The Lincolnshire Artists’ Society, founded as the Lincolnshire Drawing Club, celebrated its Centenary in 2006. Inspired by the Cambridge Drawing Society founded in 1882, it was followed by the St Ives Society in 1927.
Primarily an exhibiting society welcoming artists from all over the county, the L.A.S. started out with an Annual Exhibition in the loose boxes of the stables at Monks Manor, Lincoln, the home of it’s founder Miss Elsie Ruston and her art collecting industrialist father Joseph. It moved to the city’s Exchange Arcade in 1910 following interest from the press and public, then to a room in the new Central library eventually finding its ideal home in the Usher Gallery from 1927. A great survivor, it emerged from an enforced period of inactivity in the First World War and has since had an unbroken run of exhibitions in Lincoln and around the county ever since.
At first, the emphasis was on drawings and
watercolours from the Grand Tour and from localities around Britain, Venice featured strongly from the beginning. The original sixty or so members were predominantly female relatives of the clergy, titled ladies or gentlemen of leisure, but this did not mean an absence of good standards or serious intent. Indeed their desire to improve was shown by the fact that a professional artist would be invited to criticise a selection of the works on display, and some did this with a forensic and often comical attention to detail.
The Middle Years
Sometimes the critics were famous, like Adrian Hill of BBC Television’s ‘Sketch Club’, and a procession of Royal Academicians visited over many decades, culminating in the presence of Sir Albert Richardson, their President, for the Jubilee Exhibition of 1956. More recently, the Academy’s Roger de Grey, Ken Howard, John Ward and Ben Levene have journeyed to Lincoln to encourage and praise the high standard.
Artists attracted to the L.A.S. over the decades were probably encouraged by the increasing professionalism of a body which welcomed the talented amateur but set very high standards for exhibitions. At first, there may have been a stark contrast between the works of original members and those of William Warrener, William Logsdail and Frank Bramley, three Lincoln-trained artists with established international reputations who exhibited alongside the amateurs. Warrener, as founder-member, had been one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s circle in Paris and was quickly elected by an all- female committee as the first chairman. In 1912 he pushed through the change of name that would appeal to professionals – Lincolnshire Artists’ Society. As a result some superb artists joined like the landscapist Herbert Rowlett of Grimsby, sculptors, Philip Pape and Bob Blatherwick, and art teachers like Judith Oyler and Patricia Laing and, in 1970, Gill Nadin. Nadin had trained under William Scott at Bath Academy. She was inspirational and persuaded many others to join.
The Brannan family – Edward and his two sons Noel and Peter – were devoted to the LAS and acquired enviable reputations, Noel for his unusual industrial landscapes and Peter for miraculously balanced work employing fine shifts of tonality and light. He was favourably compared to Vermeer, Mondrian and Utrillo. In 1949, a charismatic Czechoslovakian artist called Antonin Bartl joined the society, having escaped Nazi persecution. Taught by Oskar Kokoschka and head of publicity for 20th Century Fox in Prague, he became a lecturer in painting at Lincoln College of Art. A superb portraitist and landscapist, his expressionistic work inspired many students and he became a local legend in his own lifetime.
To the Present
As early as the 1950’s, critics were discussing the emergence of a Lincoln School of artists as distinguished as the Norwich School, and in the same decade the L.A.S. exhibited to great acclaim in London. As the century closed, Nadin, Bartl and Peter Brannan died and came to be regarded as the leading figures in the Society’s history, but many other talented prizewinning artists, some taught by them, emerged to continue the Society’s tradition of diversity in media and approach. Artists such as David Paton, one of our vice presidents and David Hollingshead trained under Bartl. Many serving on the present committee were taught by Nadin.
2006, The Centenary Year began with an Archive exhibition at The Collection, Lincoln in February. May saw the opening of the Centenary Annual Exhibition by Anthony Green R.A. Both ran until August. All of the 140 plus members were represented at this exhibition. Exhibits included contemporary and traditional paintings in oils acrylic and watercolour, drawings, prints, photography, glass, silver, sculpture and ceramics. A book ‘Lincolnshire Artists – 100 Years 1906 – 2006’ researched and written by art historian Edward Mayor was launched in April.
The icing on the centenary cake has to be the inclusion of three of William Warrener paintings in The Tate Britain’s exhibition: Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec, exactly 100 years after becoming the society’s very first chairman. I am sure that he and his committee would be proud to see how The Lincoln Drawing Club has progressed under the name he gave, The Lincolnshire Artists’ Society.
The Selection Committee 1948