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History of DAS



Between the turn of the 19th and 20th century and the advent of the First World War, Torquay was one of the most fashionable places in the world to holiday and be seen by ones contemporaries. The particularly mild climate, beautiful scenery and relatively easy access by road, made the town attractive to aspiring socialites and artists. Some of the visiting artists exhibited at the Royal Academy and had established reputations in the art world. There was also a locally based group of Devon born artists, loosely associated with the Vivian Institute, which housed the Torquay School of Art. A group of these artists came together by way of an amiable and highly accomplished artist called Alexander Fisher who also worked as a pottery painter at The Terracotta Company at Hele Cross in Torquay. Fisher was a keen landscape painter and in 1905, he set up his own gallery and studio in Lucius Street, Torquay. Here he exhibited his own paintings and those of friends and associates, who also aspired to become professional painters.

At about this time, a number of these locally based artists, many of whom worked by day in Torquay’s mushrooming pottery industry, grouped together calling themselves ‘The Artisans Art Society’. In order to develop this collective ambition, on 1 February 1912, a meeting was held at the School of Art and Alexander Fisher was appointed chairman of the meeting group. Plans for the future were discussed and at a second meeting on 13 February, it was decided to form a society and call themselves The Torquay and Devon  Art Society. George Bedford, who was Head of the School of Art, was elected the society’s first Chairman and Arthur Hacker  R.A. was invited to become the first President. Hacker (1858-1919) was an exceptional gifted artist, working on the fringes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and he accepted the Presidency. 

It was agreed to hold the Society’s first exhibition at the Spa Baths in Torquay from 17-19 April 1912. It was a mixed art and craft exhibition entitled ‘The Devon County Arts and Crafts Exhibition’. The exhibition consisted of 140 works (133 paintings in oil or watercolour, 3 pieces of fine art handicraft, 3 fine art needlework panels and a case of jewellery-enamels). The exhibition had almost a thousand visitors and established the Society’s existence in the South West. Following the success of this exhibition, the Torquay Directory, in October 1912 announced the Society’s first exhibition of paintings that was to be held at the Torwood Galleries, Torquay from   18 - 23 November. The gallery was a few doors down from the former Torwood Street Post Office, it later became a wine merchants.


The newly formed Torquay and Devon Art Society exhibition was a great success.  The Torquay Express and Echo reported on the Society's first Annual General Meeting that the success of the exhibition had doubled the Society membership, which now comprised of 34

members,16 associates and honoray members.  The pictures sold realised £51 and the commission to the  Society was £5.1s.4d .  However, due to an expenditure of £41.0.11d and only £20.12.3d exhibition receipts, the exhibition ran at a loss and the Society's executive "recommended".. that the deficit be made up out of general accounts.  This left a balance of 13.9p on the year's work, which was thought to be very satisfactory for such a young Society undertaking such an enormous exhibition (applause from the members).


The early years of the Society's exhibitiions must have been splendid celebrations of the visual arts, judging by the credentials of the artists which exhibited.  Three were Royal Acedemicians, one was an Associate of the Royal Academy, three were members of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and one an Associate of the Royal Water Colour Society, all prestigious London based institutions.  In the 1912 exhibition, prices ranged from as little  as 1 guinea to £300 pounds for a painting titled "Sentence of Death" by Hon.John Colier R.O.I. Mr.J.Noble-Brown's  "Lamorner Valley" was priced at £150.  The "Steeple Rock" by David Murrey R.A. was also £150. The success of the Society's first year encouraged them to establish annual exhibitions, usually in Spring and Summer. 


In some years the exhibitions were as short as two or three days.  These annual exhibitions, as far as we can tell, continued each year to the present day.  The  exhibitions were Open Exhibitions, allowing non members to submit work for selection.  However, in the limited newspaper reports and the often difficult to decipher copper-plate writing of the Minute Books there is sparse information in the Society's archives about what happened during several periods of the Society' history. 


We know that a Spring exhibition was held at Torquay Museum in 1914 which included miniatures, photography, leather work and a case of jewellery, as well as painting.  During the First World War period, at a quarterly meeting (Sept 26.1914) , members discussed.. " the advisability of holding a Members abnd Associated only exhibition in  lieu of the annual Open Exhibition, deferring the latter to better times".  The Annual General Meeting of January 1915, records exhibitions receipts and expenditure with a  balance in the bank of £5.14.8p.  The Spring Exhibition of that year was held in the small hall of the Museum and a Mr.Seridge was engaged as caretaker at 3/- a day and 3/6 on Wednesday.  The Torquay and Echo reported that 90 paintings were shown and the exhibition was well attended, but made a loss of £0.14.8p.  However, "considering the war the Society has done well in more than holding its own".  A cheque of £2.5s was sent to the Mayor's Hospital Funds.  The year ended with a balance of £17 against a deficit in pre-war days of £9.


Another article in the newspaper of Jan 27th 1916 states.."Artists are the heaviest sufferers in wartime, and it is not an easy undertaking to maintain enthusiasm for art which necessarily flourishes in times of leisure and peaceful prosperity.  But the Torquay and Devon Art society has done more than hold its own as the recent Annual Meeting shows".

The Birth of the Society

Arthur Hacker

self portrait

Torquay and South Devon Art Society

First Exhibition 1912

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