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The Birmingham Art Circle - A brief history

The Art Circle was founded in 1879 by Ernest Thompson. With ten artists he drew up the constitution and was elected the first President. The constitution stated that the aim of the society was ‘to promote unity among the Arts, and hold exhibitions when convenient’.

The first Secretary was Walter Langley R.I. RBSA. Langley and five other young artists held the first Art Circle exhibition in 1879 in a member’s studio. Exhibitions have been held in Birmingham almost every year since the start, initially at Graves Gallery in Cherry Street and since 1907 at the RBSA Gallery in New Street. This continued until 1999 when the RBSA moved to 4 Brook Street.

Langley is best known today as the pioneer of the Newlyn Art Colony and he was joined by at least five of the original members including Fortescue, Harris, Pope, Breakespeare and Wainwright.

Other distinguished members of the past are Sir Barry Jackson, Kate Bunce, Joseph Southall R.A. RBSA and Bernard Fleetwood Walker R.A. RBSA.

Several former presidents of the Art Circle became presidents of the RBSA. These were William Wainwright, Harry Adams, Peter Gross, Marylane Barfield, Edward Samuel Harper and Ernest Horton.

Other notable members were John Cotton, who compiled a register of members in 1919, Dorothy Lockwood R.W.S. RBSA who bequeathed £500 to fund our annual lecture, and Waveney Fredrick P.S. RBSA who bequeathed £5000 to support Art Circle exhibitions at the RBSA Brook Street Gallery.

The record for service to the society must go to Ernest Chadwick RBSA, Hon. Secretary for 27 years, followed by John Ridout RBSA who served for a total of 17 years first as President and later as Hon. Secretary.

Our Archive is in the City of Birmingham Archive at the Central Library.

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