History of the Society

The Oxford Art Society was formed in 1891 at the instigation of Walter Tyrwhitt who remarked on the need for a society to encourage Art in the City and in the University. The President was to be Hubert von Herkomer, RA, who had succeeded John Ruskin as the Slade Professor of Fine Art in Oxford, and who demonstrated painting in his lectures because he believed that knowledge of the practice of painting was important for understanding history of art.

The Society held an annual exhibition each year except for six years during World War II. During the course of its history the Society has invited eminent artists to exhibit in its exhibitions and to become honorary members, many associated with the Ruskin School of Drawing and with the Slade School which had moved from London to Oxford during the World War II years. Albert Rutherstone and Percy Horton were both Head of the School and President of the Society. A close contact with the Ruskin School was maintained and with the Ashmolean Museum which hosted the Society’s exhibitions for 56 years until a new gallery space became available at the Westgate Library in 1973.

The centenary of the Society was celebrated in 1992, one hundred years after its first exhibition. This large exhibition of nearly 400 exhibits was held at the Museum of Modern Art in Pembroke Street. Works by earlier artists who had been associated with the Society were shown, including two large portraits by the first President, Sir Hubert von Herkomer, while 313 works by present members filled the upper floor.

Each year since 1972 the Society has held an exhibition for members’ work in addition to the Annual Open Exhibition. Non-members are encouraged to submit work to the Annual Open Exhibition for selection on the same basis as the selection of works by members of the Society. It is from these exhibitions that new members are invited to join the Society.


The majority of the Society’s members have professional art training and many combine their lives as working artists with teaching or other art related professions. A good number of members exhibit nationally or internationally, as well as locally during Oxfordshire Artweeks.

G.L.S.  30/3/2013

A century of Art in Oxford

Graeme Salmon, Society Archivist,  has put together an excellent booklet on the 1992 OAS centenary exhibition of key members of the Society during that period at the Museum of Modern Art, (now Modern Art Oxford).

Attached is a web version of the booklet: MOMA-book-reset-for web

Scrapbook of Walter Tyrwhitt, OAS founder and watercolourist

October 16, 2018

A couple of years ago the Oxford Art Society took into it’s possession a scrapbook which was originally owned and compiled by Walter Tyrwhitt, one of the founders of the society.  The book was found by honorary OAS member Rona while researching the history of the society.  It was part of an estate sale at Chiswick Auctions and, luckily for us, the auction had passed and the book hadn’t sold.  Rona purchased the book and kindly offered it to the society.

Among many fascinating pieces of information documenting the life of Tyrwhitt it contains reviews of Oxford Art Society exhibitions from the 19th and 20th century. Although yellowing and starting to fade, they capture a slice of the society’s past and also late 19th century/early 20th century ideas of taste and culture. A few of the pages and images from the scrapbook are reproduced below.

Tyrwhitt, a pupil of Radley College and alumnus of Christ Church, Oxford, was himself was an accomplished watercolourist and frequently exhibited his works in Society exhibitions and at the Royal Academy. He travelled widely in the Middle East, capturing the architecture and local scenes in bright, colourful watercolours. He was married to the painter and draughtsman, and friend of Gwen and Augustus John, Ursula Tyrwhitt.

The article below from The Magazine of Art, 1898, illustrates our historic relationship with the Town Hall, Oxford.

The Magazine of Art, February 1898

Below is a photo from the Oxford Journal showing a fine use of space from the Oxford Art Society hanging committee of 1909!

Oxford Journal, 23rd November 1909

The following page shows an interesting selection of clippings reviewing the 1910 exhibition, including an article from The Oxford Times (top right) berating the public and the city for it’s poor support of the society.

A selection of clippings from 1910

In the Oxford Chronicle article below (top left) the society’s annual report of last year’s exhibition is recorded, which notes “The Private View was crowded, and 900 visitors paid for admission, which is satisfactory“.

The 1923 exhibition certainly brightened up one reviewer’s “gloomy afternoon” as described in another article from the Oxford Chronicle (bottom right), who goes on to suggest a reason for the popularity of watercolour –

We English are a practical cleanly, travelling race. Can its real attraction lie in its comparative cleanness and the ease with which it can be carried. A young lady need never appear like Tweedledum or Tweedledee prepared for battle when she starts on a sketching trip.

More clippings, this time from 1923

1925 and the hanging committee haven’t lost their mastery of wall space.

Oxford Journal, October 18th 1925

The picture below shows Walter himself (right) at the Ashmolean alongside fellow society members, enjoying the Private View from 1930.

The Oxford Mail, 23rd October 1930