head up the female branches of government art schools in Edinburgh (Susan Ashworth) and Dublin (Mary Julyan). In 1860 the Female School of Art was put on the same financial basis as other branch Schools of Design, resulting in a loss of public subsidy and necessitating a change of location and management while remaining affiliated to the national institution. These arrangements continued until 1909 when it was transferred to the control of London County Council, initially via the Central School of Art and Design (now part of the University of the Arts London), with which it was merged from 1914.[2]

The most well known superintendent was English artist Fanny McIan, who oversaw the first fifteen years of its life, retiring in 1857. She was succeeded by Louisa Gann, who had been trained in the Female School of Design, and who, with her team of teachers trained at South Kensington, managed the Female School of Art throughout its second phase of life between 1860 and 1909, combining tuition as a branch of South Kensington with an increasing amount of fine art tuition and gaining the title Royal Female School of Art in 1885. Art critic John Ruskin praised the work of several alumnae from this period for their skills including a "Miss Jay" and Eliza Turck. Other alumnae would continue their education at the Slade School of Fine Art. The reputation of the artists trained at the Royal Female School of Art was such that their works were sought after by the aristocracy including the Prince of Wales, the Prince of Saxe Weimar, the Prince of Lichtenstein and Queen Victoria.[3] In fact Queen Victoria insisted on buying The Roll Call by Elizabeth Thompson and it is still part of the Royal Collection.

Other names[edit]

References can be found to a number of names, including: School of Design for Females, Female School of Design, Gower Street School, Metropolitan School of Art for Females, Royal Female School of Art, Queen Square School of Art, Royal Female School of Art, Government School of Art for Ladies.[4]

Notable students and faculty[edit]

The Royal Female School of Art Foundation continues to work to support students accessing art education.[5]


  1. ^ Chalmers
  2. ^ UCL
  3. ^ Chalmers
  4. ^ UCL
  5. ^ "Trustees - Royal Female School of Art Foundation". 2019-09-15.


Further reading[edit]

  • Royal Female School of Art History [1]
  • "Chalmers", F. Graeme (1995). "Fanny McIan and London's Female School of Design, 1842-57: "My Lords and Gentlemen, Your Obedient and Humble Servant"?". Woman's Art Journal. 16 (2): 3–9. doi:10.2307/1358568