The industrialisation of Britain in the 19th Century affected Leeds hugely and a middle class of professionals grew up to service the expanding industrial base. This new class had the leisure to pursue cultural interests and, as a result, the Leeds Fine Arts Club was founded in 1874. The Club soon became a major player in the intellectual life of the city. Its meetings and discussions, known as ‘conversaziones’, together with annual exhibitions were held in the Philosophical Hall and were locally famous. Up to 300 carriages containing the great and the good would arrive at the Hall – sometimes requiring police assistance to control them!
A dedicated group of members kept the Club running during the First World War. The final conversazione was held in 1921 at Leeds City Art Gallery thus beginning a close association between Club and Gallery. The Club’s activities were maintained both in the interwar years and during the Second World War but the peace brought with it social changes that resulted in the club becoming more outward looking and professional. In this form it obtained the support of Ernest Musgrave who was appointed Director of the Leeds City Gallery in 1945. He became Club President in 1949 and, on his death in 1957, was succeeded by Eric Taylor, Principal of the Leeds School of Art.
The centenary in 1974 was marked by three exhibitions at different venues in addition to the annual exhibition. From then on up to the present the Club has continued to prosper and now has exhibiting members of high quality.
Over its history the Club has been associated with various artists of renown, perhaps the most famous being Jacob Kramer. Others included Ernest Sichel, Mary Hunter and Ina Kitson Clark (who was for many years an outstanding President), steering the organisation through World War II and into the new era.
Leeds Fine Artists consistently moves forward and as a nod to modernity, in 2010 dropped the word “Club” from its title. Its members live throughout greater Yorkshire and it strives to attract active artists of the highest ability to its membership. “Upward and onward” must be the approach to the future for Leeds Fine Artists. Throughout the years the organization has represented a valuable cultural asset to the Leeds City Region and it will no doubt continue to contribute to the intellectual and cultural richness of the North of England.