Reginald Brill 1902-1974

Reginald " Reggie" Brill was a versastile 20th century artist and teacher.


Brill was born in London in 1902 and spent his early childhood there and in Yorkshire. By the time of the First World War, at the age of 13, he was living in lodgings in London, working in a City office and attending St Martins School of Art in the evenings. Considering his lack of education, winning a scholarship to The Slade (now part of University College London) in 1921 where he studied under Henry Tonks for three years, was a huge achievement. 


On leaving The Slade he found patronage in Lincolnshire, but by the time of the General Strike (1926) he had returned to London and was working on Lansbury's Labour Weekly. He married Rosalie, also an artist, and in 1927 won the Prix de Rome in Decorative Painting. Following two years at The British School in Rome, Brill went to teach at Blackheath School of Art. During 1930 he spent three months painting in Egypt and it was there that he met Col. T G Gayer-Anderson, one of the twin brothers who were to bequeath The Little Hall in Lavenham as a hostel for art students. It was there that Brill retired to act as warden, thus continuing his nurturing of art students until his death in 1972.


Brill took up his appointment at The School of Art, Kingston upon Thames in January 1934. It was situated in the Technical Institute (Kingston Hall Road) and Brill found it bohemian and disorganised. He proceeded to inject enthusiasm, order and discipline. Within 5 years of his appointment a purpose-built School of Art was opened in Knights Park. It remained open throughout the war and by 1945 there was a waiting list for places. Under the skilled and totally dedicated direction of Brill, Kingston School of Art became established with national reputation for excellence. In 1961 Sir Charles Wheeler opened the new building at Knights Park. Costing £100,000, this more than doubled the size of the Art School.


Brill, was a well-known figure in Kingston. His eloquence made him popular as a guest speaker and his promotion of Art and Design stretched well beyond the doors of Knights Park. Apart from establishing two of the main buildings which makeup what is now known as the Faculty of Design, one of the most visible local contributions he made was the setting up of a topographical collection of paintings depicting Kingston, which has since become known as The Brill Collection at Kingston Museum. Brill gained huge respect and admiration from the hundreds of pupils who studied at Kingston during his 30-year leadership.


He published two books, Modern Painting 1946 and Art as a Career 1962, both bearing a strong educational angle. He regularly exhibited along with leading artists of his era at The Royal Academy, both his paintings and his acutely observed drawings. All the while he was a prolific artist, although reading his diaries, intensely self-critical. His perfectionism, acute powers of observation and relentless research can be seen in his drawings, which via the media and methods he explored throughout his life reflect mid 20th century British Art at its most typical. His major series of work, known as 'The Martyrdom of Man', was carried on in parallel to his career as a teacher. These paintings reflect his care for fellow man and depict people at work, e.g., The Operation, The Jury, Linemen, Waiting Room and Rest, which recently sold at Sotheby’s and was specially restored for The Brill Retrospective. His smaller works also play with the theme of everyday events and communication amongst people, such as The Bull Ring and Market Place paintings.


Brill's name is associated particularly with human figure compositions, but he also worked on landscapes, portraits and details of plants, animals, interiors etc. As one would expect he moved from one media to another, and his unusual hand painted and cut paper mosaics are beautifully designed and worked. The Englishness of his work, with its narrative theme and the emphasis on people in their environment, combined with his interest and concern in human behaviour results in a legacy of excellence as yet unexploited.