Randolph Schwabe was born on the 9th May 1885, at Alsbach House, Barton, Lancashire. Randolph was one of two sons, Eric being the eldest; of a Manchester cotton merchant Lawrence Schwabe, a cotton manufacturer whose father had emigrated from Germany in 1820, and his wife, Octavie Henriette.
Educated at a private school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and although not coming from a notably artistic family, Randolph Schwabe showed a remarkable talent for drawing from an early age. He could best be described as a precocious child
At fourteen he enrolled at the Royal College of Art, but spent a miserable time here, and in 1900 transferred to the Slade School of Fine Art, where he stayed for four and a half years. A Slade scholarship allowed him to study at the Academie Julien, Paris, 1906, where he studied under Jean Paul Laurens. Randolph then travelled and worked in Italy, spending time in both Rome and Florence. This visit laid the foundation of a profound knowledge of Italian art and architecture which was to be of immense value to him in later life. He exhibited with the New English Art Club from 1909, becoming a member in 1917. He was also a member of the London Group.
On 19 April 1913 Schwabe married Gwendolen Jones, daughter of Herbert Jones; and they had one daughter, Alice.
The Schwabes settled in an ancient and dilapidated house (now demolished) in 43A Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London. It was at this address that he was to later forge links with another artist with major Helensburgh associations: Charles Rennie Mackintosh. After the Mackintoshes were ordered to leave the Suffolk coastal town of Walberswick (suspicious locals believed them to be German Spies) they settled in Glebe Place in Chelsea. During this period the Mackintoshes became close friends with J D Ferguson, James Pryde and the Schwabes.
Unable to serve in the First World War owing to frail health, but having built a reputation as a talented draughtsman and etcher, Schwabe was appointed an official war artist. (A collection of his drawings of the Women’s Land Army at work are held in the Imperial War Museum).
After the war, Randolph began to teach at Camberwell and Westminster, and played an important part in the re- organization of the Royal College of Art, as teacher of drawing under Sir William Rothenstein.
In 1930 he succeeded Henry Tonks as Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College, London, and as principal of the Slade School of Fine Art; there, despite his long illness, he remained until his death (although George Charlton had assumed the actual running of the school as Randolph was living in Helensburgh by then). For 18 years he devoted himself unsparingly to the work of the School, both academic and administrative, showing himself in every way a worthy successor of the great men who had preceded him.
Randolph exhibited widely and his work is represented in numerous public and private collections. He collaborated with F.M.Kelly in Historic Costume (1925) and A Short History of Costume and Armour (1931), illustrated a number of other books, and made designs for some theatrical productions.
In 1941, Randolph’s daughter Alice married Harry Barnes (1915 -1982) later to become Sir Harry Jefferson Barnes Director, Glasgow School of Art. Harry had studied under Randolph at Slade and was Schwabe who recommended him for the post of Assistant Master in Painting and Drawing at Glasgow School of Art, which he became in January 1944. Sir Harry also sat on the committee of the Helensburgh and District Art Club.
In his time at the Slade, Schwabe’s students included: Kenneth Armitage, Patrick Heron, Terence Cuneo, Adrian Heath, Edouardo Paolozzi and Kyffin Williams. Schwabe was widely read and a slight stammer never hindered his flow or style. A natural teacher, he was much respected by his students.
Randolph Schwabe died at his home ‘Auchenteil’, 25 Suffolk Street, Helensburgh on the 19th September 1948, and was survived by his wife and daughter.
Randolph’s ashes are interred behind a small angel in a Hampstead church yard. The angel wears a sash on which is written: “Randolph Schwabe in whose life we have seen excellence in beauty.”
Schwabe is best remembered as an architectural draughtsman but his subject matter also encompassed portraiture and figurative work, landscapes, still life, and nature studies, his usual signature being ‘R. Schwabe’. His drawings and prints were not remarkable for their imagination but are beautifully precise and reasonable statements of fact. In 1951, The Arts Council held a major retrospective exhibition and tour entitled: Randolph Schwabe Memorial Exhibition in honour of a remarkable man.