The History of Derby Sketching Club
In 1887 on Saturday afternoons, six Derby bachelors met up regularly as they sketched outdoors. These artists: William Swindell, F. Booty, A.J. Keene, George Thompson, Charles Terry and Frank Timms got together in the County Hotel bar one afternoon and decided that what Derby needed was an art club. Providing an indoor venue for keen, like-minded gentlemen to create art together. As a result of that meeting, the Derby Sketching Club was founded. To ensure commitment, a membership fee was charged and artists were fined if they didn’t produce at least one sketch at every monthly meeting. Standards were high.
The club’s first exhibition in 1889 was launched in a blaze of publicity at the Athenaeum Rooms, Victoria Street. The exhibition and the concert that followed had a guest list of local dignitaries. The resulting press coverage led to a rapid enrolment of new members.
Annual exhibitions became an important event in the town’s social calendar. Often staged at the Corporation Art Gallery on the Strand, launch night was a large, lavish affair. VIP guests for the opening night included The Duke of Devonshire, Col. G A Strutt and the current mayor. Dinner and entertainment was provided. The 1902 exhibition launch involved hiring Derby Orchestra.
In 1924 there were 255 exhibits in the club’s exhibition. When Ernest Townsend’s ‘Carnival Day in Derby’ was first exhibited in 1939 it was priced at £105. The cost of a terraced house at the time.
Notable artists such as Ernest Townsend, R. W. Bardill, C W Atherton and J. P. Wale became Derby Sketching Club members. Artist Harold Gresley was club President. Their works are highly collectable today.
Another former club President was Alfred Goodey, a patron of the arts. He collected hundreds of local urban landscape paintings including work he had commissioned of local views under threat of redevelopment. Now in public collections all over the country, including those he bequeathed to Derby Museum and Art Gallery, these paintings, are a fascinating record and an insight to the past.
The Derby Sketching Club thrived throughout both world wars. From 1943 members serving abroad in the armed forces were sent a copies of the club magazine ‘The Palette’ to keep them up to date with club activities back home.
By 1949 the club had 180 members and was considered the ‘liveliest amateur art club outside London’. A film was made about the club in 1949.
When membership fell in 1951 there was a joint exhibition with Derby Women’s Art Club (est’d 1922), in which the women’s contribution outnumbered the men’s by four to one. The possibility of admitting ladies to the club became a regular topic. The matter was finally resolved in 1966 when Mrs Olive Whitehead became the first female club member. Catherine May Pell FRSA was a Royal Crown Derby porcelain painter and an early female club member. A fearless en plein air sketcher she would paint hunting scenes from life. By 1982, 50% of Derby Sketching Club artists were women.
From the 1890s to 1914 the club met in a rented room at the St James Hotel, since then, other venues have included Full Street, the Round Room under the dome of the Corn Exchange, Adsott’s Taxidermists on London Road above 32 Irongate (now the address of The Standing Order), Derwent Chambers on Derwent Street, the ancient Nottingham Castle pub on Irongate (demolished in the 1960s) and a studio above the Weights and Measures premises in Derby Market Place. The Market Place studio was accessible to members 24/7. However, this facility was given up in 1963 when the rent was increased and membership declined. Since then the club has been based at the Art School on Green Lane, Grange Hall Littleover and now has its base at Mickleover Community Centre.