During 1883-84 a young art student named Louisa Swan, from a well-to-do and well-connected family in Tasmania, spent time in Melbourne studying the art scene. She saw first hand what art groups there were achieving, and she wondered whether something like that could be done in Tasmania. On her return to Hobart, Louisa and her friend Maria Evans joined forces in a small studio over a shop in Liverpool St, and in 1884 The Art Association was formed - later renamed The Art Society of Tasmania to conform with mainland societies.
The objective of creating The Art Association was to encourage art, especially by holding periodic exhibitions of paintings, drawings, wood-carving and other works. The Association had an impressive early membership including artists J Haughton Forrest, William C Piguenit, Arthur Streeton and GV Mann. That standard continued with such artists as Lucien Dechaineux, Mabel Hookey, John Eldershaw, Curzona (Lily) Allport, Edith Holmes, Walter Taylor, Dorothy Stoner, Joseph Connor, and Lady Teresa Hamilton, wife of Governor Sir Robert Hamilton, who held sketching classes.
The Art Society's annual exhibitions attracted many artists of note from the mainland including Julian Ashton, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Blamire Young. The annual exhibitions were followed by a ball, and both events became highlights of Hobart's social scene.
Until 1949 the Society was without a permanent home. In its early years exhibitions were held in such places as Fitzgerald's store, the Lord Mayor's Court Room, the Masonic Hall, the old Post Office, the Town Hall, an office in the Public Buildings in Macquarie Street and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
The Society has always enjoyed the support and prestige of distinguished and powerful friends. Many Governors have been patrons, and over the years many leaders of Hobart society have served on the governing council.
Many office bearers served for extended periods. Co-founder Louisa Swan remained as councillor, then Vice Patron, until 1949; Ethel M Nicholls, secretary from 1916 to 1928, served on the council until the 1940's. Max Angus, an outstanding contributor, served as president, vice-president or councillor for over thirty years, leading the society's impressive list of life members since 1960, others being Nell Frankcombe, Ray Lighton, Elspeth Vaughan, Norma McAuley, John Traynor, Lynette Wilson, Winifred Knight, Margaret Wallace, Betty Preston and Nadine Wise. Sixty years on Life Members Patricia Giles, Margaret Kay, Terrence Gough, Betty Debnam, Di Casimaty, Carolyn Bassett, Lynn Hasenkam and Vicki Chapman continue to bring prestige, respect and inspiration to the Art Society.
Lady Jane Franklin would surely be pleased her vision of 1842 for her 'temple' Ancanthe bore fruit, and Louisa Swan and Maria Evans would be proud that 136 years later the Art Society is still going strong and is being supported from so many different quarters.