The Colchester Art Society’s 70th Anniversary Exhibition

PUBLISHED: 11:19 26 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:19 26 July 2016

Chair and Fruit by Hugh Cronyn

Chair and Fruit by Hugh Cronyn


As the Colchester Art Society marks its 70th anniversary with a unique exhibition this month, Alison Scott looks back at the society’s contribution to life in Colchester

This month, The Colchester Art Society will hold its 70th Anniversary Exhibition at the Minories Galleries in Colchester. Running from August 13 to 27, the exhibition will be opened by Ronald Blythe, the celebrated writer and a friend of John Nash, the first president of the society. There will be a special anniversary medal designed by the sculptor John Doubleday, to be awarded to an outstanding local artist and a commemorative plate designed by the ceramicist, Michèle Connell.

The Colchester Art Society was formed in 1946 by a group of professional artists living in the area, many of whom had already achieved national fame. As a founder member, John Nash was a painter of landscapes and still life, a wood-engraver and illustrator, particularly of botanical works. He was a member of the Modern English Watercolour Society and a founder member of the Society of Wood Engravers. He was an official war artist in 1918 and again during World War II. He was also a full member of the Royal Academy and taught at the Royal College of Art and later at the Colchester School of Art.

Another important founder member, who took over from John as president in 1979, was Cedric Morris. Having moved to Suffolk, he and Arthur Lett Haines founded the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, which promoted radical approaches to the teaching of art. Initially they were based in Dedham, but they later moved to Benton End, a farmhouse near Hadleigh. At its height, the school had some 60 students, among them Lucian Freud, Maggi Hambling and Valerie Thornton. Henry Collins and Joyce Pallot (Collins) were also prominent members of The Colchester Art Society and were best known for their public art murals, which were installed in Colchester and other cities.

These early members left a legacy of professionalism that was continued by later presidents. After John and Cedric came Roderic Barrett, a wood engraver and oil painter of still life and modernist images. He taught at the Royal Academy Schools and exhibited in London, Strasbourg and the US as well as Colchester.

Essex Seaside by Joyce PallotEssex Seaside by Joyce Pallot

He was succeeded by Anthony Atkinson, a landscape painter who was head of the Colchester School of Art from 1964 until his retirement. He undertook commissions for many organisations, including Shell, London Transport, the Post Office and Barclays Bank. He exhibited in London and Cambridge, as well as locally.

Anthony’s successor, Ron Sims, was a print maker and abstract hard edge painter who taught at the Colchester School of Art and Gainsborough House, and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy Summer Shows. He was an elected member of the Art Works Guild and of the Printmakers Council. The current president, Simon Carter paints abstract landscapes that simplify elements of the world he experiences. He exhibits regularly in London and abroad, and has won numerous awards.

Collaborative approach

Jenny Bone by John O'ConnorJenny Bone by John O'Connor

Another legacy left by the founder members is an openness to non-professional artists and an active promotion of the arts among art students and the general public. Traditionally there has been a close link between the Society and the Colchester School of Art at the Colchester Institute. Several of the leading members taught or were taught there and several of the society’s exhibitions have been held there.

As one of Colchester’s most important cultural and artistic centres, the Minories was the natural home for the society’s exhibitions and other activities.

The Minories’ role in the community changed somewhat after it was leased in 2008 to Colchester Institute’s Department of Art, Design and Media, primarily for its MA students. However, some links with the society remained and have recently strengthened. This autumn, there will be a joint exhibition at the Minories between The Colchester Art Society and the Colchester School of Art, to promote a ‘conversation’ between the work of students and CAS members.

The Firstsite contemporary art gallery opened in 2011, close to the Minories. Its short history has been controversial because of the architecture, the narrow focus on contemporary art and the lack of relationship with local cultural institutions. However, a more open approach has developed recently and currently Firstsite and The Colchester Art Society are co-sponsoring a series of talks by modern high profile artists.

The Colchester Art Society currently has more than 230 members, most of whom are practising artists living in northeast Essex or Suffolk. Many current members of the society are highly regarded professional artists, have taught at the Colchester School of Art or are elected members of national art organisations and exhibit their work beyond Colchester.

Each year the society holds two exhibitions as well as organising talks, visits and social events for members. The society also owns an interesting collection of original works by its members which represents much of the best work by East Anglian artists over nearly a century. There are 68 paintings and two sculptures, which can be loaned to members for a small fee. The collection is being catalogued by art historian Evelyne Bell and will be available for the launch of the 70th Anniversary Exhibition.

It certainly promises to be a very exciting time for art in the town of Colchester.

Find out more

The Colchester Art Society 70th Anniversary Exhibition

The Minories Galleries, 74 High Street, Colchester CO1 1UE. 01206 712437

The exhibition runs from August 13 to 27

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