Ridley, Edward (1883-1946)

Ridley, Edward (1883-1946)

Edward Ridley’s artistic endeavours stretched across many different mediums and modes. Nothing seemed too much for him, and his influence on his hometown of Birmingham, as well as across Britain as a whole, has left a large legacy.

Whilst unfortunately very little is known about Ridley’s early life and education, it seems clear he was tutored in many talents. In his younger years, he exhibited both paintings and designs for stained glass. It is possible that he was a pupil at the Birmingham School of Art, established in the 19th century for the encouragement of artistic endeavour in local people. He won a gold medal from the institution for his design for a stained-glass window. The judges hailed it as an example of ‘good draughtsmanship and inventive design,’ and complimented his expression of ‘human character.’

Indeed, human character was seemingly something Ridley found a great affinity for in his art. His paintings display, predominantly, scenes of rural life in his West Midlands surroundings. Here, he shows country folk, such a labourer, working hard in the fields. His skin is bathed in the sun, casting it in a pinkish hue. His eyes are shaded, and the dynamic difference Ridley creates using shadow and shade highlights each cragged, crinkled line in the man’s skin. He looks directly at the viewer, and there is something genuine in his gaze, natural and organic. Ridley has captured this man in a moment of action, a brief blink of the eye. He was praised for his ‘real insight’ in capturing mere moments, and critics often appreciated the country settings of his works, finding them a reprieve from the many artists who were keen to depict the ‘problems, novelties, and echoes of the war.’

There are, regrettably, not many examples of Ridley’s art. He was engaged for most of this time in the worthy endeavour of arts education. Ridley was employed as an ‘Art Master’ at the Birmingham School of Art, the same institution from which he may have received his training. It is also possible he worked for a time with Cheltenham Ladies’ College and the Central School of Art in London.

However, it was to Birmingham Ridley devoted the great majority of his attention. Indeed, he was an innovator, not content to simply go with the flow of the institutions’ teaching. He shaped it anew, brought about a new artistic school: the Birmingham School of Dress Design.

What started as the foundation of a new department within the Birmingham School of Art had bloomed within seven years into a large enough school to require its establishment as its own institution. Ridley took, on average, 70 students per year, on a three-year course. He taught all manner of dress design, enabling his students to be able to find employment in all areas of fashion once they had graduated.

Interestingly, Ridley’s art experience became an extremely handy tool in the education of his students. He was determined that students should first learn to sketch and depict their garments upon the paper. Just like an artist might, they would study ‘figure drawing in the life classes’ to refine their designs’ relationship with the human body. Furthermore, he required students to consider, as an artist might, ‘the effect of light upon colour,’ how differing light might affect the look of a fabric and the overall finished garment.

Ridley was an open and encouraging force. ‘Anyone who wishes can learn to draw,’ he would tell a local newspaper. But he also held close the artistic stalwart of passion in the craft, of creating something because the creator needs to: ‘I emphasise the word “wishes” because the desire to draw must be there in the first place.’ Ridley’s artistic training was coming into full force in his educating of his students.

The school ran successfully, even during the war when rations on fabrics were in place. Ridley became much celebrated nationally, for he had established the first separate fashion school in the country. Locally, too, his artistic contributions were recognised. Ridley was a member of Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and served on the Birmingham Education Committee. It also seems he was the art critic, for a time, for the Birmingham Mail.

Ridley was an artist with such skill to spread his wings over numerous mediums, and generous enough to devote his life to the teaching of others. His impact upon the British fashion scene was immense, and he is a pioneer of the many fashion courses which are now offered in institutions both across Birmingham and Britain.


Born in Birmingham, Britain.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Married Elizabeth Davies.


Became a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.


Died in Beddgelert, Wales.

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