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Our History

During the early 1880′s, a small group of amateur and professional artists in Cardiff met occasionally in each other’s homes for discussion and the practice of painting. In 1887 they decided to form a society and after canvassing for support, a public meeting was held on February 2nd 1888 to launch the venture under the name of “The South Wales Art Society and Sketching Club”. Few art societies can have made such an impressive start as this one, for no less than 122 members and patrons joined on this occasion. By the end of the year, the membership had increased to 277 with 27 patrons. Among the foundation members was the late Sir William Goscombe John. The first Exhibition was held at the then Cardiff Public Hall in September 1888 and was open for six weeks, during which time some 6,000 people paid an admission fee to see it.

To celebrate its 125th Anniversary Year in 2012, the SWAS compiled a new history display mapping the development of the Society and the importance of art in South Wales spanning the years 1887-2012. The display was shown alongside the Society’s 125th Anniversary Exhibition at The Cardiff Story, Old Library Building, The Hayes, Cardiff, from 28 February to 20 April 2012. It featured an illustrated talk recorded by the Society’s former Vice Chair and Archivist, Dr Robert Llewellyn Davies, MBE, which traced the full history of the Society from its creation in the wake of the industrial revolution in Cardiff, describing the many people who contributed to its development throughout its first century and beyond (see poster on page 2).

For some 14 years before and during the first World War, the society was in the position of having it’s own art gallery. When this was no longer possible, The National Museum of Wales very kindly placed its branch gallery, The Turner House Gallery, Penarth, at the society’s disposal. Here they held their annual exhibition which usually took place in the autumn for a period of about 3-4 weeks. This yearly exhibition proved to be a huge success, as many art lovers, wanting to purchase original art work, eagerly awaited the opportunity to view over 200 paintings by local artists. Sadly, after many years, 2002 was the last SWAS Annual Exhibition held at The Turner House Gallery as it was no longer made available to them by The National Museum of Wales.


For the Millennium, a special demonstration was held at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff on April 28th 2000. Tom Coates (President of the Pastel Society) painted an oil portrait of the Welsh entertainer, Max Boyce. Today the society holds exhibitions in various venues throughout South Wales, including The Old Library, Cardiff and St John’s Church.

South Wales Art Society, circa 1890

In 2016, the Society still strives to achieve its original aims to encourage and advance art in South Wales, our membership remains strong and exhibitions continue to be held annually.

For an up to date list of current and forthcoming exhibitions please see our What’s On page.

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