The Royal Society of British Artists

A group of painters met at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on May 21st 1823, to form the ‘Society of British Artists’, whose manifesto stated, ‘This organisation was not formed to rival existing societies but that every Member was to be at liberty to assist and support any other society.’

Artists at this time were the equivalent of the celebrity stars of today, feted by the aristocracy and royalty and collected by the powerful industrialists of the day. The elite amongst these were sometimes granted membership of the Royal Academy, but as the membership was limited to fifty members made up of sculptors, printmakers and architects as well as painters, the election of a new Academician was dependent upon the death or resignation of an existing incumbent. The birth of a new society was inevitable and £1000 was raised for such a purpose. The Society’s new galleries were created in Suffolk Street only a short distance from the Royal Academy in Somerset House. These galleries were designed by the fashionable Regency architect John Nash.

The Society began with just twenty-seven members under the Presidency of Thomas Heaphy, plus a complement of five Honorary Members. It took until 1876 for the numbers to reach fifty.

The progress of the Society was hindered by financial problems caused by the innovative roof designed by the architect John Nash, which began to collapse not long after the galleries were opened.

Although the Society was granted a Charter in 1846 it was not until Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Year of 1887, under the leadership of James McNeill Whistler, that the Society won the right to the prefix ‘Royal’. Whistler raised the profile of the Society by setting standards of acceptance, which attracted the attention of not only London’s aristocracy and fashionable society, but also of both Monet and Alfred Stevens, who became Honorary Members.

In the years that followed, the Society attracted many painters and sculptors of note including Walter Sickert, Philip de László, LS Lowry, Henry Moore, Peter Greenham, Sir Roger de Grey, Carel Weight and Colin Hayes.

In 1970 the RBA transferred its assets to become the main contributor to the Federation of British Artists at Mall Galleries.

The Federation of British Artists

The Federation of British Artists (FBA) is a registered charity and the umbrella organisation for nine leading art societies, including the RBA. Its aim is to inspire, educate and involve the public in the appreciation and practice of fine art by contemporary artists. The FBA is a unique national resource boasting 614 artist -members whose exhibitions attract over 10,000 artists through open submissions.

FBA exhibitions are artist-led. Work from open submissions is selected by leading artists in their field forming a showcase of the very best recent work. The exhibitions are themed by medium or subject-matter allowing artist and members of the public to study a particular area of interest.

The artists like to be approachable so there is usually an artist in attendance in the gallery, artists also give lectures, take workshops and run exhibition tours to deepen the understanding of their art. Mall Galleries receive about 60,000 visitors a year.

The art is for sale to benefit artist and visitor alike and the FBA runs a commissions service which helps people to find the right artist when they want to commission a special work of art.

The FBA is supported by some 2,400 Friends whose privileges include invitations to private views and other special events where they can meet the artists. .

FBA exhibitions are a benchmark for artists and provide a forum in which their work can be critically assessed. Demonstrations, workshops and weekly life-drawing sessions are held to enhance artists’ knowledge and skills. Further encouragement is given through over 100 prizes and awards which are distributed throughout the year.

The skills of our members are shared via many projects throughout the country such as The New English Art Club’s excellent drawing school and summer courses; the Royal Society of British Artists’ highly successful scheme to achieve special Visual Arts status for many schools; the Pastel Society workshops; and the Society of Wildlife Artists’ Aig an Oir’ project which brings contemporary wildlife art to remote communities and raises public awareness of the ecological and cultural heritage of the region. Member Societies also hold regional exhibitions throughout the year.

Throughout the year Mall Galleries are host to numerous major art competitions including the Threadneedle Figurative Prize and the Discerning Eye. Mall Galleries also serve as a venue for external art societies’ exhibitions, one man shows, group shows and charitable events such as Art for Youth and charity fundraising evenings. The FBA has also initiated Originals, the contemporary printmaking show.

The FBA’s Education Department aims to bring contemporary visual arts to a wider audience. It organises art education programmes for children, one-off special events and workshops on a wide range of artistic techniques and topics.

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