In the early nineteenth century a group of artists in Bristol formed an association known as the Bristol Society of Artists, these were mostly landscape painters and many were well known such as William Muller, Francis Danby, J.B. Pyne and John Syer. In 1844, when the Bristol Academy for the Promotion of Fine Arts was founded, the Bristol Society of Artists was incorporated into it. At this time the President and committee was predominantly its patrons, rather than its artists. Ellen Sharples, was an artist associated with this group and a member of a portrait painting family, who spent considerable time in America. When she died in 1849 she left £2,000 to the Bristol Academy for the Promotion of Fine Arts. This sum, together with an earlier gift from her and money raised by other supporters, enabled the erection of a fine building in 1858 - Bristol's first Art Gallery. Early patrons included Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Prince Consort. In 1875 a considerable collection of Turner watercolours were exhibited attracting over 15,000 visitors.
A school of art was established in 1853, known as the Bristol School of Practical Art supported by artist members and studio space was later provided by the Academy. From 1936 to 1969 it was known as the West of England College of Art. Since then a school of art has always occupied part of the Academy premises. Education continues to be important at the RWA. The RWA School of Architecture was officially opened in 1921 by HRH Prince of Wales, it was later taken over by the University of Bristol in 1963 and closed in 1983.