The Etching process
The Royal Society of
In 1880 Seymour Haden and five colleagues, who sought recognition of
etching as a painter's art, rather than merely a craftsman's means of reproducing an
artist's painting in multiples, founded a voluntary Society of Painter- Etchers. It was in
protest against the Royal Academy's unwillingness to accept artists' etchings as original
works of art and their refusal to elect artist-etchers as Academicians, whilst electing
craftsmen-engravers to membership and showing their copies of Academicians' paintings in
the annual~ exhibitions. The founders, who included Tissot, Legros and Herkomer (an R.A.
elected as a painter), gained immediate support from fellow printmakers. The following
year an additional number were elected to the Society, including seven R.A.s and William
Strang who was later to become an Academician. The group prospered, so much so that in
1888 Queen Victoria granted a Royal title to the Society and further allowed its name to
be enlarged in 1898 to include, Engravers. By 1911, when King George V granted a Charter
of Incorporation and Bye-laws, the R.E., as it came to be styled, had grown in prestige
and become fully established. The Royal Academy eventually conceded the issue and, from
1919, in token of solidarity, Academy Presidents have always been elected Honorary Fellows
of the R.E.
A partnership was forged in 1890 between the infant Royal Society of
Painter-Etchers and the Royal Watercolour Society, founded in 1804. This association has
thrived now for more than a century, and for the past fifteen years the two Societies have
maintained a permanent home, as registered educational charities, at the Bankside Gallery
where a full programme of exhibitions and events is mounted annually.
In 1989, to accommodate advances in technology and fully represent current
printmaking in all its forms, the R.E. voted to include all kinds of artists' prints in
its exhibitions and to elect as members outstanding artists working in any of the various
printmaking media. Reflecting this development, the membership revised their name to The
Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, receiving the approval of HM The Queen, The Privy
Council, and the Home office.
The R.E. has assembled a unique Diploma Collection-of Prints, ~throughout its
long and distinguished history, comprising a representative work from each new member upon
election. This Collection of more than a thousand prints, including works by such well
reputed artists as Sickert, Poynter, Alma-Tadema, Griggs, Brockhurst, Knight, Sutherland,
Hermes, Gross, Hayter, Bawden, and Rothenstein, is now being held in trust by the
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. It will continue to be augmented by additional diploma prints
deposited as new members are elected, to the enjoyment of the print-loving public and as a
record of the virtuosity demonstrated by the Society's gifted fellowship.
International in its membership and enterprise, the Society has elected as
fellows a number of outstanding foreign artists, some of whom have lived and worked in the
U.K for many years. Recent exchange exhibitions have been organised with French, New
Zealand, Icelandic, Danish, Irish and Russian printmakers' societies, and in 1989 a party
travelled to Moscow to attend the opening of a major R.E. Members' exhibition there.
Each Summer a Members' Exhibition of new work is held at Bankside and there are
occasional shows shared with the RWS, pursuing particular themes, as well as an annual
joint Christmas exhibition. Demonstrations of printmaking techniques and public lectures
are held during exhibitions, as educational activities. A Friends' scheme provides
enthusiasts with special privileges, and social events. An election of Associate members
is held each Spring upon application and presentation of work. Details of all these events
are available from the Bankside Gallery, where a stock of Members' prints, C.V.s, and
slides are also available for public viewing during normal Gallery hours.
The Secretary, Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers,
Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, London SEI 9JH.
To top of page