Although women artists had been associated with the RSW and the SSA from the beginning, and although a Glasgow Society of Lady Artists had been formed in 1882, many talented women artists continued to find it difficult to have the opportunity to exhibit, or to penetrate the male preserves of the arts establishment. After all, male prejudice was such that women artists “were supposed to be no more than gifted amateurs,” and it was 1938 before the RSA elected its first female Associate, and 1944 before a woman became an Academician. It was against such a background that Visual Arts Scotland was founded in 1924 as the Scottish Society of Women Artists (SSWA), striking a blow for the feminist cause — and for the advancement of women in the arts in Scotland — and providing a much–needed platform and forum for applied arts. The SSWA’s exhibition moved to the National Gallery in 1941 where it exhibited annually until 1944; and since 1945, when Ann Redpath was President, it has exhibited at the RSA. There it has continued a tradition of inviting artists of national and international standing (for example, Joan Eardley, Barbara HEPWORTH, Elizabeth Frink, Dame Laura KNIGHT, Victor Pasmore, and Lucie Rie) to take part.

Although not alone in the breadth of its interests, the Society has a special place in the arts in Scotland as it actively promotes the exhibition of the “applied” as well as the “fine” arts, numbering jewellers, ceramicists, artist blacksmiths, artist wood workers and textile artists amongst its exhibitors, in addition to painters, sculptors and photographers. This has been particularly so since 1990 when Joan Renton, the then President, “advocated a place for high-quality experimental craft”; and at the same time, with the greater equality in exhibiting opportunities for men and women, the name was changed to Scottish Artists and Artist Craftsmen. In 1997, John Bellany’s agreeing to become its Honorary President gave the Society great encouragement in its pursuit of the best in contemporary Scottish visual arts. On approaching the Society’s 75 th anniversary, it was felt that the adoption of the more succinct name — Visual Arts Scotland (VAS) — would help consolidate its strengths as it developed an educational outreach programme, and furthered the promotion of its members beyond the annual exhibition by its use of electronic media.


Scottish Society of Women Artists