Canterbury Society of Arts formed in 1880 on the 8th of July

A group of community-minded men had an initial meeting in late June 1880 to discuss how to organise and promote art within Canterbury.

Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition [1906] CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0007
They felt that the rapidly growing centre of Christchurch needed some form of cultural organisation, and Auckland and Dunedin already had Art Societies.

A sub-committee of three was elected to draft up the proposed rules for a Canterbury Society of Arts. On the 8th of July a General meeting was held at the Christchurch Public Library and the Rules of the Canterbury Society of Arts were approved. The Society had the aim of “…spreading a love of artistic work through the community” and the first exhibition was organised and held in early 1881.

The Annual Exhibition opening nights soon became the highlight of the social calendar which included music and entertainment. You can view some of the early Canterbury Society of Arts catalogues that we have digitised.

Over the years the Society developed and built a permanent collection, held regular programmes and events, faced social and financial difficulties, courted controversy, expanded their mandate from just fine art to include arts and crafts and (eventually) accepted contemporary styles. They acquired permanent space and moved, and completely re-invented themselves.

1980 marked the 100th anniversary of the Canterbury Society of Arts which resulted in an exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery and a catalogue with a history of the society. The catalogue for the 100th anniversary exhibition of the Society in 1980 can be accessed online.

Cover of The radical, the reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 - 1996

For an in-depth and updated look at the development of the Canterbury Society of Arts, and its change into the Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA Gallery), see Warren Feeney’s 2011 book The Radical, The Reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 – 1996.

Further information

“We think that the public will be surprised”: Canterbury Society of Arts (formed July 1880)

Oamaru Mail, Volume IV, Issue 1319, 1 July 1880, Page 2 (Papers Past)

CSA 1897 catalogue [download 4.2MB PDF]
The Canterbury Society of Arts was founded in 1880, for promoting study in the Fine Arts, and for the periodical exhibition, in Christchurch, of original works of art. (description from Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood, 1885, NZETC)

The first exhibition in 1881 shows off Christchurch art criticism to good effect (CANTERBURY SOCIETY OF ARTS. The Press, Volume XXXV, Issue 4822, 18 January 1881, Page 3):

No. 52 on the catalogue, by Captain Temple, is entitled ” Early Settlers,” and depicts a landing of Captain Cook when he is interviewed by Maoris of an enquiring turn of mind, who appear particularly struck with the pigs that the explorer has brought to shore with him. ” The Sea Spell” is an effective picture of a drowning man.

Warren Feeney’s book The Radical, the Reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts, 1880-1996 details an institution that:

… dominated the cultural life of Canterbury for nearly a century, and played a vital role in the development of New Zealand art … For almost 100 years the CSA provided valued support for the arts, exhibiting the early work of generations of leading New Zealand artists, including Petrus van der Velden, Raymond McIntyre, Margaret Stoddart, Rhona Haszard, Frances Hodgkins, W. A. Sutton, Colin McCahon, Michael Smither, Neil Dawson, Andrew Drummond and Pauline Rhodes …  the CSA secured Christchurch’s reputation as the artistic capital of New Zealand in the middle years of the 20th century.

The CSA’s first purpose-built premise designed by Mountfort in 1890 was the first art gallery to be built in Canterbury. You might remember it as a rather lovely red brick building, demolished in 2012. As a a heritage listed building, Rarangi Taonga: the Register of Historic Places has detailed information on its history
Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery (Former) – 282-286 Durham Street:

The Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery consists of two buildings – the first designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898) in 1890. The second, erected next to the first, was designed by Richard Dacre Harman and completed in 1894.

Canterbury Society of Arts GalleryCanterbury Society of Arts Gallery

The CSA held an annual exhibition until 1995 when it closed and was re-launched as the Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA).

Find out more:

The Women’s Art Environment, CSA Gallery, Christchurch : women in the tepee space. [1977] In 1977 the Women’s Artists Group organized the Women’s Art Environment at the Canterbury Society of Arts. The artists exhibiting included Joanna Paul and Allie Eagle. “The event was conceived as an opportunity for women to come together in one place to discover their particular identity as women, in a situation where their expression would be uninhibited by men. The exhibition was opened exclusively to women for the first five days … The objects which remained on display after this were evidence of the deeply felt need of the participants to search for the sources of their identities as women ” — The Press, 11 June 1977, p. 22 CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0037
Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition
Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition [1906] Pictures being prepared for an exhibition in the CSA gallery, corner of Durham and Armagh Streets. CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0007

Image of the Week

“Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition” 1906

Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition

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