The History of Royal Queensland Art Society, Brisbane Branch Inc.

The RQAS, from its modernised and functional new premises on Petrie Terrace, continues to achieve the original objectives of the Society to encourage Fine Arts and organise exhibitions in Brisbane. 

The RQAS has a long, proud, though at times difficult, history. It was born from the wish of a group of like-minded people to share their love and interest in art and to establish a Queensland National Art Gallery (QNAG).  Informal meetings in 1884 and 1885 brought together the group ultimately responsible for establishing the Queensland Art Society in 1887, the key figure being Isaac Walter Jenner. It was not all smooth sailing in the formative years due to infrequency of meetings, disagreement among members, lack of government support and concern over the works displayed in the first exhibition − a mixture of pictures on loan, copies and other non-original works. However the appointment of Richard Godfrey Rivers as president in 1891 brought a period of stability and a new policy of allowing only original works to be shown at exhibitions.

In 1895, with donations from Rivers and the Municipal Council, the first Queensland National Art Gallery was opened in the upper room of the Town Hall, from which point on the Society and the QNAG were inextricably linked. By 1896 the trustees of the QNAG realised that new premises were needed, but there followed a period of stagnation of some twenty odd years. At this time the Society was confined to meeting at the homes and studios of members and renting space for exhibitions, though in 1910 it raised funds to secure a five year lease at Fitzroy Chambers. These were, however, destroyed by fire in 1912 and all records lost. Though the building was refurbished, the advent of WWI brought severe financial problems and the Society became once again dependent on the goodwill of members and rented rooms.  

In 1922 the Society was revitalised and achieved its goal of a purpose-built gallery in Harris Court, George Street. It was also successful in receiving royal patronage and thus adding ‘Royal’ to its name. In 1929, Vida Lahey and Daphne Mayo, both RQAS members, created the Queensland Art Fund to give the quest for suitable premises for the State gallery much needed impetus. In 1931, the gallery was relocated to the old Museum in Bowen Park and enjoyed a surge in patronage. The first permanent director was appointed in 1949 and with that milestone RQAS had achieved another one of its major objectives. The relationship between RQAS and QNAG was strong with RQAS members being strongly represented in Queensland Gallery exhibitions.

Nevertheless, the RQAS experienced years of financial difficulties as well as arguments over a change of premises to Wickham Terrace in 1948. The building in Fortitude Valley was sold in 1950 and a site on the corner of Edward Street and Astor Terrace purchased. In 1971 the RQAS opened a gallery on this site, but by then the Society had become rather inward-looking. By 2009 the Society was feeling the need for new space, new members and new life. In 2011 it sold the Astor Terrace property and secured its current premises on Petrie Terrace, with room to house their library, a kitchen, teaching rooms and multiple gallery spaces.

In its chequered history, the RQAS has played an undeniably important role in the establishment of what is now the Queensland Art Gallery and in the recognition of prominent Queensland artists. In addition to Isaac Walter Jenner, Godfrey Rivers, Vida Lahey and Daphne Mayo, prominent members included Gwendolyn and William Grant, Dorothy Coleman, Irene Amos, Win Robbins and Frank de Silva. Since the move to Petrie Terrace and under its current president, Dr Kay Kane, the Society has undergone renewed growth, attracting many younger members including graduates of the Julian Ashton School of Arts, two of whom are recipients of the prestigious Alice Bale Art Award. The RQAS gallery spaces are well used by the local arts community with high-quality exhibitions being held on a regular basis. With its excellent gallery space, central location, and innovative initiatives, the RQAS will continue to be an important resource for local artists into the future.

Historical references from Thorns & Petals, 100 years of the Queensland Art Society (1988), by Keith Bradbury & Glenn R. Cooke.

You can become a member of RQAS by clicking here.

For information on hiring the Petrie Terrace Gallery space click here.

You may also like to browse through the Artist Profile Section to see a showcase of our members and their artwork.

RQAS Inc. Committee

State Body President: John Pyke

State Body Vice President: TBA

Treasurer: Kelvin Hill

Secretary: Vashti-Sita Bardsley

Brisbane Representatives:

                              Kay Kane

                              Christine Kirkegard

Gold Coast Representatives:

                              Ruth  McPhail

                              Michael Hooper

Rockhampton Representatives:

                               Annette Murray

                               Coral Morris


Brisbane Branch Committee 

President: TBA

Vice President: Margaret Thomas (acting President)

Treasurer: Kelvin Hill

Secretary: Vashti-Sita Bardsley

Gallery Director: TBA

General Committee Members:

                            Max Butler

                            Glen Gillard

                            Kay Kane

                            John Kane

                            Christine Kirkegard

                            Anne Roberts

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