Contemporary Art Society

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Tate Gallery

Kenneth Clark (1903—1983) art patron and historian

Group of Seven

Clive Bell (1881—1964) art critic and writer

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A society formed in London in 1910 to promote contemporary art and to acquire works by living artists for gift or loan to public museums in Britain (and later in the Commonwealth and occasionally elsewhere). It was envisaged as the counterpart, in the modern field, of the National Art Collections Fund, which had been founded in 1903 to assist public collections in purchasing works of art. Originally it was planned to call the society the Modern Art Association, but the present name had been adopted by the time the CAS was formerly inaugurated on 18 May 1910 at 44 Bedford Square, the home of Philip Morrell, a Liberal MP, and his wife, Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873–1938), a celebrated hostess and patron of the arts. They were members of the original committee, which also included Charles Aitken (then director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, later director of the Tate Gallery), Clive Bell, Roger Fry, and D. S. MacColl. Later members of the committee have included many distinguished figures in the art world, notably Kenneth Clark, whose energy and financial generosity were important in helping the society to survive the Second World War. It now operates with support from Arts Council England as well as private funding and offers art consultancy services for individual collectors and the corporate sector.

Other countries have established Contemporary Art Societies, although not invariably with the same type of purpose as the British CAS. In Australia, a CAS was formed in Melbourne in 1938 in opposition to the Australian Academy of Art, founded the previous year, which was considered by its opponents to be a bastion of conservatism. Opposition to the Academy was led by George Bell, who issued a leaflet entitled To Art Lovers, in which he proposed forming ‘a society which will unite all artists and laymen who are in favour of encouraging the growth of a living art, who are determined both to prevent any dictatorship in art and to nullify the effect of any official recognition acquired by a self-constituted Academy’. In its early years the CAS was split by disputes among members, but it established branches in Sydney and Adelaide and then in other states and through its exhibitions became the main channel for transmitting knowledge of avant-garde art. In 1961 the Contemporary Art Society of Australia was formed.

In Canada, a Contemporary Art Society was founded in Montreal in 1939 by the painter John Lyman (1886–1967) and ran until 1948. It held annual exhibitions and aimed to promote an international outlook in contrast to the nationalistic concerns of the Group of Seven and the Canadian Group of Painters. The artists who exhibited with the Canadian Contemporary Art Society included Borduas and Riopelle.

Subjects: Art.

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