The RSW has a pedigree dating from its foundation in 1876. As the Scottish Society of Water-Colour Painters it staged its first public Exhibition in 1879 in the rented premises it had acquired in West Nile Street in Glasgow, and its first elected President was Francis Powell RSW, already a Member of the RWS, one of the two earlier English watercolour societies. There were 35 Members and 10 Associate Members (the latter status was discontinued in 1885) and among the Founder Members in Scotland were such illustrious names as Sam Bough, William McTaggart RSW and George Paul Chalmers. The new Society had the blessing of the Royal Scottish Academy and was not regarded as being in conflict with its interests and across the span of the centuries very many of Scotland's most notable artists, including Academicians, have been RSWs. Today the membership of over 120 is replete with the names of painters who have international reputation, in Scotland and in Britain.
By 1886 the Society had obtained Queen Victoria's assent to adopt the prefix 'Royal' and indeed Royal patronage has honoured it throughout its history, initially when the Queen's daughter Princess Louise HRSW (like her mother in earlier years a keen amateur watercolourist) accepted Honorary Membership. With the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother recently, the Society lost a Patron who had acted in that capacity for over half a century. The Society is honoured to have Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay as its current Royal Patron.