The South African Society of Artists was first founded on Saturday, the 8th of May 1897, but ceased to function after the outbreak of the South African war in 1899 (formerly known as the first Anglo-Boer war). The society was reincarnated in September 1902, and this date is now recognized as the society’s official establishment.
The South African Society of Artists was founded to cater specifically to the practicing artist, and is the oldest surviving organization of its kind in South Africa. It was the first to nurture a sense of community among practicing artists across former colonial and provincial divisions, demanding the recognition of South African art at an official and national level. Its early membership was very broad-based, featuring some of South Africa’s finest practitioners in painting, sculpture, architecture, and design, as well as interested laymen.
Many well-known artists, such as Ivan Mitford Barberton, Gregoire Boonzaier, Nerine Desmond, Robert Gwelo Goodman, Tinus de Jongh, Moses Kottler, Maggie Laubser, Hugo Naude, Frans Oerder, Jacob Pierneef, Ethel Ruth Prowse, Edward Roworth, Nita Spilhaus, Irma Stern, Desiree Picton Seymor, Moses Tladi, Anton van Wouw, Jan Volschenck, and Pieter Wenning , to name but a few, were members of the society.
SASA played a vital role in the inception of the South African National Gallery, staged important public art events and promoted art education and art appreciation with the public. Although artistic controversies, shifts in taste and the creation of official structures for the visual arts in South Africa displaced many of the earlier roles and functions of the society, diminishing its influence and prestige at times, it has survived. Its resilience lies in the fact that it has continued to provide a sense of community and a sharing of skills for those artists and interest groups who practice outside of the institutional centre.
F.B. Ross, an early Secretary of SASA, wrote in 1905 that, “The SA Society of Artists are ever only too happy to extend a brotherly hand to any disciple of art… and all that is required of each member is that he (or she) must possess some skill in his selected branch of art, and that he must be earnest in his pursuit thereof…” By these same principles, which have defined the role played by the society in the development and advancement of South African art, the society shall confidently continue to renew and expand its efforts to encourage the practice and appreciation of the visual and plastic arts in South Africa.
Today, the society remains committed to its founders’ aims of encouraging art and artists in South Africa, and enjoys a membership of approximately 450 individuals, comprising a number of professional artists, although amateurs are also made welcome. The society values the patronage of Conrad Theys, Sam Nhlengethwa and Hayden Proud.
The South African Society of Artists is an affiliated member of the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) and has also been a member of The Athenaeum Trust since 1949.