The Federation of British Artists | A Timeline History

Mall Galleries is the national focal point for contemporary figurative art, and home to the Federation of British Artists.

The Federation comprises nine royal and national art societies, each specialising in a genre or medium of contemporary art. All of the societies host their annual exhibitions at Mall Galleries, which are regarded as flagships for the art forms they champion.

Although the Federation of British Artists was founded in 1961, and the Mall Galleries opened its doors in 1971, a timeline of their history should begin long before, in 1823, with the founding of the first member art society.


1823: On 21 May, a group of painters gathered at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London and formed the Society of British Artists, known today as the Royal Society of British Artists, the oldest art society within the Federation of British Artists

1824: On 19 April, the inaugural exhibition of the Society of British Artists opened on the corner of nearby Suffolk Street and Pall Mall (at which sold works were indicated by a black spot, not the universal red dot of today)

1831: The New Society of Painters in Water Colours was founded, nowadays the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, whose first exhibition opened at 16 Old Bond Street on 14 April 1832

1882: The Institute of Oil Painters was founded, which became the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1909

1885: The New English Art Club was founded, whose inaugural exhibition opened at Marlborough Gallery, Pall Mall, in 1886

1891: A group of artists joined together to found the Society of Portrait Painters, today the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, devoted to the art and development of portrait painting

1898: The Pastel Society was founded, whose inaugural exhibition opened on 4 February 1899 in Piccadilly with 311 exhibits by 72 artists

1930: The Royal Society of British Artists established an Art Club as part of its educational provisions, which was re-named the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society in 1958; today, the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society has a membership of 200 artists, making it London’s largest life drawing group

1939: Founding of the Society of Marine Artists, whose inaugural independent exhibition opened at London’s Guildhall in 1946 after the Second World War, and which became the Royal Society of Marine Artists in 1966

1959: On 26 February, the first meeting was held to discuss the proposal of creating a Federation of British Artists: the bringing together of a number of art societies under one administrative umbrella, to pool and share resources, while retaining their independence and autonomy. Among those attending were the Presidents of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, New English Art Club, and Royal Society of British Artists

1961: Under the direction of its first Secretary-General, Maurice Bradshaw, the Federation of British Artists incorporated and became established as a charitable company that operated from the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) Galleries in Suffolk Street

1964: Founding of the Society of Wildlife Artists, the youngest society in the FBA, devoted to wildlife art

1971: On 25 February, Her Majesty The Queen officially opened the Mall Galleries, the new home of the Federation, housed in the long podium of John Nash’s 1827 Regency Terrace

1991: HM The Queen returned to Mall Galleries for the centenary exhibition by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

2008: Mall Galleries presented the Columbia Threadneedle Prize, a major competition for contemporary figurative art; the prize ran for a decade, until 2018, during which time ten artists were crowned winners

2012: The Federation launched FBA Futures, its annual exhibition of figurative art by new graduates; to date, over 220 art school graduates have participated in the exhibition

2021: The Federation of British Artists celebrated its 60th anniversary and 50 years since the opening of Mall Galleries by awarding over £100,000 worth of prizes at its annual exhibitions and special anniversary show, Figurative Art Now

2022: Despite wars, recessions, dramatic changes in fashion, and a worldwide pandemic, the Federation of British Artists survives – and thrives – to this day; from its home at Mall Galleries, it presents exhibitions and events, awards and prizes, artist commissions and art consultancy projects to audiences around the world

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