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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 702 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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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 18o6 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 8o to 15o. 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 too, 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.
End of Article: ART SOCIETIES

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