In one of our previous posts entitled ‘Royal Watercolour Society Exhibition – A Year in the Life of the Royal Albert Hall’ we touched on the work of the Royal Watercolour Society and we thought it would be a good idea to give you a bit more history on the world’s oldest watercolour society.
Founded in 1804, essentially the Royal Watercolour Society originated as a protest group of watercolour artists who felt they were being poorly represented by the Royal Academy and were dissatisfied by the way in which their watercolour pictures were hung disadvantageously amongst the oil paintings. Also, the Royal Academy would not elect as their president an artist who painted only in watercolour.
This renegade group of artists therefore decided to form their own society for watercolours only and hence the Watercolour Society was born.
Another society calling itself the ‘New Society of Painters in Miniature and Watercolour’ was set up a couple of years later, and from this time the original group was called the ‘Old’ Watercolour Society, however later on they were given permission by Queen Victoria to use ‘Royal’ in their title, hence the name today ‘The Royal Watercolour Society’.
Founder members included John Varley, Joshua Cristall and George Barratt who were painters of landscape mostly in the Old Master tradition. Within a few years, David Cox, Peter de Wint and Copley Fielding joined the Society, bringing much needed vitality. As time went on artists such as William Hunt, Miles Birkett Foster, JF Lewis and Samuel Palmer also became members, and the society flourished. There was no coherent ‘RWS style’ and it was not a school of painting in the sense of the French or Italian schools.
Instead it was simply a society that many of the finest painters in watercolour of the time wanted to join, whose only relation to each other artistically was the fact that they had elected each other to membership. This tradition of electing members remains in place today and new members are elected by the current Membership of the Society based on the quality of their work alone.