What does RSW stand for?

What does RSW stand for?
 MHAIRI McGREGOR RSW    Russian Doll 


 A QUESTION WE ARE FREQUENTLY ASKED is, “What does RSW stand for?” Or RSA, or RGI, or PAI or any or other of the variety of initials artists accumulate after their names.

There are myriad artists’ societies in Scotland and it is an honour for an artist to be elected as a professional member. Each society has its own rules but before an artist can become a professional member of a society and use its letters after their name, they must generally be elected by their peers. So you can be confident such an artist is respected by other distinguished artists.

Most people are familiar with RA, the Royal Academy, such is the popularity of its annual Summer Exhibition. But they may not know about the RSA, the Royal Scottish Academy, which is Scotland’s equivalent.


RSA building
RSA building, Princes Street, Edinburgh      Photo: Andrey Sulitskiy


 RSA — Royal Scottish Academy

The RSA is the oldest of the societies. It was founded in 1826 as the Scottish Academy and became the Royal Scottish Academy in 1838, the year of Queen Victoria’s accession. Its aim was to support and encourage the fine arts in Scotland, including art and architecture. Its first annual exhibition was held in 1827 and it now hosts a varied programme of exhibitions throughout the year in addition to its respected annual show. As with the RA, anyone can submit work for selection to the RSA annual exhibitions and they are a glorious mix.

The Royal Scottish Academy began very much as an Edinburgh institution but membership now embraces artists from throughout Scotland and beyond. It has its own magnificent building on Princes Street, now managed by the National Galleries of Scotland.

The RSA administers scholarships and presents lectures and workshops. It also holds an outstanding collection of Scottish art that ranges from the eighteenth century to the present day as well as an extensive archive of correspondence, papers, drawings, photographs and studio artefacts.



Claire Harkess watercolour

CLAIRE HARKESS RSW    Ivory-Billed Aracari, Ecuador


RSW — The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour

The RSW was founded in 1876. Watercolour artists wished to exhibit watercolours separately from oils and accord them due respect as complete works of art, not just as studies or sketches for grander paintings. Until the early 20th century, watercolours used to be framed like oils, in gold frames with gold mounts, and they were often hung high up on gallery walls.

Waterbased works have evolved greatly since the society was founded. Traditionalists were resistant to anything other than ‘pure’ watercolour but new media such as acrylics have changed the character of watercolour exhibitions.

There are 120 current members of the RSW. To become a member, candidates must be nominated by two existing members. Each candidate must provide three framed examples of their current work in watercolour/waterbased media along with a CV. A vote is then held.



Winter Pansies — Christine Woodside RSW RGI



RGI — The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts

The RGI was founded in 1861 by a group of ten prominent businessmen and artists. At that time Glasgow was one of the most prosperous cities in the Empire but there were few opportunities for artists to exhibit their work.

Annual RGI exhibitions became a huge success and the institute grew in stature and influence attracting such international artists as Sargent, Whistler, Millais and Renoir alongside Scottish artists including Henry, Hornel, Park and Guthrie.

After the First World War, the institute became rather tired but in recent years has had something of a renaissance although it is a constant struggle to adequately fund societies such as the RGI.

The institute was gifted the J.D.Kelly gallery in 1965 and a regular programme of small solo and themed exhibitions as well as talks and workshops is held there.



Carol Dewart PAI TheBirds


PAI — The Paisley Art Institute

The PAI was founded in 1876 for ‘the encouragement and promotion of art’. There were rich entrepreneurs and industrialists in Paisley who had grown their wealth in the textile industry; they were among the founding patrons who gifted sculptures and paintings to the institute which became the basis of a permanent collection at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries.

The PAI’s annual exhibitions in the galleries became national events. Many of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ had associations with Paisley and Sir John Lavery held his first solo exhibition there. The institute continues to holds its annual exhibition in the galleries and attracts entries from across the country.



Aberdeen has its own artists’ society. The Aberdeen Artists Society (AAS) was formed in 1827 by a group of artists with James Giles as President and Archibald Simpson as Vice President. The aim of the society was 'the Mutual improvement of Painting and the furtherance of Art in general in Aberdeen'.

Aberdeen Art Gallery is currently closed for major redevelopment so the AAS annual exhibition is in abeyance but we trust it will re-launch when the gallery re-opens.


There are other excellent artists’ societies in Scotland including Visual Arts Scotland (VAS) and the Society of Scottish Artists (SSA) but professional members of these societies and AAS tend not to use the initials.


Blog by Joan Ross