Corporation%20street %20joseph%20edward%20southall%20crop
23 Oct 2019

Volunteer Selection:
Corporation Street, Joseph E. Southall

Hello everyone, this is my second choice of artwork for my monthly blogs and another favourite.

I climb the steps from the Chamberlain Square entrance to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and breathless after 40 or more steps I am face to face with a fabulous fresco. It covers an area roughly 280 x 165 cms and is a long-arched rectangle. I read below the panel that this piece records “a lost time of peace, before the world was changed forever”. A sad record by Edward Southall who was a pacifist Quaker, starting this in 1914 and completing it in the winter of 1915-16. He was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement and leader of the Birmingham Group of Artists, having studied at the Birmingham School of Art (across the road from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery).

Corporation Street by Joseph Edward Southall

Joseph Edward Southall was a keen art revivalist working on this wall in the medieval style using egg tempera. The idea of this blows me away because the base paint used must be water soluble and mixed with egg yolk, so no oil or acrylic paint here. The egg yolk is fast drying and has to be applied to wet plaster directly onto the wall as a Renaissance artist would have done. The finished colours are really subtle, lovely and opaque. I really admire an artist who can paint directly onto wet plaster, not only with accuracy but producing such an arresting and charming image. It has been a magical picture for me ever since I was a little girl. A colleague said it was her abiding memory as a 13 year old and something she still looked forward to seeing.

There is so much to admire in the picture. It records new buildings in the background. Corporation Street had been rebuilt after slum clearance. It was a newly fashionable street of shops, offices and hotels. We see here people known to Southall and he records the image of the original Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery Keeper, Sir Whitworth Wallis. He is the man wearing a shiny top hat. Other figures are friends and family, apart from the flower seller. Her plain brown clothing and boots contrasting with the fashionably dressed women shoppers. One of the women, each of whom wears a hat, carries a little dog which looks to be a papillon, very fashionable today too. The little girl carries a skipping rope and wears buttoned gaiters (leg warmers), which I thought looked very desirable, as a child.

This fresco greets the visitor giving a warm impression of more delights inside the galleries. You will be pleased to find that you can buy a postcard of it in the shop.