A question frequently asked by visitors is “What does the ‘RE’ stand for after an artist’s name on the artwork label?” Fear not, the staff at BG are always on hand to answer questions such as this!
RE after an artist’s name shows that they are a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, which immediately poses the next question, “But where does the ‘E’ in ‘RE’ come from?” This is explained through the evolution of the Society and it’s various names…
Sir Francis Seymour Haden founded the ‘Society of Painter-Etchers’ in 1880 from his living room at 38 Hertford Street in London’s Mayfair. He does this in company with five other artists living in London, namely: James Tissot, Alphonse Legros, Hubert von Herkomer RA, Heywood Hardy and Robert Walter Macbeth RA. Members of the Society at this time are artists who make etchings and engravings as a creative art form (however many years later members who earn a living as copyist engravers begin showing examples of their reproductive work along with their original prints, causing some controversy).
RE History and their affiliation with the RWS & Bankside Gallery
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.
Both the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers were 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.
1888 - Queen Victoria allows the Society to assume the title of Royal, so it becomes the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers.
1898 - Queen Victoria allows the RE’s title to be enlarged to become the ‘Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers’, this is to incorporate the copper plate copyists’ engravings and mezzotints from which some members make a living.
1911 - King George V grants a Charter of Incorporation and Bye-Laws to the RE, by which time the Society has grown in prestige and become fully established. Full fellows are entitled to use the post-nominals ‘RE’. This is comparable to a degree from a college or university as the Royal Charter entitles the RE to award letters and diplomas to those who, in its opinion, by peer review and election, are outstanding in the field of making their own prints.
1920 - RE Membership expands to embrace artists producing relief engravings.
1991 - The Society’s name becomes the ‘Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers’ but retains its ‘RE’ epithet when the bye-laws are changed to make artists using all forms of original printmaking eligible for membership.
The above is taken from the Timeline: Sir Francis Seymour Haden and the history of the RE by Anne Desmet RA RE and Joseph Winkelman PPRE Hon RWS in the ‘Print REbels’ book.
To find out more about the history of the RE, and its affiliation with Bankside Gallery and the Royal Watercolour Society, click here.
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