The West Midlands was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century, with the development of coke-fuelled iron founding at Ironbridge, the steam engine in Birmingham and mass-produced ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent. This period saw a close alliance between manufacture and design in the factories of Matthew Boulton and Josiah Wedgwood.

Manufacturing was dominated by small family-run workshops supported by large numbers of journeymen and artisans educated in the rudiments of art and design. Some became drawing masters and painters supplying the growing demand for arts and crafts from the expanding and prosperous middle class.

Birmingham Academy of Arts was founded in 1814 on the model of the Royal Academy in London. Birmingham School of Art was the first municipal art school in Britain and became the engine of visual arts in the region, steeped in the progressive Arts and Crafts idealism of William Morris and John Ruskin. Artists of course responded to the unique industrial landscape of the Black Country but Birmingham also saw the revival of tempera painting.