A brief history of the Royal Society of
By Joseph Winkelman PPRE
We started out in 1880 as The Society of Painter-Etchers, inspired by the French
group of the same name which existed in Paris in the mid 1800's. The notion and brought to
England by Whistler, Haden, Tissot and Legros. The latter three artists were our founders
together with Macbeth, Heywood Hardy and Herkomer; Whistler had a row with his
brother-in-law, Haden, and wouldn't join. The point is they were painters, or artists, who
made their own etchings, as different from those artist-craftsmen who earned from copying
other better known artists' paintings in intaglio media, mezzotint mainly.
Haden railed against these craftsmen at first, in particular because they were
being uncreative, having their copyist engravings exhibited at the Royal Academy. Some of
those individuals were indeed elected ARAs to boot. Haden wanted to send in his etchings
for RA shows but was rejected because they were not considered eligible. Moreover, he
wished to be elected a member but, rejected as an etcher, he founded the Society in
Later his point was taken, and the Society got a Royal Charter. It meant that they
could grant a sort of qualification to artists, Royal letters as it were, like a college
is chartered to grant degrees. Today art colleges do this and are within universities
anyway, but we have kept our traditional practice alive, awarding our letters and Diplomas
to those who in our opinion are outstanding in the field of making their own prints. RE is
the short form of RSPE.
Haden had to concede in his day that many artists earned a living copying others
work and that is why "Engravers" was added to our title. It was not to include
wood engravers, as some people assume, although that came later on after copyist engravers
were being elected and showing some of that sort of work in our shows. Our second
President, Sir Frank Short, was a brilliant mezzotint engraver, who was commissioned to
copy Turner's Liber Studiorum, as well as being a maker of his own wonderful etchings. At
the same time he was Professor of Engraving at the Royal College of Art, a member and
indeed Treasurer of
the Royal Academy.
During my Presidency in 1992 our Council decided to modernise our rules by
recognising all sorts of printmaking as legitimate for our shows, as long as it was made
by artists. We proposed to our Membership that we change our name to Royal Society of
Printmakers. The Annual meeting voted instead to make it "Painter-Printmakers"
to emphasize that we are artists first. Whichever we were to be called it was demanded by
a large majority that we keep our letters RE and ARE so as not to lose the link with the
past. It's nonsense of course, understandable as it may be. This is a characteristic
of the English way of thinking. So there it is.
Our seal has the starwheel press, a painter's palette, a brush, the crown and the
letters RSPE. We could have become the RSPP but members feared that the connection with RE
would have been lost.
Our motto first was, in Latin, "Never Stoop to be A
Copyist" but Haden was obliged to change it, after they took in Engravers, as
"Never A Day Without A Line".
A public exhibition of prints by members of The Royal Society of
Painter-Printmakers will be held from July 10 to September 2 in the U.S. at the
Connecticut GraphicArts Center in Norwalk, Connecticut.
In August, Joseph Winkelman will speak about the organization and its
objectives and the work of the members. He is a former President of
the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
To see his work see Cool
Earth, Warm Sky-Moments in Landscape.
Click here for more info about the Royal Society of