History

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists is one of the oldest Art Societies in the UK. As early as 1807, Samuel Lines opened an Academy on Newhall Street, offering tuition to local artisans and aspiring artists. Here he focused on teaching basic design skills such as drawing figures, landscapes and still life.

+ Click the links on the top right to download a timeline which provides a summary of the development of the Society, an essay by Brendan Flynn for further historical insights and the list of artists and presidents involved with the RBSA throughout its history.

In 1812, other pioneers such as Joseph Vincent Barber came together to study from the living model. From this group was founded the Birmingham Academy of Arts in 1814, whose first exhibition was held that year under the patronage of such famous alumni as Benjamin West, J.M.W. Turner, John Flaxman, Joseph Heath and John Sloane. In 2014, the RBSA celebrates the bicentenary of this first exhibition with a year long project entitled Celebrating 200 years of Art, Artists and Audiences in Birmingham. This project has been generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

In 1821, the Birmingham Society of Artists was formed, whose objective was to establish a museum for works of art, provide facilities for students, hold public exhibitions and extend art education in the city of Birmingham. From 1822 to 1912 the Society met in a beautiful Corinthian style gallery, demolished in 1912 as part of the reconstruction of that part of New Street. In 1868 Queen Victoria granted the Society royal status, and it has held annual exhibitions with minor interruptions during the war years ever since.

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists played an important part in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Edward Burne-Jones both served as presidents of the RBSA. Other well known presidents were Lord Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

In April 2000, after being based at New Street in Birmingham since 1829, the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists relocated to a new gallery just off St Paul’s Square. This space gave us a large and accessible gallery with improved facilities for running workshops as well as a ground floor exhibition space dedicated to the display of contemporary craft.