The Society of Scottish Artists was founded in 1891, and held its first Annual Exhibition in the Royal Scottish Academy Gallery - then the Royal Institution. Its inaugural catalogue laid forth the SSA’s function as -
"… being formed with a view to holding an Annual Exhibition in Edinburgh, to give inducement to the younger Artists to produce more important and original works by providing hanging space for such works. The opportunity has also been taken to obtain for the Society’s Exhibition examples of all Schools of Modern Art from distinguished living Artists…"
The SSA and the members and government of the RSA enjoyed an uneasy relationship during the early years of the SSA’s existence. The SSA was seen as a "rebellious" and "progressive" group, while the RSA represented the more traditional and conservative stance. After many appeals, however, including some to the Queen and the House of Commons, the SSA secured the use of the RSA galleries for its Annual Exhibition from 1902. There are few Scottish artists of note who have not, at one time or another, been involved with the SSA, with Presidents including James Cadenhead, Stanley Cursiter, William McTaggart, Edward Gage, George Wyllie and Barbara Rae. The roll call of members and exhibitors is also impressive, including –The Glasgow Boys (Guthrie, McGregor, Walton, Hornel and Roche), the Scottish Colourists (Cadell and Peploe), John Duncan, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and William McTaggart to name but a few.
The SSA also strove to represent the more "adventurous" work being done abroad and so exhibitions included the work of the Post Impressionists, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh in 1913 and, in the same year, the Futurist, Gino Severini showed work. In 1922 the Sociey presented work by Picasso, Daumier, Degas and Forain. In 1931, the Society showed, for the first time in the UK, twelve canvases by the then highly controversial Edvard Munch who went on to become a member of the Society. In 1934 the SSA showed a selection of work by international living artists including Paul Klee. At this exhibition, the Scottish National Gallery bought his "Approaching Snowstorm", which is now on show in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Prices for work then ranged from £35 to £350, with a head in pastel by Picasso costing £210, while framed etchings by Matisse, Picasso and Salvador Dali were available for £5 each. The SSA has continued in this vein to the present day, always willing to show the controversial, the unique and the most adventurous and challenging work available. Its network of artist members and contacts throughout the world gives it access to some of the most interesting work by contemporary artists, which it endeavours to bring to a Scottish public.