Brill, Reginald (1902-1974)
Born in London in 1902, Reginald Brill spent his early childhood there and in Yorkshire. Just after the beginning 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. Brill won a scholarship to The SLADE School in 1921, where he studied under the famous Henry Tonks for three years. Leaving The Slade School he found patronage in Lincolnshire painting Murals for Christopher Hatton-Turner for two years; by the time of the General Strike in 1926 he was in London, working on LANSBURY’S LABOUR WEEKLY.
He married Rosalie, also a painter, and in 1927 he won the much coveted PRIX de ROME in Decorative Painting. As a result of the liberal approach just initiated by the School of Rome’s Director,Professor Bernard Ashmole, who was appointed in 1925, wives were enabled to take up residence at the British School of Rome with their husbands. As a result Brill took Rosalie with him to stay at the British School. Otherwise they could not have afforded to live in Rome for two years. Following his stay at The British School of Rome, and his year in Egypt, Brill obtained a teaching post at Blackheath School of Art. During 1930 he spent three months painting in Egypt as the guest of the Egyptian Government. Whilst staying in Cairo he met Col.T.G.Gayer-Anderson, and his twin brother who, following many lengthy consultations with Brill in the next twenty years or so, bequeathed their English home,The Little Hall, Market Square, Lavenham, Suffolk as a Hostel for Art Students, to the Surrey County Council, owners of the Kingston School of Art. 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 was “bohemian and disorganised”. He proceeded to inject enthusiasm, order and discipline, and within 5 years of his appointment a new purpose built School of Art was opened in Knights Park. It stayed open throughout the war and by 1945 there was one of the longest waiting lists in England for places. Under the skilled and totally dedicated direction of Reginald Brill, the Kingston School of Art had established a National reputation for excellence, and Reginald Brill was the real driving force behind the ambitious expansion programme of the School during the nineteen fifties.
In 1961, The President of The Royal Academy, Sir Charles Wheeler opened the present new buildings at Knights Park. Costing £100.000,(in those days an enormous sum of money) this had more than doubled the size of the Kingston School of Art. Brill, or ‘Reggie’, 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 now known as the Faculty of Design, one of his most lasting creations was the establishment of a Topographical Collection depicting Kingston, now known as ‘The Brill Collection’ and housed at The Royal Borough’s Museum. Reginald Brill was hugely respected and admired by the hundreds of pupils who studied at Kingston during his 28 year leadership. He also published two books, MODERN PAINTING, 1946 and ART as a CAREER, 1962, both bearing a strong educational angle. He was a regular exhibitor of both his paintings, and his acutely observed drawings, along with leading artists of the day at THE ROYAL ACADEMY SUMMER EXHIBITIONS. Following his retirement to Lavenham, he spent ten happy years as Warden of The Little Hall, he was a regular exhibitor at Phoenix Gallery Lavenham, and he was lucky enough to have a large Retrospective Exhibition with them in 1974.
For further reading see “REGINALD BRILL” by Judith Bumpus – published May 1999 by Scolar Press in association with Kingston University.