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Ontario Society of Artists

The Ontario Society of Artists (OSA) was founded in 1872. It is Canada's oldest continuously operating art society.[1] The establishment of a provincial art museum and art school were the two foremost objectives of the Society.[1] The list of objectives drawn up by the founding executive also included the fostering of Original Art in the province and the holding of Annual Exhibitions. Prominent businessman William Holmes Howland was invited to be President of the Society.[2]

Art gallery

It was not until 1900 that the Society was in a position to form an art museum.[1] It began under the name Art Museum of Toronto and is now the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Museum began using the Toronto Public Library on College Street to exhibit its collection. It did so from 1910 until 1920.[1] The Society's annual exhibitions held during this period were also held at the library. The Society, in 1920, began holding its annual shows in the new Art Gallery of Toronto.

Art school

The Society was concerned about the lack of art education in Ontario. The Mechanics Institute provided basic classes in technical subjects but art instruction was limited to private lessons in the homes or studios of established artists. The Society obtained a grant of $1,000.00 in 1876. The grant allowed renovation of leased premises at 14 King Street West to create art school classrooms with the balance used as gallery space. The modest classrooms opened the Ontario School of Art on October 30, 1876. The enrollment was 25 students.[3]

Although the school continued to flourish, its financial situation was uncertain because the Society could not secure long-term funding from the government. In 1883, a new arrangement between the Society and the government resulted in the school moving to Normal School Building in St. James Square, now the location of Ryerson University.[4] By 1884, relations between the Society and the government collapsed. The Society's vice president and Royal Canadian Academy president, Lucius Richard O'Brien, resigned. His exasperation appears in his letter of resignation:

I beg to resign my position as member of the Council of the Ontario School of Art. The teachers are hampered and the teaching impaired by injudicious arrangements and restrictions, and finding every attempt at improvement thwarted by the representative of the Government on the board, or through his influence, I decline to be held responsible for the injury to the school which has accrued and must continue to accrue from such a course.[3]

The Society ceased involvement with the school until 1890.[3] The efforts of the Society ultimately succeeded, with the development of what is now OCAD University.

Fostering art

The OSA, from its earliest times, organized public events to showcase Ontario artists and provide a forum for emerging artists. Members of the Society have a mentorship program for emerging artists.[5]

Art exhibitions

The first exhibition was held at Fraser's Gallery, Toronto, in April 1873.[2] The Society continues to hold annual and special events.[6]


Original membership included persons from a variety of visual art professions. Many of Ontario's foremost artists have belonged to the OSA.[7] Early member records and artifacts of the Society are held by the Province of Ontario Archives.[8] The Society's current membership exceeds 200 artists.[9]

Prominent members

  • Hamilton MacCarthy

See also


External links

  • Ontario Society of Artists - Official Website
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