“There is no other place in Australia where you can stand and be surrounded with the spirit and history of the beginnings of Australia’s Art.”
The Victorian Artists’ Society had its beginnings in 1870 when a small group of artists and lay persons met in magistrate James Robertson’s house at Blessington Street, St. Kilda, to form the Victorian Academy of the Arts – the direct ancestor of the VAS.
Among the founders were Louis Buvelot, J A Panton, Thomas Clark and Hubert de Castella. This heavyweight group were instrumental in not only securing the Crown Land Grant on which our building now stands, but in the early establishment of the Society as a legal entity.
Immediately following the grant of land in Albert Street in 1873, a small bluestone building was erected, which although almost totally subsumed by the present building, still serves both as a studio and a reminder of our colonial past.
In 1886 the professional artist members, led by Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Charles Conder formed the Australian Artists Association. Later in 1887 talks commenced to unite the two groups forming the Victorian Artists’ Society.
It is within these walls that young artists including Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Tom Roberts, Walter Withers, Frederick McCubbin, and many others, commenced their journey of brushstrokes, which today form the foundation of Australia’s major art collections in national galleries across Australia.
Many of these works were purchased from members’ exhibitions, a process which continues today as the Victorian Artists’ Society, with members from all works of life and all levels of skill, continue to learn to paint and exhibit.
This building is a public asset and learning centre for following generations, and is open to the public and all of those who love art.
The Victorian Artists’ Society needs to ensure this important historic building that has played an important part in the lives of significant and ordinary Australians, from the time it opened its doors in 1892, continues to evolve.
The Building is on the Register of the Historic Buildings Council and listed with the National Trust of Victoria.
The Victorian Artists’ Society building was designed by Richard Speight Jnr., who won the competition for its design. The building incorporated the original studio built by Corben and Stuart for the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1874. The winning tender was submitted by William Massey and the building completed in 1892.
The facade of the building owes much to the American Romanesque tradition, pioneered by American architects Richardson and Sullivan. The detailing of the interior is more Victorian in character. The building is essentially intact apart from minor 20th century alterations.
The building and the Society are historically significant because they have been associated with the early career of almost every eminent Australian artist of this and the last century.
The Facade was completely restored to original scale by – Architect Allan Willingham.