Francis H. ('Fra') Newbery


Colour photograph of Painting by Maurice Greiffenhagen, 'Francis Newbery', c. 1913, oil on canvas

Francis (Fra) Henry Newbery (1855–1946) was an art educationist and painter, best known as the highly successful headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art from 1885 to 1917.

Newbery was born in Membury, Devon. The family moved around 1858 to nearby Bridport in Dorset, where he was educated; he qualified as a teacher, and trained as an art master at Bridport School of Art. From 1875 to 1881 he taught in London, at the same time taking classes at the National Art Training School at South Kensington. In 1885, at the age of 30, he was appointed headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art.

Newbery's leadership was enlightened and soon established the School as one of the leading institutions in Britain, with an international reputation. His innovations included the establishment of technical art studios in 1893; the appointment of artists as teachers, rather than the certified art masters approved by the Department of Science and Art; the appointment of talented women to the staff; the tireless promotion of the School, its students and work through exhibitions, lectures and publications; the nurturing of individual talent within the student body; and the campaign for a new building for the School, initiated in 1894.

Newbery was involved in the development of the brief for the new School of Art building and would have worked closely with Mackintosh during the two phases of building. 1 In 1902 he was appointed selector for the Scottish Section of the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art, Turin, for which he selected Mackintosh as architect. He was subsequently awarded the title 'Cavaliere Ufficiale dell' Ordine della Corona d'Italia'.

In 1901 the School severed its links with the London-based Department of Science and Art, and, under the Scottish education department, had control over its curriculum and increased funding. The teaching, especially in architecture, was reorganised on the continental 'Beaux-Arts' model. International appointments across the School included Paul Artot, Eugene Bourdon and Jean Delville. The teaching methods and work of the embroidery department, under the leadership of Jessie Newbery nee Rowat (1864–1948), whom he had married in 1889, and subsequently Annie French (1872–1975) made a major contribution to the Glasgow Style, and to teaching throughout the UK.

Newbery painted throughout his life, producing portraits of family and friends, including his two daughters, Elsie (b. 1890) and Mary (1892–1985). From 1909 to 1914 he painted a group portrait of the Governors of the School of Art, Mackintosh and himself. 2 He also produced figurative compositions, and landscape views, particularly of Suffolk. From 1883 to 1915, the Newberys holidayed regularly in Walberswick, where they were often joined by artist-friends including the Mackintoshes. 3

During the First World War, Newbery appears to have suffered a breakdown and he left the School in 1917. He retired to Corfe Castle, Dorset, where he worked on ambitious decorative schemes for Bridport town hall (1923–7) and the church of the Holy Ghost and St Edward, Swanage (1924–30). He subsequently moved to Bridport where he died in 1946.


1: The Glasgow School of Art archives contain extensive records related to Newbery's time in office.

2: The Glasgow School of Art: NMC 001; a preparatory oil study of Mackintosh is in National Galleries of Scotland: PG 1205.

3: Examples of Newbery's paintings can be viewed at BBC Your Paintings.