ROYAL WEST OF ENGLAND ACADEMY

1845 - ?

Royal West of England Academy was founded in 1845, although its roots were laid in the 1830ís when a group of Bristol artists formed an association named the Bristol Society of Artists. A committee was set up in 1844 to consider the establishment of an Academy for the teaching and practice of art and the exhibition of paintings and sculpture. A donation of £2,000 from Ellen Sharples, widow of artist James Sharples, enabled these aims to be put into practice and on her death in 1849, a legacy of £3,400 enabled the Academy to purchase the land and the planning of a building for the Academy at Clifton, Bristol, which was opened in 1858. The Academy's first patron was Prince Albert and Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of its first Associated Members. In 1913 King George V granted the Academy its Royal title. Membership was initially restricted to artists and sculptors living and working within ten miles of Bristol but in 1897 the area was extended to the West of England, and in the 1940s to the whole of the UK. This extended the activities of the Academy by attracting artists such as Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Margaret Fisher Prout. The annual exhibition, held in November, is open to non-members and additional thematic exhibitions are held throughout the year. Agnes Augusta Talboys (1863-1941), an artist member, left a sum of money to the Academy with the interest earned to be used to purchase works of art by artist members. This collection totalling over one thousand pieces forms a substantial part of its continued growth. Elected Royal West of England Academicians use the post-nominal RWA.

A school of art was established in 1853, known as the Bristol School of Practical Art supported by artist members and studio space was later provided by the Academy. From 1936 to 1969 it was known as the West of England College of Art. Since then, a school of art has always occupied part of the Academy premises. During the 1950s the Royal West of England Academy Schools became the West of England College of Art. This moved to the Bower Ashton campus in 1966, where it was then absorbed by the University of the West of England (School of Visual Studies), now the Department of Creative Industries, UWE, Bristol.