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Joseph Edward Southall | Arts and Craft Movement



Joseph Edward Southall [1861-1944] was an British painter associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. A leading figure in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century revival of painting in tempera, Southall was the leader of the Birmingham Group of Artist-Craftsmen, one of the last outposts of Romanticism in the visual arts, and an important link between the later Pre-Raphaelites and the turn of the century Slade Symbolists.

Southall painted a variety of subjects during his career, including mythological, romantic, and religious subjects, portraits and landscapes. He was known for his mastery of the colour red, the clean and clear light in his works, and for his paintings on the theme of Beauty and the Beast.
Southall's choice of medium was heavily informed by his Arts and Crafts belief that the physical act of creation was as important as the act of design. Aesthetically egg tempera provided the luminescence and jewel-like quality that had been so sought after by the Pre-Raphaelites, but it also gave him the opportunity to fashion his own materials by hand. To obtain the egg yolks required he even kept his own chickens.
Although Southall also painted in a variety of other laborious media, lack of patronage limited his work in fresco - the medium he personally found most interesting. His best known fresco Corporation Street Birmingham in March 1914, painted for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, was described by William Rothenstein as "perhaps the most perfect painted in the last three centuries".
In common with other Birmingham Group members Southall also practiced a variety of crafts besides painting, including murals, furniture decoration, lacework, book illustration and engravings. Many of his paintings have frames featuring decorative work by his wife or other Birmingham Group figures such as Georgie Gaskin or Charles Gere - such decoration was considered integral to the work of art.