Illustrated card covers; no DW; Watercolour, the most British of art forms, was in its early years dismissed by the Royal Academy as an inferior medium.
In 1804, a group of artists reacted against this to form what is today the Royal Watercolour Society.
From its first exhibition in 1805, the new society enjoyed immediate popularity and for much of the nineteenth century was at the heart of the British artistic establishment.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were regular visitors and buyers.
The Society boasted as members many of the country's finest painters, from David Cox, Peter De Wint and Samuel Palmer to Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and John Singer Sargent.
John Ruskin was a great supporter.
For much of the twentieth century the Society was considered out of touch with developments in British art; even the medium of watercolour itself was widely regarded as passé.
And yet many outstanding British artists of the calibre of William Russell Flint (who served as President from 1936 to 1956), Laura Knight, Charles Ginner, Gilbert Spencer, Anne Redpath, Edward Bawden, and more recently the late Patrick Procktor, continued to exhibit with the RWS.
Its current members include Ken Howard and Leslie Worth.
Changing fashion in the late twentieth century has brought about the re-establishment of the RWS as a significant force in contemporary British painting, and the Society flourishes again after its move to Bankside.
In an engaging narrative, Simon Fenwick records the Society's changing fortunes, and the controversies, personal vendettas and financial crises which characterised much of its history.
He tells how Jane Austen visited the 1813 exhibition looking for portraits of characters from Pride and Prejudice; how Burne-Jones resigned from the Society in 1870 over complaints about ‘nudities’ in his picture Phyllis and Demophoön, and how, when Helen Allingham was elected to full membership in 1889, the President predicted that this would lead to, “lady members shrieking at RWS meetings ... and the breaking-up of the Society”.
Simon Fenwick was brought up in Wigton in Cumbria, and has worked as an archivist in country houses and for institutions in England and in Italy.
He has published widely including The Business of Watercolour: A Guide to the Archives of the Royal Watercolour Society.
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