Francis Henry Newbery, known as Fra. Newbery, was the Headmaster and Director of the Glasgow School of Art from 1885 to 1918. During that time the profile of the School was raised from that of a moderately successful institution to one an international reputation.
Newbery was born on 15 May 1855 in Membury, East Devon. He grew up in Dorset and studied as an Art Master in Bridport, before moving to London in 1875 to continue working as an Art Master there. In 1877 he started attending the National Art Training School at South Kensington where he was taught by Edward Poynter and other artists of the time. By 1885 he had taught in most of the School's classes and, at the age of 30, was appointed to the post of Headmaster of Glasgow School of Art.
His success at Glasgow School of Art was led by the acclaim and notoriety surrounding the work of designers and artists such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, Frances Macdonald, Herbert McNair, Jessie M. King and others working in the 1890s in Glasgow. It was most highly acclaimed at the Turin Exhibition of Decorative Art, 1902. Much of this success was due to Newbery who selected the work and chose Mackintosh to design the rooms for its display. For this work Newbery was awarded an Italian knighthood.
Newbery oversaw the erection of the new School building at 167 Renfrew Street. He had drawn up the brief, based on his own personal experience and the demanding Department of Science and Art specifications, and he appreciated Mackintosh's design for its practical interpretation. In favouring Mackintosh's plans, he was supported by the Governors of Glasgow School of Art and the official Department of Science and Art advisors.
Under the Scottish Education Department in 1901, Newbery devised his own curriculum which led to the award of a Diploma. The course was divided into four stages, which did not necessarily correspond to years - students were moved through at their own pace, some taking seven or eight years and others only three. Many were not ever awarded the Diploma.
Staff brought in by Newbery to teach at the School included, among others, the Belgian Symbolist painter Jean Delville, the English portraitist, Maurice Greiffenhagen, the French Adolphe Giraldon, the English Decorative artists W.E.F. Britten and Robert Anning Bell and, as Head of Architecture, the French architect Eugene Bourdon. There was also a strong core of Glasgow School of Art trained teachers including Jessie Newbery, Anne Macbeth, Dorothy Carleton Smyth, Olive Carleton Smyth, Allan D. Mainds, James Gray and de Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar.
Newbery inaugurated many schemes at the School including the Glasgow School of Art Club and the Artist Teachers' Exhibition Society, both of which encouraged exhibitions and competition within the School, and allowed present and former staff and students to meet. He invited leading figures in the art and design worlds to lecture at the School including Walter Crane, C.F.A. Voysey, William Morris and Lewis F. Day. He established good contacts with Glasgow University so that the students received lectures in anatomy, art history, philosophy and literature, beyond those available within the School.
Newbery exhibited with the Glasgow Boys, and had close ties to John Lavery, James Guthrie and E.A. Walton. His paintings were exhibited world-wide and he was particularly successful in Italy. From 1890, most of his holidays were spent in Walberswick, Suffolk, often in the company of other Scottish artists, such as Mackintosh and the young W.O. Hutchison.
In 1918 he was granted early retirement on medical grounds, and moved to Corfe Castle, Dorset where he continued to paint, mainly in the field of public art. He died at the age of ninety-one on 18 December 1946. Jessie Newbery died sixteen months later.