Royal Dublin Society

Royal Dublin Society (RDS)

Founded in 1731, by the Dublin Philosophical Society, as the "Dublin Society for improving Husbandry, Manufactures and other Useful Arts", the Society became "Royal" in 1820 when King George IV became its patron. The initial role of the Royal Dublin Society - or Cumann Ríoga Bhaile Atha Cliath (CRBAC) - was to promote the advancement of arts, industry and science within the 32 counties. Through its exhibitions and schools, it played an important part in developing visual arts in Ireland, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in particular by assisting young and emerging Irish artists.

The Society moved into its present premises (in Ballsbridge, Dublin) in 1879, since which time its area had grown from fifteen to forty acres. The total RDS campus now comprises numerous exhibition halls and a stadium, and operates as a major centre for shows, exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events, including visual arts.

The Royal Dublin Society Art Schools

In 1746, the Dublin Society began subsidising a private drawing school in George's Lane (now called George's Street) run by Robert West. Talented but impoverished art students had their fees paid by the Society in an attempt to encourage the advancement of Irish fine art. Four years later, the Society took over the School completely and incorporated it into its other teaching establishments. Rooms were allocated for a figure drawing school at the Society's premises at Shaw's Court, Dame Street, with Robert West himself becoming Master of the School. Other Society schools established during this period included the Landscape and Ornament School, and the Architectural School in 1759.

Until 1800, the Dublin Society received an annual grant from the Irish Parliament in Dublin, which included financial support for its schools. As part of the Society's continuing efforts to strengthen Irish painting and Irish sculpture, it awarded annual prizes to its best pupils, and to Irish artists at large.

After 1800, the RDS grant was paid by the Westminster Parliament. Unfortunately, London was less sympathetic to the benevolence and art education of the Society and sought to impose more control.

Until 1811, there remained only the three schools: (1) RDS School of Figure Drawing; (2) RDS School of Landscape and Ornamental Drawing; (3) RDS School of Architectural Drawing. Then, in 1811 an additional school was established - the RDS School of Modelling - directed by the Irish sculptor Edward Smyth. As well as these formal schools, the RDS networked with a number of commercial workshops.

In fact, except for the School of Modelling, the RDS art schools taught drawing only, either by means of drawing nudes, the plaster antique, or by copying prints and drawings. There was no painting.

In 1815, the Society relocated to Leinster House - converting the stables into schools - and five years later became the Royal Dublin Society. In 1827, a larger more permanent school was constructed, topped by a gallery which was used to exhibit the Society's educational collection of sculpture and painting. This building remains in use as the Leinster Lane annex of the present NCAD College.

More changes were imposed by London in 1849 and 1854. These redirected the school away from fine art and towards design education. At this time, fine art was seen as the responsibility of the Royal Hibernian Academy, rather than the RDS School of Art.

In 1877, London removed the School from the Royal Dublin Society and established it as the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art - a state-run school run by the Department of Science and Art which also managed the main Irish Library and Museum and certain other cultural institutions in Ireland. Then, during the 1900s, the School was expanded to include craft classes, (eg. stained glass, enamels, metalwork) and a life class, taught initially by Sir William Orpen, one of the great academic painters in the history of Irish art.

Finally, in 1936, the Metropolitan School of Art metamorphosed into the National College of Art with teaching faculties of painting, sculpture and design. Additional departments of weaving, ceramics and metalwork were instituted in the 1950s.

In 1971, following controversy over teaching methods and standards at the College, it was re-established as the National College of Art and Design. Its departmental structure included: a Fine Arts Faculty (including, Painting, Fine Art Printmaking and Sculpture); a Faculty of Design (including, Craft, Textiles, Industrial Design and Visual Communication); a History of Art Faculty and a Faculty of Education and Extra Mural Studies. At present, all undergraduate courses are at degree level. In 1998, the National College of Art and Design awarded its first PhD.

• For facts about culture in Ireland, see: Homepage.
• For a personal view of the top 20 contemporary fine art painters in Ireland, see: Best Irish Artists.
• For details of museums and contemporary arts venues, see: Irish Art Galleries.

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