Strang, William

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Strang, William

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Strang was a visitor to GSA classes and an external assessor and examiner in the late 19th-early 20th century.
Strang, William (1859–1921), painter and printmaker, was born at Dumbarton, on 13 February 1859, the younger of the two sons of Peter Strang, a builder, of Dumbarton, and his wife, Janet Denny. He attended Dumbarton Academy and entered the Slade School of Art at the age of seventeen. He was to remain in London for the rest of his life. In 1875 Alphonse Legros succeeded Edward Poynter as Slade professor of fine art at University College, London, and his influence was to be deep and lasting on Strang's art. Under Legros, Strang took up etching and, although he continued to paint, printmaking dominated his œuvre until the turn of the century. It was as an etcher of imaginative compositions, in which homeliness and realism, often imbued with a macabre or fantastic element, were subdued to fine design and severe drawing, that he first made a name. He signed his prints ‘W Strang’. The illustrations to Death and the Ploughman's Wife (1888) and The Earth Fiend (1892), two ballads written by himself, and those to The Pilgrim's Progress (1885) contain some of the best of his earlier etchings. Strang's strong personal interest in social issues grew alongside the rapid development of organized socialism in the 1880s and 1890s. His print The Socialists (1891) shows the artist among the people, listening intently to the impassioned orator. His membership of the Art-Workers' Guild in 1895 and close association with C. R. Ashbee and the Essex House Press established his commitment within its natural artistic and professional context. In 1885 he married Agnes McSymon, the daughter of David Rogerson JP, provost of Dumbarton; they had four sons (two of whom, Ian and David, were also printmakers) and one daughter. Among Strang's numerous single plates the portraits are especially good, though these were to be surpassed as the artist acquired more confident mastery and a broader style, tending to exchange the use of acid for dry point or mezzotint. The best of the later portraits are masterpieces of their kind. Among later sets of etchings are the illustrations to The Ancient Mariner (1896), Kipling's Short Stories (1900), and Don Quixote (1902). A catalogue of Strang's etched work, published in 1906, with supplements (1912 and 1923), contains small reproductions of all his plates, 747 altogether. He designed and cut one of the largest woodcuts ever made, The Plough, which measures almost 5 by 6 feet. The impression in the Victoria and Albert Museum is dated 1899 and was published and sold by the Art for Schools Association, Bloomsbury. During the latter part of his life Strang etched less and painted more, and much of his time was given also to portrait drawings executed in a style founded on the Holbein drawings at Windsor. He undertook a great number of these, and his sitters, many of the most distinguished people of his time, included Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1908), Lord Kitchener (1910), the young Edward, prince of Wales (1909), and Thomas Hardy; his etching of the novelist became in the late twentieth century something of an icon. As a painter Strang experimented in many styles, but at his best was highly original. Bank Holiday (1912), in the Tate collection, and the Portrait of a Lady (Vita Sackville-West, 1918), at Glasgow, are good examples of his clean, bright colour and rigorous drawing. The Tate collection also holds two self-portraits (1912, 1919) and one landscape. The British Museum has 136 of the etchings, and an important collection of Strang's graphic work is in the Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Strang was elected ARA in 1906, RA (as an engraver) in 1921, and president of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers in 1918. He was of medium height and strongly built. Outspoken and combative in argument, he delighted in good company, conversation, and fun. He often travelled on the continent, and visited the United States. He produced many self-portraits, etched, drawn, and painted, in a variety of guises. He died suddenly of heart failure at the Brinklea Private Hotel, Bournemouth, on 12 April 1921. Strang has suffered for being ‘unclassifiable’ in the history of early twentieth-century British art. An exhibition of his work, held in 1981 in Sheffield, Glasgow, and the National Portrait Gallery, went some way to re-establish the reputation of this most singular of image makers. He was an artist who combined a febrile imagination with formidable technical ability and a penetrating eye with a mordant wit, perhaps most clearly evident in his Bal Suzette (1913).


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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2007:, accessed 16 July 2014

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Biographical History Author: Laurence Binyon, rev. Anne L. Goodchild

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