The Graphic Society was founded in 1833 by the artist and inventor William Brockedon
, who had also helped to form the Royal Geographical Society in 1830. The society was limited, originally, to 100 members, drawn from the various classes of professional artists. Their meetings, which were to take place once a month during the season (January to June) were to be known as conversazioni, and were to include aristocratic patrons and other persons interested in the fine arts. The initial breakdown of membership was 40 painters, twelve watercolour painters, six sculptors, twenty architects and twenty engravers, together with a treasurer and secretary, neither of whom was to be a professional artist. Approximately 25 of the original list of subscribing artists were members of the RA, including the President, Sir Martin Archer Shee
, although some named on the list declined to become full members, including William Etty
. There was an annual subscription of one guinea for each member. Invited guests comprised amateurs and patrons of art (later described as honorary visitors) and literary and scientific visitors, who were proposed and elected at society meetings. Amongst many notables, the scientists Charles Babbage
and Michael Faraday
were regular attenders over a period many years. Members and visitors were asked to bring works of art, such as drawings, sketches, prints, gems and other objects of vertú to the society's conversazioni, to contribute to the interest of the occasion. Eventually, minor exhibitions of the work individual artists took place, including that of recently deceased members of the RA. Demonstrations of early photographic work took place in 1847. However, the original laws of the Graphic Society of 1833 warned against the introduction of any commercial element to the meetings, which should not be allowed to "degenerate into a bazaar". The management of the society was to be in the hands of an annually elected committee, originally of five members, eventually twelve, with a chairman, which met regularly to propose resolutions and direct the summoning of general meetings. A salaried collector received subscriptions and liaised with the treasurer. William Brockden died in 1854, and the society paid tribute in that year to the huge and longstanding contribution of their acknowledged founder. The society elected a president from 1866, and the incumbents included John Foley, RA
and Sir Frederick Leighton, PRA
. Other influential Academicians included Thomas Uwins
and Lumb Stocks
. Membership increased to 125 in 1852, and female members were eventually admitted in 1887, but a general decline in membership and resulting financial difficulties led to the society being wound up in 1890.
The records consist of minute books, members' and visitors' attendance books and two bound volumes of laws and lists of members. The minutes (of committee, general, special and annual general) meetings record very little information other than details of elections of members and visitors, statements of treasurer's accounts and resolutions relating to the constitution and general administration of the society. Occasionally letters to the secretary are transcribed in the minutes. There are only two pieces of original correspondence (in GS/1 and GS/5).
The records were presented to the Royal Academy in 1891 following the closure of the society. See letter to the Secretary of the RA in GS/1.