The Fine Art Society is an art gallery set up on Bond Street in London, with a branch in Edinburgh, that was started by a group of enthusiasts and passionate collectors of art, originally trading in prints. One of the first artists who exhibited at The Fine Art Society was James McNeill Whistler, who showed his Venice etchings commissioned by the gallery after the famous Ruskin-Whistler trial. Since then, the gallery has featured many significant exhibitions alongside opening a contemporary gallery of 1,000 square feet in 2005, with its first five-floor exhibition, What Marcel Duchamp Taught Me.
The company remains in its original setting in a townhouse with a 19th-century façade designed by architect E.W. Godwin. In the entrance, there is a small space where visitors will first encounter works of art. The first work is a modern cast of an original Peter Pan sculpture by Sir George James Frampton from 1911 – the original remains in Kensington Gardens. The artist represented the New Sculpture movement and had his exhibition at The Fine Art Society in 1902.
Walking through the ground floor, you will be welcomed with paintings by Walter Richard Sickert – an experimental British painter who was influenced by the French impressionists and whose works were first publicly exhibited in the building on Bond Street. His works are surrounded by names such as Prunella Clough, Joseph Crawhall and Eric Gill.
However, the most eye-catching is the statue of Eros by Sir Alfred Gilbert. The original cast adorns the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in the center of Piccadilly Circus, and it was the first public sculpture to be made of aluminum. More copies of the Eros were launched in 1985 from the original cast held by the Victoria & Albert Museum. Eros is also one of the three most recognizable sculptures in the world, alongside Michelangelo’s David and the Statue of Liberty.
The gallery has established its position as one of the most important centers supporting British artists who represent various genres. This includes Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, whose works are also on display on the first floor during A Celebration. However, not limiting themselves to solely British art, The Fine Art Society played an important role in popularizing Eastern art by hosting the first ever exhibition of Katsushika Hokusai in the western world, in 1881, displaying works from the series of ‘The Hundred Poems as told by the Nurse‘.
One of the most prominent artists featured in the show is Samuel Palmer. The Fine Art Society held his first major memorial exhibition in its early days, in 1881. Palmer worked both in watercolors and etching and most often represented poetic pastoral landscapes, a genre not particularly favored during his time. Although his entire etched legacy is limited to 12 finished plates, he was mostly praised for them and also loved this type of work most, despite not being financially rewarding. Works by Samuel Palmer, including four watercolors and ten etchings, can be accessed on the lower floor of the gallery.
‘The Fine Art Society 1876-2016 | A Celebration’ is on display at The Fine Art Society until 7 July 2016.
The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London, UK, +44 20 7629 5116