Sunday, March 26, 2017

300th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists

Last week I visited the 300th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) at the Mall Galleries. The exhibition continues until 1st April from 10am to 5pm.

Below is my review - plus analysis of how well artists submitting work via the open entry fare.

Cover of the catalogue for the 300th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists
This is not the 300th Annual Exhibition because the RBA has not been going for 300 years! It was founded in 1823, acquired a Royal Charter in 1887 and managed two exhibitions a year in its early days - hence "300th".
In addition to its normal exhibition, the far gallery in the North Gallery included artwork by twenty-two aspiring young artists selected from across the UK and Europe.

End wall in the Main Gallery

Exhibition metrics - and the Open Entry

I write this blog for artists as well as art lovers - in particular, for those who enter art competitions and open exhibitions. This year I'm monitoring how "open" the open Annual Exhibitions of Art Societies are.

In terms of numbers, the number of works submitted for the open has not been supplied in the catalogue - which is a pity. I'll see if I can get hold of it and calculate the percentage success artists have of getting their work accepted.

No. of artworks and artists

There are 510 artworks in the main exhibition across the three galleries (excluding the work by past Presidents and members, NADFAS RBA Scholars and the National Students At Exhibition) 

There are 383 artworks (75%) by 86 members and 127 artworks (25%) were by 100 non-members.

Of the latter some 16 of the 'open' artists are members of other national societies (most of which are based at the Mall Galleries).  Which leaves 84 which have no affiliation.
  • This makes the ratio of members' to open artworks hung 75:25. This for me puts this exhibition on the margins of being counted as a serious open exhibition. 
  • By way of contrast, the ratio of members to 'open' artists is 46:54 in terms of people hanging work in the exhibition. 

Artworks per artist

  • Members: averaged 4.45 works hung. Typically full members hung the six works they can hang while more senior members tended to hang just one or a small number
  • 'Open' artists: averaged 1.27 works hung each. The vast majority had just one work hung, a few had two or three and one candidate (who I know) had 4 works.  Whether it's worth submitting more than one work has got to be debateable as the chances are only one will be hung. I don't think there's a good rationale for submitting more than two unless you're pitching to be a candidate for entry now or in the future.

No. of sales per class of artist

This is an interesting statistic as this number will, of course, vary over the course of the exhibition. However, two days after the Private View is a good time to take a sample.

In the case of this exhibition, the metrics work out as follows:
  • 32 sales by members - 8.3% of artwork sold 
  • 30 sales by 'open' artists - 23.6% of artwork sold 
Bottom line, the open part of the exhibition is generating more sales pro rata to artwork hung than the members.

I did have the impression that some of the members' prices are a tad high relative to the marketplace - but they will know whether or not their work sells at that price.  You can check the prices of all the artwork in the exhibition on the Mall Galleries website and in the catalogue.

Review of the exhibition

Exhibition by members

Work of past Presidents and Members
The exhibition this year includes a wall of artwork by previous Presidents and Members in the Threadneedle Space.  It might be worthy and it's very definitely the sort of thing you do for a 300th event - but quite a lot of it was very dull. Not unworthy - just art more suited to the past than the present.

Yet again the work exhibited in the main gallery was by members.

I have written before at length on this topic and don't propose to repeat myself except to say I think it's a mistake.  The emphasis, to my mind, should ALWAYS be on creating the best possible well-hung exhibition as opposed an exhibition by members with the open submissions being treated as some sort of add-on.

The reality is that while there is some excellent work in the main gallery, there is also some work which fails to interest. Obviously, everybody's taste is different and I don't expect to like everything - but I did feel some of the work looked, for want of a better word, "old" (and by that I don't mean the past members' work or 'traditional' per se.)

Walls which looked good included:

Work by George Large, Jill Leman, William Selby and Martin Leman looked good in each other's company
Traditional but pleasing paintings
More traditional but pleasing paintings
I loved the exhibition of complex multi-media artwork and fine art prints by Vice President Mick Davies. I loved the drawing element to these works and the palette used for the colours. They're a lesson in how to make a very busy artwork look totally absorbing.

An EXCELLENT wall of mixed media work and fine art prints by Vice President Mick Davies

Some large and small sculpture in the Threadneedle Space
plus colourful paintings which looked excellent in the very neutral space.

The Open Entry and the North Gallery 

Most of the artwork selected via the Open Entry is hanging in the North Gallery. It includes a lot of good work. Overall, it has a more contemporary feel than some of the artwork by members in the main gallery.

It also had my favourite corner/wall of the exhibition.

North Gallery #1

North Gallery #2

North Gallery #3
This was my favourite wall. I love the combination of mostly monochrome with some well-judged colour.

The Middle of the North Gallery (the little room)
I also loved the fine art prints which were hung on the 'monochrome' wall.

Fine art prints from OPEN artists in the North Gallery
This is the VIDEO I made of the work hanging in the North Gallery.

I can't remember the last time that I saw Melissa Scott-Miller's work in the North Gallery. Her large paintings are normally out in the Main Gallery space winning prizes and garnering sales from her very faithful following...

Three works by Melissa Scott-Miller NEAC RP

Work by Young Artists / Scholars

I thought the work by some of the Young Artists in the far gallery was very impressive. Indeed some of them were winning prizes! (see below)

You can see all the NADFAS RBA Scholars on this website

I wasn't in the least bit surprised that this portrait by Wilmslow High School student Eleonor Prime was singled out for a Highly Commended for the top prize in the show! To my mind there are some issues with the painting but overall it shows very great promise.

Also see two of the prizes below which were won by Young Artists exhibiting in the North Gallery.


One of the bonuses of this open exhibition is that it has a lot of prizes! Prizewinners are listed on the website. It's a pity the list doesn't include images. Below are some of the award winners.

The de Laszlo Foundation Prize 
Medal and £1,500 will be awarded to the artist under 35 for the best painting from life
Blindfold by Anna Rubincam (Open)

Contemporary Arts Trust Award £1,000
Joint Winner
Untitled I by Gopal Sharma

Contemporary Arts Trust Award £1,000
Joint Winner
Self Portrait by Jane McNulty
RBA Scholar from Bourne Academy

I thought the next painting - by a young artist was very impressive and certainly worthy of the prize it won.

The John Ingram Memorial Prize
for a Young Artist

Self Portrait by Katie Denham

The Michael Harding Awards
Two prizes of £500 of art supplies
Ghost by Malcolm Ashman RBA ROI (above bottom left)
Peeling 2 by Henry Jabbour (open)

Frinton Frames Award
£200 of picture framing at Frinton FramesWaiting for You by Steven Outram RBA
(middle row right)

The Edward Wesson Award for Watercolour Painting £100Present from A.J. by Annie Williams RBA RWS

The Artist Magazine Award
The winner will be featured in The Artist magazineAll works (502-507) by Anthony Yates RBA

The Dry Red Press Award
Work published as a greeting card
Songbirds by Nicola Slattery RBA
acrylic painting on wood

The Alfred Daniels Personal Favourites Awards (Six prizes of £100)
  • Lights in Mist, Blackheath - Jon Pryke RBA
  • Don't Rock the Boat - Stuart Smith (OPEN)
  • Girl on the Wire - Bridget Moore RBA NEAC
  • The Old Boat - Alex Callaway (OPEN)
  • Bull's Head - Martyn Baldwin RBA
  • The Thames at Putney - Ronald Morgan RBA ROI 

Don't Rock the Boat - Stuart Smith
The Geoffrey Vivis Memorial Award £100
Self Portrait by Charlie Pike
NADFAS Scholar | Thomas Hardye School, Dorset

Events during the exhibition

The remaining events next week are as follows:

PresentersEvent DetailDates and Times
James HortonPortrait
Monday 27th March 12 noon to 2pm
James HortonTour of the exhibitionMonday 27th March 4pm
David SawyerLandscape and Architecture
Wednesday 29th March, 12 noon to 2pm
James HortonCoffee Morning (with sketching)
James will be playing the classical guitar
Thursday 30th March, 10am to 12 noon
Mick Davies
Nick Tidnam
Acrylics and Mixed Media
Thursday 30th March, 1:30pm to 3:30pm

About the exhibition

  • Venue: Mall Galleries - The Mall, St. James's, London SW1, UK (link is to Google Maps)
  • Dates: 22nd March to 1st April 2017
  • Open: Daily, 10am to 5pm during exhibitions (unless otherwise stated), including Bank Holidays.
  • Admission £4, £2.50 concessions, 50% off for National Art Pass holders, Free for Friends of Mall Galleries, RBA Friends and under 18s

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