Our History

Bankside Gallery is the home of the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS), and the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers (RE). Its vibrant exhibitions celebrate the very best in contemporary water-based media and original print, championing the work of both new and established artists.


For over 40 years Bankside Gallery has played a crucial role in displaying and promoting work on paper; exploring its boundaries while supporting education activities organised by the RWS and RE.


Opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1980, Bankside Gallery is a registered educational charity, number 293194 and receives no government funding.


All our endeavours are overseen by our Board of Trustees whose details can be found here.


The Royal Watercolour Society

The origins of the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) can be traced back to the formation of the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1804. Born out of a sense of grievance by a number of such artists who practised in watercolour and felt that they were discriminated against by the Royal Academy, the only professional artistic body of the day.

To find out more about the Royal Watercolour Society, head to their website here.


The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers

Originally known as the Society of Painter-Etchers, the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) was founded by Francis Seymour Haden in 1880 in reaction to the Royal Academy of Arts' reluctance to exhibit etchings and engravings.


The society received their Royal Charter from Queen Victoria in 1888 and became the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers. Although they changed their name in 1991 to embrace a broader range of printmaking practices, they have retained the abbreviation RE to this day as both their identity and the qualifying letters that follow an elected member's name.


To find out more about the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, head to their website here.


The History of the Societies and their affilliation with Bankside Gallery

The Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers were both born from a feeling that the Royal Academy undervalued their respective media, and failed to show them to advantage, if at all. The two societies joined forces in exhibition rooms at 5a Pall Mall in 1889 and never looked back. In 1938 they moved to 26 Conduit Street, London W1, when the lease at 5a Pall Mall East expired and the block was redeveloped.


As the 20th century went on, property prices in the West End rose. In 1973 the Conduit Street lease was renewed for seven years but the rent was increased to £700, an unsustainable price for the two societies. A committee of Harry Eccleston, Andrew Freeth, Malcolm Fry (RWS and RE Secretary), Richard Seddon, and Rodney Millard was set up to consider the question of new premises. But as chance would have it, a fortuitous dinner invitation led to the foundation of Bankside Gallery, and the rescue of both societies.


A fundraising campaign followed along with the inevitable delays and complications involved in a major building project, but finally, in 1980, the societies were settled in their new home.