Edward Steel Harper, RBSA (1878-1951) The work of the Birmingham artist, Edward Steel Harper, possesses a distinctive quality that combines late Pre-Raphaelitism with something more modern. Though very little has been written about his life and works, Edward Steel Harper is known as a landscape painter in oil. He produced work that possesses a distinctive quality that combines late Pre-Raphaelitism with something more modern.
Edward Steel Harper was born in Handsworth, Birmingham on 11 June 1878, living much of his life at 55 Moorpool Avenue, in the Birmingham suburb of Harborne.
Harper was the eldest of three children, all of whom became professional artists following family tradition. He was the son of Edward Samuel Harper (1854-1941), a portrait, figure and genre painter, who had a significant role in the artistic life of Birmingham. He was Honorary Secretary and Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA), Director of the Life Academy at Birmingham School of Art (1880-1919) and Art Critic for the Birmingham Post.
Harper was educated locally at King Edward VI High School and studied at Birmingham School of Art. The origins of this institution lie with the RBSA, which founded this nationally significant government school in 1843.
E R Taylor, who was a notably active headmaster from 1877 to 1903, later transformed the school to form the United Kingdom’s first municipal college of art. The increased freedom that municipalisation entailed permitted the school to challenge centralised strategies of teaching methods, style and content, and to construct in part an alternative Arts and Crafts movement, working with physical materials.
His landscapes in oil show that Harper experimented with the ‘wet white’ technique, a method established by the Pre-Raphaelite painters where white flake is spread with a palette knife onto canvas and colour subsequently applied with sable brushes. Later in his career he became a skilled craftsman in both wood and metal. Each piece of his work is signed with a delicate monogram incorporating a harp, in part to distinguish himself from his father, who shared the same initials.
Elected member of the RBSA in 1915, Harper later became Art Master of Wolverhampton Grammar School where he remained for many years, retiring in 1942. He was known to have produced 2000 pictures during his lifetime. His principal works include The Breath of Spring and Woods by the Shore, both of which were exhibited at the RBSA and were bought directly by Birmingham Art Gallery. It is suggested that he exhibited from 1920 to 1937, at a number of leading venues, including the Royal Academy, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, as well as the RBSA.
Edward Steel Harper died on the 5 April 1951.
His work is represented in the collections of numerous public collections, including Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.