A frequent question 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 resident 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).
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.
The 346 page book ‘Print REbels: Haden, Palmer, Whistler and the origins of the RE’ which accompanied the historical exhibition shown at Bankside Gallery earlier this year is still available to purchase for £30 (plus £4 P&P).