As you walk towards the Library turnstiles in the Lionel Robbins Building the bronze head of Lionel Robbins surveys the scene. LSE Archivist, Sue Donnelly, writes about the portrait bust of Professor Lionel Robbins.
Lionel Robbins (1898-1984) first arrived at LSE in 1920 to study for the BSc (Econ). Initially he focused on the history of political ideas but also studied economics with Professor Edwin Cannan and Hugh Dalton. In 1923 he gained a first class degree and was offered a one year lectureship at New College, Oxford, so his early career was split between LSE and New College, Oxford. After the death of Allyn Young, Professor of Political Economy, in 1929 Lionel Robbins was offered the post of Professor of Economics at LSE. He was to spend the rest of his career at the School, dominating the teaching of economics for thirty years and introducing new colleagues including Friedrich Hayek. In the 1930s he played an important role in securing support for refugee academics from Europe.
Robbins entered government service in June 1940 and in 1941 became Director of the economic section of the war cabinet offices. In this role he influenced the British war economy, British post-war reconstruction and the post war international economy, attending the United Nations conferences at Hot Springs, Virginia, and Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. He returned to LSE in 1946 as Head of Economics.
In 1959 he received one of the first life peerages. In 1958 he was forced to retire from his chair of economics when he became chairman of the Financial Times but from 1968-1974 he was Chairman of the Court of Governors at LSE during the turbulent years of student unrest. He also led LSE’s first postwar fundraising campaign to purchase W H Smith’s Head Office and convert it into the LSE Library. The new building opened in 1978 and was named the Lionel Robbins Building in his honour.
Robbins had a life-long and well-informed interest in the arts serving on the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and as a trustee and Chairman of the National Gallery. He was also a Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. But perhaps his most famous public role was as Chairman of the Committee on Higher Education and author of the Robbins Report (1963) which encouraged the expansion of British higher education and establishment of new universities during the 1960s.
The School’s records don’t indicate when the bust was acquired but it is likely that it was commissioned by the School, perhaps when the decision was taken to name the building in his honour. The bronze head and shoulders bust was created by Lord Robbins’ son, Richard Robbins.
Richard Robbins (1927-2009) was the second child of Lionel Robbins. He attended King Alfred and University College Schools in London and during the Second World War attended Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire. In 1945 at the age of 17 Richard Robbins joined the army in the 21st Field Regiment then serving in Italy. He was based in Venice which provided great opportunity to study Venetian art. He was turned down for a commission and after being demobbed in 1948 went to New College, Oxford to read English, obtaining a fourth class degree! He also played golf for the university.
After Oxford, he studied painting at Goldsmith’s College (where his uncle, Clive Gardiner was Principal) and Slade School of Art. He worked as a part-time art teacher in London from 1952-1971. He then taught full-time at Hornsey Art College, later part of Middlesex University, becoming Head of Painting in 1984 and Head of the School of Fine Art in 1990. He retired in 1993 and was made Honorary Professor of Fine Art. In 2004 he became an Honorary Member of the Royal Society of British Artists.
He was a prolific artist working as a painter, printer and sculptor interested in capturing the natural environment of places he loved such as Hampstead Heath and Lyme Regis and the human figure.
The School owns several works by Richard Robbins including a portrait in oils of his father hung in the Shaw Library, two autumnal views of Hampstead Ponds in the Staff Common Room and Floods displayed in the Chairman’s Dining Room.