The Southampton Art Society was established in 1885. At the time there were a few art institutions in the town: 'The Pen & Pencil Club', 'the O.S.Art Assoc.', 'the School of Art' and a commercial gallery in the High Street. The sketching club experienced difficulties until a member, Miss Greenfield, mounted a successful exhibition of paintings which led to the founding of the Art Society by Major General William Lacy. The first exhibitions were held at The Philharmonic Rooms in Above Bar Street. These caught the attention of the Ordnance Survey Art Association and, in 1887, the two art groups united under the banner of the Southampton Art Society. Though it started as an amateur art group the Rules were modified to open membership to both amateur and professional artists. In 1889 the Society moved into its own quarters, the Southampton Art Gallery, over the offices of The London & S. W. Railway Co. in Marlands Place.
We do not know how long the Society used these premises. Exhibitions during the 1920's & 30's were held at the Central Library in London Road; a popular venue for most art shows until after the Second World War when the new Southampton City Art Gallery, which had opened briefly in 1939, became available.
The Southampton Art Society continues to be supported by both amateur and established artists. Its lists of subscribers and exhibition catalogues are a minor history of late 19th to mid 20th century art: Albert Goodwin, Philip Wilson Steer, Henry Tonks, William Russell Flint, Charles Ginner, Richard Eurich (President in the 1950's & 60's) and many others known or forgotten.
The founder of the city art collection, Robert Chipperfield, subscribed to the Art Society from 1898 until in 1908. During his time with the Society he purchased paintings from members which were to form a part of his bequest, in 1911, of 170 paintings with an added provision for a city art gallery and art school Other bequests and methods of funding have expanded the collection, which now enjoys wide recognition for 20th century art.
As in past times, members are drawn largely from amateur artists supported by a number of established professionals. With the exception of the dark years of1939-45 the Art Society has been active in Southampton since 1885. In 2005 we celebrated our 120th anniversary and remain close to the principles of our founding members. We expect this open and expansive attitude towards the visual arts to continue to benefit those who join the Society and to support the cultural life of the city well into the 21st century.