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The Black Artists’ Model

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


Artist’s model posing for a head modelling exercise at Dundee School of Art (courtesy of DC Thomson & Co Ltd)

On 13 November 1931, the Courier & Advertiser published a photo of students at Dundee School of Art (now Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design) working on a head modelling exercise in clay. Unusually, the model posing for the students was Black. The same man seems also to have sat as a model for one of the post-diploma Drawing & Painting students, Angus Sturrock. Sturrock was evidently fascinated by this model for he ended up making six paintings of him, all of which were exhibited at the end-of-year exhibition (the equivalent of today’s Degree Show) in June 1932. This promoted the Courier’s art critic to observe: “The negro is apparently a favourite with Mr Angus Sturrock, and one feels that six examples in one room is rather too many.” One wonders if he would have felt the same had the model been white! The reviewer was, however, drawn to one of the paintings, “for the facial expression is both reflective and haunting.”


Portrait study by Angus Sturrock from Dundee School of Art Prospectus, 1932 (courtesy of University of Dundee Archives)


Sturrock’s work evidently appealed to the Principal of the Art School, Francis Cooper, for he ended up reproducing one of the paintings (possibly the one that caught the critic’s eye) in the school prospectus, not just once but for several years thereafter. It was evidently considered to be an outstanding example of students’ work. Sturrock went on to be awarded a travelling scholarship and then taught at the Art College for many years.


Interestingly, Sturrock was not the only Dundee artist to use a Black model. In 1899, David Foggie created a series of life drawings while studying at the Antwerp Academy, two of which are now held in the University of Dundee Museum Collections. In the 1920s, the artist and poet Joseph Lee enrolled in evening classes at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he also drew a Black life model. And around the same time, Howard Somerville (born in Dundee but also based in London) painted at least three portraits of a Zulu man – these are now held in public collections in Blackpool, Gateshead and Oldham. All of these works reflect a European fascination with Africa and its culture, which developed in the late 19th century and reached a peak in the 1920s.



Life drawings by David Foggie and Joseph Lee (courtesy of University of Dundee Museums)

In all these cases, however, the artists’ models were not based in Dundee. Apart from the model who posed at Dundee School of Art, only one other Black subject is known to have featured in an artwork created in Dundee in the first half of the 20th century. In 1901, Duncan MacCallum exhibited a sketch called The Negro Minstrel at Fraser’s Fine Art Saloon in Bell Street. It was singled out for special mention by the Evening Post’s art critic, but the model is unknown. Not long before, however, J P Calverto’s Anglo-American Minstrels had come to Dundee to perform at the Gilfillan Hall from December 1899 to January 1900. It was advertised in the press as featuring “Real Live Negroes”, so it seems likely that MacCallum based his drawing on one of these visiting performers.


Sadly, the identity of Sturrock’s model is also unknown. Was he one of Dundee’s first Black residents? Or was he simply a visiting sailor, earning some extra cash while his ship was berthed in the harbour? Frustratingly, we will probably never know. The paintings also, are currently untraced, so if anyone can shed any light on their whereabouts or indeed the identity of this unusual artist’s model, please let us know!


Written by Matthew Jarron, University of Dundee Museums


Sources:

Dundee Courier29/12/1899, 13/11/1931 & 23/6/1932

Evening Post 16/11/1901

Art UK website

University of Dundee Museums online database at museumsearch.dundee.ac.uk

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