The Copley Society of Art (Co|So) is a non-profit organization committed to the advancement and promotion of its member artists. Dedicated to the enjoyment of visual arts, the organization provides a platform for arts cultivation while engaging and educating the public. Artist membership is comprised of contemporary and traditional artists admitted by a credentialed membership committee. Co|So supports artist members by offering venues for exhibiting and selling their artwork and awards special status to those who have achieved distinction. Membership is open to both artists and patrons whose combined contributions help support the educational and community outreach programs, essential to the organization's mission since 1879.
The origins of the Copley Society of Art date back to the 1870s, a time when interest in the visual arts was gaining momentum in Boston. In 1876, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opened the doors of its new building in Copley Plaza, and in 1877 the School of Drawing and Painting (later renamed School of the Museum of Fine Arts) began its first classes.
In 1879, members of the first graduating class of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts felt the need to keep the ties they had formed, and to help each other in their struggle to become prominent artists. In May of that year, largely through the efforts of Alice Spencer Tinkham and H. Winthrop Pierce, the Boston Art Students Association (now the Copley Society of art) was formed.
Their aim was to supplement the academic training of the Museum School, to assist their members in their artistic careers, to cultivate a spirit of fraternity among artists, and to promote the interests of art in the city of Boston. Exhibitions of members' works were held twice a year, and dues and fees were collected to meet gallery rent, printing, and entertainment expenses. In a great spirit of friendship, common purpose, and artistic ambition, a handful of students set the stage for the future.
The early days of the Boston Art Students' Association (BASA) were alive with artistic activity of all types. The Association sponsored lectures on important artists, seminars in art history, and talks and demonstrations on techniques in painting and drawing. Original pageants and plays were performed to enrich Boston's cultural life, and exciting costumed artists' festivals were organized to enliven spirits and raise funds to continue exhibitions, scholarships, and educational activities.
By 1891, membership in the BASA no longer required an affiliation with the Museum School. Also, it was opened to patrons as well as active artists. By 1892, the Association listed 416 members.
In 1893 the BASA leased the Winslone Skating Rink located on Clarendon Street near Trinity Church. Renamed Grundmann Studios in honor of Otto Grundmann, the greatly admired artist, teacher, and first head of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, this unusual building was transformed into beautiful exhibition halls with rooms for studios, meetings, and classes.
Exhibitions of major importance were installed in Copley and Allston Halls. In 1897, one hundred masterpieces were shown, including works by Corot, Reynolds, and Van Dyck. In 1898, "The Modern Painters Exhibition" brought to Boston works by the French Impressionists. "The John Singer Sargent Exhibition" of 1899 opened to news articles calling him the "greatest living portrait painter in America."
In 1901, the BASA decided that their organization was more than student-oriented, and changed its name to the Copley Society of Boston in honor of John Singleton Copley, one of America's earliest noted painters. Under its new name, the Copley Society devoted itself to a broader support of the arts through educational programs and special artistic events, as well as exhibitions of members' works.
The Copley Society moved into the twentieth century under the leadership of Holker Abbott, and by 1913 was preparing to show in its galleries "The International Exhibition of Modern Art," popularly known as the New York Armory Show. This exhibition introduced modernism to Boston by presenting works by many "outrageous" modern European artists such as Duchamp, Dufy, Kandinsky, Picasso, Redon, Roualt, and Van Gogh.
In 1920, the Grundmann Studio Building, which had housed so many fine exhibitions, was to be torn down for new development. In 1921, without a gallery of its own, the Copley Society used The Boston Art Club's rooms to continue sponsoring exhibitions such as "Watercolors by Winslow Homer, Dodge MacKnight, and John Singer Sargent."
The Copley Society moved again in 1921, and celebrated the opening of its new gallery on Commonwealth Avenue with a Washington Memorial Exhibition that was co-hosted by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Several other exciting events followed, including a memorial "Whistler Exhibition" in 1934 and a "Chinese Festival" in 1936.
Following the war years of the 1940s, public interest in the Copley Society was renewed, and membership began to grow again. During this period and the years after, the Society changed its location several more times before finally settling into its first permanent home at 158 Newbury Street.
Today, the Copley Society of Art continues to play a vital role in the Boston art community. With over 300 artist members participating in as many as 20 exhibitions each year, Co|So is uniquely positioned to provide aspiring artists with an entry into the mainstream art world, and more established artists with a venue for exhibiting their work in Boston. Artist membership is based on competitive review; juried exhibitions and a professional credentialing system offer artists the opportunity for further distinction.
As the oldest nonprofit 501(c)(3) art association in America, the Society remains true to its original mandate by promoting the advancement, understanding, and enjoyment of the highest quality visual arts. By engaging its artist, patron, and volunteer members in exhibitions and innovative outreach programs - such as award and scholarship support for artists, Masters Workshop Programs, gallery talks, and critique sessions - the Society is prepared to reaffirm its mission for the next millennium.
Within this spirit of commitment to the contemporary visual arts and innovative programming, the Copley Society also plays a leadership role in advancing arts education for the benefit of both artists and the general public. Our galleries exhibit a diverse collection of work by professional artists from the greater New England area and beyond. As we travel into the next century, the Copley Society of Art is encouraging broader participation in its programs and use of its extensive resources for artists, scholars, and collectors.