The drawing illustrated in the catalogue is a study for a self-portrait painting with a landscape background, dated 1925, currently in a private collection. The other drawing in the lot showing the artist holding brushes is squared for transfer and is perhaps for an unidentified painting or mural.
Southall was probably the most important member of the so-called Birmingham Group. This close-knit circle of artists represents a late, regional offshoot of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, pursuing its ideals right up to the Second World War. They featured prominently in The Last Romantics exhibition held at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, in 1989, which explored the later phases of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. The group was profoundly influenced by early contacts with Edward Burne-Jones, who was Birmingham born and took a keen interest in artistic developments in his native city. Their work is also coloured by their close involvement with mural painting, stained glass design, and other aspects of the Arts and Crafts. Southall was born at Nottingham of Quaker parents, but was taken by his mother to Birmingham when his father died. In 1874 he entered the Friends' School at Bootham, where he was taught painting by Edwin Moore, a brother of the Aesthetic painter Albert Moore and the marine painter Henry Moore. Four years later he joined the Birmingham firm of architects Martin and Chamberlain, but in 1882 he left to concentrate on painting, attending the Birmingham School of Art where he met Arthur Gaskin, henceforth his closest friend, and other future members of the Birmingham Group. At about the same time he settled at 13 Charlotte Road, Edgbaston, which remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1883 Southall spent eight weeks in Italy, studying the early masters, and on his return he began to experiment with the tempera technique. Meanwhile, through an uncle, he had made the acquaintance of John Ruskin, who commissioned him to design a museum for the Guild of St George at Bewdley. The project fell through, but in order to prepare himself for it he re-visited Italy in 1886. He also received encouragement from William Blake Richmond and Burne-Jones, to whom he paid a number of visits 1893-7. He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1895, showing there regularly until 1942, two years before his death. He also supported the New Gallery (1897-1909), The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (associate 1898, full member 1902), and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society (1899-1923). He was elected to the Art Workers' Guild in 1910. In 1901, together with Walter Crane, J.D. Batten and others, Southall founded the Society of Painters in Tempera. He was undoubtedly the single most important exponent of the tempera revival giving lessons on tempera painting in his Edgbaston studio and lecturing on the subject widely. In later life he joined the New English Art Club and the Royal Watercolour Society (1925), participated in joint exhibitions with other Birmingham and tempera painters, held a number of one-man shows (notably at the Alpine Club, 1922), and, building on the success of an exhibition at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris in 1910, established a considerable international reputation. He and his wife paid frequent visits to Italy, as well as to France, Suffolk, Cornwall and elsewhere.