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Royal College of Art Sketch Club Collection

Call Number: MSS 54

Scope and Contents

The collection includes 79 letters and postcards, and 11 draft letters, pertaining to the Royal College of Art Students' Group, or Sketch Club, written between 1934 and 1937. The letters concern the logistics of the group's annual exhibition, held at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The correspondence consists primarily of replies to solicitations written by secretaries of the RCA. In the replies, the authors--typically individuals involved in fine art, art and literary criticism, and museums--discuss their willingness to attend the show, or to sponsor and judge prizes for different categories of artistic production.

The letters offer insight into the various media used by students at the RCA and those valued by their correspondents, and into the continuing involvement of some of the figures with artistic education. Types of prizes mentioned include those in set design, theatrical costume, painting, embroidery, notebook sketches, posters, and ceramics. Some of the correspondents also express their enthusiasm for the RCA, such as painter and author Wyndham Lewis, while others express thoughts related to artistic practice, such as theater director Nugent Monck, who stresses the importance of responding to commissions. Most letters address the logistical details of funding and judging prizes.


  • 1934-1937


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund


The letters are arranged alphabetically, by the name of letter authors.


.42 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection includes the correspondence of and with various secretaries of the Royal College of Art (RCA) Students’ Group, or Sketch Club, and contains 79 letters and postcards and 11 draft letters, written between 1934 and 1937. The materials focus primarily on the group’s annual exhibition, and discuss the facilities, invite prominent figures, and solicit donations and judges for special prizes. The letters’ authors include, in addition to the groups’ secretaries, several notable artistic and literary figures in 1930s England, such as Wyndham Lewis, Kenneth Clark, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, and John Gielglud.

Biographical / Historical

The Government School of Design, predecessor to the Royal College of Art, was founded in 1837. Its goal, in its earliest years, was to train students in techniques vital to improving industrial and everyday products in England; this mission would evolve in various ways under ensuing directors, and per the demands of the students themselves. By 1896, when the school was renamed the Royal College of Art, the school had assimilated the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement and embraced a broader vision of art and design.

During the first few decades of the twentieth century, new leadership brought ever more shifts in the mission of the RCA. The painter William Rothenstein became Principal in 1920 and began to shift the school's emphasis towards the study of fine art, and the training of designers, rather than teachers. In the words of sculptor Henry Moore: “he changed the college completely.” In 1935, painter Percy Jowett succeeded Rothenstein as head of the RCA, continuing an approach more interested in the cultivation of new artistic styles and methods, rather than preserving traditional techniques. It was under the post-war reorganization of Robin Darwin, however, that the RCA fully embraced fine art and became a driving force in British post-war art.

During the 1930s, The Royal College of Art Students' Group, or Sketch Club, held annual exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum, displaying students' work and awarding prizes for different genres and themes. The secretaries of the group included Frank B. Mason; J. Anthony Denney, later a fashion photographer for British Vogue; Margaret Kaye, an artist who worked in textiles and stained-glass; and Evelyn Hunt, a painter.


  1. Cunliffe-Charlesworth, Hilary. “The Royal College of Art: Its Influence on Education, Art, and Design, 1900-1950.” Dissertation, Sheffield City Polytechnic, 1991.
  2. Frayling, Christopher. Art and Design: 100 years at the Royal College of Art. London: Collins & Brown, 1999.
  3. Frayling, Christopher, and Claire Catterall, eds. Design of the Times: One Hundred Years of the Royal College of Art. Somerset: Richard Dennis Publications, 1996.
  4. McDowell, Felice. “The Influence of Anthony Denney”: Authorship in the Production and Consumption of British Fashion Media in the Late 1950s.” Photography and Culture 8.3 (November 2015): 253-267.
  5. Royal College of Art. The Perfect Place to Grow: 175 Years of the Royal College of Art. London: Royal College of Art, 2012.
  6. Thorp, Juliet. “Darwin’s Dream: The Significance of Painting and Its Collection at the Royal College of Art, 1948-1998.” Master’s Thesis, The Royal College of Art, 2012.
  7. Windsor, Alan. “Margaret Kaye.” The Independent, March 26, 2002.
Guide to the Royal College of Art Sketch Club Collection
compiled by Lewis West; edited by Francis Lapka
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

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