Joseph Southall was born in Nottingham and raised in Birmingham. He began his artistic education at the Birmingham School of Art, where he studied painting part-time alongside his professional architectural apprenticeship with the firm Martin & Chamberlain. Both experiences imbued the artist with a deep appreciation for the Arts and Crafts movement. The artist travelled to France to expand his understanding of artistic skills such as painting and carving and later, having left his apprenticeship, lived and worked for some time in Italy, touring the great artistic centres of the country. His exposure to the art of the Renaissance encouraged the artist to begin to paint in egg-based tempera, a highly classical technique not favoured in the art of the time. Though the artist received commission from the famed John Ruskin to design a museum for the Guild of St George, his architectural career did not prove to be a viable pursuit. The artist focused his attention to painting instead, where he experienced success painting in both oils and tempera. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1898. Southall is often credited as one of the leaders of the revival of tempera painting in Britain.
His work in the medium was exhibited widely, often with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the Royal Academy in London, and the Paris Salon in France. The artist was prominently featured in the ‘Modern Paintings in Tempera’ exhibition at Leighton House in 1901, and later that same year he aided in establishing the Society of Painters in Tempera. The first exhibition of the Birmingham Group in 1907 featured Southall’s work in a very significant position, and the artist continued to achieve great success.
The outbreak of the First World War encouraged the artist to explore his Quaker faith through the illustration of anti-war cartoons printed widely in magazines and printed publications. Following the War, the artist focused his attention on producing watercolour landscapes inspired by his love of travel. He was elected member of the Royal Watercolour Society and of the New English Art Club in 1925, and was appointed President of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1939, a position he held until his death.