Of the three schools which have dominated the teaching of painting and sculpture in England during the past century -- the Royal Academy Schools, the Royal College of Art and the Slade -the latter has maintained the most consistently liberal reputation. The history of the recovery of British art from its nadir in the nineteenth century is, in some measure, the history of the students of the Slade. Among those who have passed through the School are D. S. MacColl, Sickert, William Rothenstein, Augustus John, Gwen John, Ethel Walker, Wyndham Lewis, Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, and Paul Nash. Felix Slade, who died in 1868, in addition to leaving his own collections to the nation, founded three chairs of fine art at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London. His further endowment of six scholarships to University College, London, led to the founding of the School of Art which opened in 1871 -- one of the first in the world to be established within a university.
Sir Edward Poynter, the first Slade Professor, friend of Courbet and Manet, sounded the note of reform at the outset by introducing students to the living model without delay and deploring the meretricious finish demanded by the academic conventions of the day. He was succeeded five years later by Alphonse Legros, who had settled in England some years earlier at the suggestion of Whistler. Through his contacts with the leading impressionists, Legros brought to the Slade a knowledge of contemporary French painting which was to affect it whole generation of students. The Professorship passed, in 1892, to Frederick Brown, who appointed Henry Tonks and Wilson Steer among the teachers; in 1919 to Tonks himself; in 1930 to Randolph Schwabe; in 1949 to William Coldstream.
Today the School has some two hundred whole-time students and thirty part-time. Admission is by competitive examination, and most students follow the three-year course leading to the University of London Diploma in Fine Art. Painting, sculpture, graphic and stage design are taught, and emphasis is given, as it always has been, to the history of art. D. S. MacColl, Roger Fry, Tancred Borenius and R. Wittkower have held lectureships or professorships in the history of art, and the school has close ties with the Courtauld Institute of Art.