The City and Guilds of London Art School was founded in 1854. It was known as Lambeth School of Art and was based in Black Prince Road and St Oswald's Place. In 1879 the School was taken over by the City and Guilds of London Institute and acquired its current Kennington Park Road premises, becoming known as the South London School of Technical Art. In 1937 it changed its name to the current City and Guilds of London Art School.
In its early years the Art School's teachers and students worked closely with industrialists, particularly Henry Doulton, seeking to combine artistic creativity with manufacturing processes. Students and teachers became instrumental in both the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau. After the Second World War the Restoration and Carving courses were established to train for the restoration of London's damaged architecture.
During the 1960s the Art School became more of a distinctly fine art institution, and in 1971 ceased to be dependent on its industrial subscribers, becoming an independent charitable trust. In 1997 and 1998 the Fine Art Painting, Sculpture and Conservation courses were validated at undergraduate B.A.(Hons) level. In 2000 the M.A. course in Fine Art was validated by the University of Central England (now Birmingham City University).
Visiting Lecturers have included: Norman Rosenthal, Basil Beattie, Paul Winstanley, Andrew Mummery, Alexis Harding, Gordon Cheung, Colin Smith, David Kefford, Anne Hardy, Tom Godfrey, Lucy Williams, Zavier Ellis, Max Attenborough, Chris Davies, Will Turner, Paul Becker, Francesca Lowe, Helen Sumpter, Nick Hackworth, Jonathan Wateridge, Neil Rumming, and Christian Ward.
In a 2008 letter to the Observer newspaper and Art Monthly by Graham Crowley (former Professor of the Royal College of Art) the City & Guilds Fine Art Department was singled out for its ‘magnificent job’ in ‘maintaining the transformative power and joy of education through art’.
In 2009 Booker Prize shortlisted writer Tibor Fischer became the RLF writing fellow at City and Guilds.
In April 2011 Modern Painters (magazine) surveyed art world professionals to create a list of the top 10 UK art schools which ranked them: 1. Royal College of Art, 2. Royal Academy Schools, 3. City and Guilds of London Art School, 4. Slade School of Art, 5. Goldsmiths College, University of London, 6. Glasgow School of Fine Art, 7. Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, 8. Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, 9. Edinburgh College of Art and 10. Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London.
In September 2011 alongside Art Below the school carried out the "Art Lift" project the works of sixteen MA students were displayed in the lifts of Kennington underground, coinciding with the "Cleaver Square-based school's fine art show" and the Kennington Station near the event.
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