The rich and creative history of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

Published on 25 May 2017

Although attempts were made to establish an art school in Dundee as far back as the 1850s, it was not until 1888, following the creation of the Dundee Technical Institute, that a full-time art school become a possibility

On this page

Initially, evening classes in art were taught at the High School and the YMCA. A full-time art school became a possibility once the Dundee Technical Institute was created in 1888. This shared facilities with what was then University College, Dundee.

A fundraising campaign was launched in 1907. In 1909, James Duncan of Jordanstone and Drumfork bequeathed a large sum of money from his estate to found a school of industrial art in Dundee.

Born in 1825 in Alyth, Perthshire, James Duncan became extremely prosperous trading up and down the Pacific Coast. Later in life, he became a benevolent patron of the arts. In 1908, the year before his death, he commissioned the impressive stained glass window at Alyth Parish Church. This was designed by Henry Holiday of London and depicts 'The Man of Sorrows in Anticipation and Realisation'. 

His greatest legacy was in his will. He set aside the sum of £60,000 to found a school of industrial art.

He made the unusual stipulation that, attached to the art school, there should be a women’s institute. Instruction was to be given in such subjects as household thrift and management, cookery, laundry work, dress cutting and needlework, 'insofar as the teaching of such subjects has not otherwise been efficiently provided for in Dundee'. James Duncan had very progressive ideas about education!

In 1911 the Institute was able to move to new, grander premises on Bell Street. It re-opened as Dundee Technical College & School of Art. 

It was not until the 1930s that an agreement was reached whereby the College of Art would be autonomously run on a separate site away from the Technical College. A site was chosen but due to delays largely caused by the war, construction did not begin until 1953. Classes began in 1955.

The College did not become entirely independent of the Institute of Technology (now the University of Abertay) until 1975. It was then officially renamed Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art (though it had been known as such unofficially for many years). The College remained independent until 1994, when it became part of the University of Dundee.

In 2017, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) was in the world’s top 1 percent of the QS World University Rankings and number 1 in Scotland for Art & Design in the Complete University Guide 2018.

It was named Scottish University of the Year in The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, DJCAD was awarded Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The TEF was introduced by the UK Government to recognise and reward excellent learning and teaching. This ranking places us among an elite group of British universities licensed to use the TEF Gold Award for the next three years.

Story category Public interest