1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Art Societies
ART SOCIETIES. In banding themselves into societies and associations artists have always been especially remarkable. The fundamental motive of such leaguing together is apparent, for, by the establishment of societies, it becomes possible for the working members of these to hold exhibitions and thereby to obtain some compensation or reward for their labours. With the growth of artistic practice and public interest, however, art societies have been instituted where this primary object is either absent or is allied to others of more general scope. The furtherance of a cult and the specializing of work have also given rise to many new associations in Great Britain, besides the Royal Academy (see Academy, Royal). At the outset, therefore, it will be well to mention the leading art societies thus described. The (now Royal) Society of Painters in Water Colours, founded in 1804, and the (now Royal) Society of British Artists (1823), are typical of those societies which exist merely for purposes of holding exhibitions and conferring diplomas of membership. The British Institution (for the encouragement of British artists) was started in 1806 on a plan formed by Sir Thomas Bernard; and in the gallery, erected by Alderman Boydell to exhibit the paintings executed for his edition of Shakespeare, were from time to time exhibited pictures by the old masters, deceased British artists and others, till 1867, when the lease of the premises expired. A fund of £16,200, then in the hands of trustees, had accumulated to £24,610 in 1884. The Artists’ Society, formed in 1830, has for its object the providing of facilities to enable its members to perfect themselves in their art. To this end there is a good library of works on art, and abundant opportunities are afforded for general study from the life. In the furtherance of a cult the Japan Society, devoted to the encouragement of the study of the arts and industries of Japan, is a typical example; and the Society of Mezzotint Engravers is representative of those bodies formed in the interests of particular groups of workers. One of the remarkable features in the history of art in Great Britain has been the rapid increase of the artistic rank and file. Taking the number of exhibitors at the principal London and provincial exhibitions, it is found that in the period 1885-1900 the ranks were doubled. At the end of the 19th century it was estimated that there were quite 7000 practising artists. Coincident with this astonishing development there has been a corresponding addition of new art societies and the enlargement of older bodies. For instance, the membership of the Royal Society of British Artists advanced in the period mentioned from 80 to 150. Similar extensions can be noted in other societies, or in such a case as that of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, where the membership is limited to 100, it is to be noticed that more space is given to the works of outsiders. But the expansion of older exhibiting societies has not proved sufficient. Portrait painters, pastellists, designers, miniaturists and women artists have felt the necessity of forming separate coteries. Interesting though these movements from within may be, the growth of societies originating in the spirit of altruism associated with such names as Ruskin and Kyrle is equally instructive. Nearly all these are the products of the last quarter of the 19th century, and include the Sunday Society, which in 1896 secured the Sunday opening of the national museums and galleries in the metropolis.
The specializing of study and work has also given rise to much artistic endeavour. For a long time archaeology—British and Egyptian—claimed almost exclusive attention. Latterly the arts of India and Japan have engaged much notice, and societies have been organized to further their study. Finally, bands of workers in particular branches of art have felt the need of clubbing together in order to protect their special interests. A slight suspicion of trade-unionism is attached to some of these; but on the whole the establishment of such bodies as the Society of Illustrators, the Society of Designers, and the Society of Mezzotint Engravers has been with a view to advancing the public knowledge of the merits of these branches of artistic enterprise.
Exhibiting Societies.—(a) Old Established.—These in London are: The Royal Academy, the Royal Water Colour Society, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the Society of Oil Painters, and the Royal Society of British Artists. In the provinces, the Birmingham Royal Society of Artists has been in existence since 1825, and has a life academy with professors attached. (b) Modern.—In this category are many which reflect the new spirit which came into artistic life in the last quarter of the 19th century. The New English Art Club, founded in 1885 as a protest against academic art, achieves its purpose by exhibition only. The International Society of Painters and Engravers, again, represents the wider ideas of the 20th century. The Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, consisting of fellows and associates, not exceeding 150 in all, conserves the interests of a numerous body of workers, and, in addition to holding exhibitions, confers diplomas (R.E. and A.R.E.) on the exhibitors of meritorious etchings or engravings. The Society of Women Artists (formerly the Society of Lady Artists) is wholly devoted to the display of works by female artists, and in 1891 the Society of Portrait Painters was formed to carry out the object conveyed in its title. Two associations advance the art of the miniature-painter, and the Pastel Society, formed in 1898, holds displays of members’ work at the Royal Institute Galleries. In Scotland there is the Royal Scottish Academy. The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours (Glasgow) grants the title R.S.W. to its members, and the Society of Scottish Artists (Edinburgh), founded in 1891, has a membership of nearly 500 young artists. Other exhibiting societies which call for mention are: The Yorkshire Union of Artists (Leeds), which consolidates many local societies; the Nottingham Society of Artists, which also encourages drawing from the living model; and the Liverpool Sketching Club, founded in 1870, which holds an annual exhibition.
Societies of Instruction and Popular Encouragement.—It is under this head that the chief evidence of the modern art revival will be found. First it should be noted that there are very few societies designed for the artistic improvement of artists. The Artists’ Society has already been mentioned; and the Art Workers’ Guild, which meets at Clifford’s Inn Hall, provides meetings, from which the public is excluded, where profitable discussions take place on questions of craft and design. But, as a rule, the art society, of which only artists are members, is organized for exhibition purposes or for the protection of interests. With regard to those societies of popular and educational intention the old Society of Arts in the Adelphi, founded in 1754, enjoys a good record. Numerous lectures on art subjects have from time to time been given, and in 1887 a scheme was devised by which awards are made to student-workers in design. The Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts (Conduit Street) has also laboured since its foundation in 1858 to increase a technical knowledge, its members holding conversazioni at various picture galleries. The Artists’ and Amateurs’ Conversazione, instituted in 1831, which used to meet at the Piccadilly Galleries and is now defunct, carried out a similar plan. Two other societies, now obsolete, should be mentioned whose method were directly educational. The Arundel Society, which for many years promoted the knowledge of art by copying and publishing important works of ancient masters, issued to its members on payment of annual subscriptions, was eventually wound up on the last day of 1897. The Arundel Club, founded in 1904, continues the aim, but with a wider scope, reproducing works of art rendered somewhat inaccessible by being in private collections. The International Chalcographical Society, formed for the study of the early history of engraving, also did useful work. Another association of painters, sculptors, architects and engravers, the Graphic Society, ceased on the 29th of October 1890. This was one of the most interesting of societies, rare works of art being exhibited and discussed at its meetings. A very active educational body, originated in 1888, namely the Royal Drawing Society, has for its definite object the teaching of drawing as a means of education. The methods of instruction are based on the facts that very young children try to draw before they can write, and that they have very keen perception and retentive memory. The society aims, therefore, at using drawing as a means of developing these innate characteristics of the young, and already nearly 300 important schools follow out its system. Lord Leighton, Sir John Millais, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones took an active part in the society’s labours. The Art for Schools Association, founded in 1883, has also done steady work in endeavouring to provide schools with works of art. These are chiefly reproductions of standard works of art or of historical and natural subjects. The wave of enthusiasm aroused by Mr Ruskin’s teachings caused Societies of the Rose to be founded in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Aberdeen and Glasgow; but some of these eventually ceased active work, to be revived again, however, by the Ruskin Union, formed in the year of the great writer’s death (1900). Most of these societies were formed in 1879; but it should not be forgotten that two years earlier the Kyrle Society was started with the object of bringing the refining and cheering influences of natural and artistic beauty to the homes of the people. Under the presidency of Earl Brownlow, the Home Arts and Industries Association continues a work which was started in 1884, and anticipated much of the present system of technical education. Voluntary teachers organize classes for working people, at which a practical knowledge of art handiwork is taught. Training classes for voluntary teachers are held at the studios at the Albert Hall, as well as an annual exhibition. An interesting type of society has been established in Bolton, Lancashire. Under the title of an Arts Guild the members, numbering over 200, devote themselves to the advancement of taste in municipal improvements.
Societies of Special Study, Practice and Protection.—Under this head should be placed those associations which affect a cult, or are composed of particular workers, or which protect public or private interests. Perhaps the chief of the first kind is the Japan Society, which, since its inception in 1892, has been joined by over 1350 members interested in matters relating to Japanese art and industries. The Dürer Society, formed in 1897, has for its main object the reproduction of works by Albrecht Dürer, and his German and Italian contemporaries. The Vasari Society, founded in 1905, works in harmony with the Arundel Club and the Dürer Society, reproducing drawings by the Old Masters. In this category of special study may also be placed the Society for the Encouragement and Preservation of Indian Art, the Egypt Exploration Fund, and the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. Of the societies of special practice it has already been noticed that some are purely exhibiting associations, such as the Portrait Painters, the Pastel Society, and the two miniature bodies. The formation of the Society of Mezzotint Engravers in 1898 is an example of the leaguing together of particular workers to call attention to their interests. Original and translator engravers, together with collectors and connoisseurs, comprise the membership. The decaying art of wood engraving is also fostered by the International Society of Wood Engravers, and the Society of Designers, founded in 1896, safeguards the interests of professional designers for applied art, without holding exhibitions. Special practice and protection are also considered by the Society of Illustrators, composed of artists who work in black and white for the illustrated press. This society was inaugurated in 1894, and fifteen of the members of the committee must be active workers in illustration. As an instance of the tendency of art workers to combine, the Society of Art Masters is a good illustration. This is an association of teachers of art schools, controlled by the art branch of the Board of Education, and has a membership of over 300. Good work of another kind occupies the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. The council of the Trust includes representatives of such bodies as the National Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours, the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Universities, Kyrle Society, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the Selborne Society.
Foreign Art Societies.—The following are brief particulars of the chief art societies elsewhere than in Great Britain:—