The Society of Women Artists was established around 1855 to give serious women artists the opportunity to exhibit. Under Royal patronage since 1865, it has continued to attract some of the most noted artists of the time. With a well-deserved reputation for excellence, it counts some of the finest contemporary women artists in its membership.
Having joined the Society early in her painting career, Barbara recalled her feelings after her work was first exhibited: "I watched with awe our President Dame Laura Knight escorting our Patron, Princess Marina Duchess of Kent, on her tour of the exhibits, and I remember so vividly my feelings of pride that my own work was amongst them". Barbara developed a passion for the Society, and was invited to serve on the committee in 1981, and through hard work and singular focus was elected President of the Society in 1985.
Realising how important quality of work was to maintain the status of the society, she was dedicated to raising the standard of work displayed during the Society's annual summer exhibitions. She also managed the independent running of the Society following its split from the Federation of British Artists in 1986, traced early catalogues and papers and negotiated a four volume publication charting the history of the Society of Women Artists with Charles Baille de Laperrie.
Barbara still felt that the SWA had not received acknowledgement for its past great efforts in the field of art against terrible odds, and to this end contacted the Victoria and Albert Museum to ask if they would be willing to provide a permanent home for our archives. They showed great enthusiasm and set wheels in motion to fund the project. In June 1996 the archive was gifted to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Archive of Art and Design, where it is presented as a corporate body, and the mechanics of running the Society can be viewed today on the Internet. In 1993 Barbara was awarded an Honorary Professorship by Thames Valley University.
In the words of the current President of the SWA, Barbara Penketh Simpson : "Nobody who worked with Barbara could fail to remember her presence and her devotion, which continued long after she had been forced, by ill health and advancing years, to hand over to the next generation, a Society, revitalised in great measure, by her hard work and dogged perseverance". With more than 160 active members, the Society is going from strength to strength. Its annual summer exhibition runs from the first to the tenth of July 2010, at the Mall Galleries. Find more details on the Society Of Women Artists' website.
With gratitude to Barbara Penketh Simpson for supplying the above material