It's a past membership list like no other; Alfred Munnings, F G Cotman, Harry Becker, E R Smythe, Tom Smythe, Edward Packard, John Duvall, Colin Moss, Anna Airy, Leonard Squirrell... no doubt if Ipswich Art Society had been around in the time of Constable and Gainsborough they'd have been members too.

Since 1874 Ipswich Art Society has not just played a key role in the cultural life of the county town, it has been one of the country's foremost exhibiting organisations for painters, sculptors and printmakers. The society is celebrating this significant 150-year milestone with a programme of events that bring together several different organisations, highlighting the wide variety of cultural offerings in the town, and celebrating its rich heritage.

Great British Life: Ipswich Art Society member Delia Tournay-Godfrey's Snow and More Snow.Ipswich Art Society member Delia Tournay-Godfrey's Snow and More Snow. (Image: Supplied by Ipswich Art Society)

It includes a major exhibition at The Hold (Suffolk Archives) where the society's archive is to be held. The society has a continuous archive that dates from its foundation. 'It's a wonderful window onto the changing culture of the town, and the panoply of fine artists that have been, and are now residents of the area,' says Stephen Cassidy, society chairperson.

'The archive is regularly consulted by historians as an important historical document. A centrepiece of the celebration is, therefore, to have it documented, conserved and given to Suffolk Archives at The Hold so that it's easily available for all researchers. We're very grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for enabling this to happen.'

The exhibition will run from May 3 to June 23 and will tell the shared history of the town and its art society through archive material from our both Ipswich Art Society and Suffolk Archives. Also on show will be artworks, lent by Ipswich Borough, acquired from Art Society members over the 150 years, and contemporary works from current members. John Day of the East Anglian Traditional Art Centre in Wickham Market is lending some works as well as holding his own exhibition in Wickham Market May 28 to June 8.

Great British Life: El Jardin De Los Suenos by Ipswich Art Society member Valerie ArmstrongEl Jardin De Los Suenos by Ipswich Art Society member Valerie Armstrong (Image: Supplied by Ipswich Art Society)

The society was founded as the Ipswich Fine Art Club in 1874 at Ipswich Museum, changed its name to Ipswich Art Club in 1925 and then, in 1993, became Ipswich Art Society. It was driven at the start by Alderman Edward Packard, supported by Reverend Henry Cruso, of Bramford. The painter John Duvall was the first chairperson.

In 1875, the club began organising an annual exhibition, with pictures lent from other museums. In the first few years all profits were given to charities, but from 1878, money raised from the exhibition was put towards building a permanent gallery.

A century and a half later, National Lottery funds have enabled the society to expand its annual open exhibition,which runs from May 4 to June 15, explains Stephen, with anyone in Ipswich encouraged to submit works.

'We hope that we can attract even bigger numbers to take part this year. Fine art students at the University of Suffolk will be exhibiting art resulting from a special project on the flora and fauna of Suffolk. Running parallel with these shows, Christchurch Mansion will be showing specially labelled works throughout the mansion connected with the Art Society over its history.

Great British Life: Ipswich Art Society member George Gill's Covehithe East Coast CliffsIpswich Art Society member George Gill's Covehithe East Coast Cliffs (Image: Supplied by Ipswich Art Society)

'There are also talks at The Hold, and a range of workshops at The Hold and the mansion, aimed at encouraging as many people as possible to 'have a go' at art in all sorts of guises and materials. It also happens that several other leading organisations and societies in the town have big birthdays, so we're sharing publicity and giving mutual support.

'It's wonderful that so many organisations have freely given their enthusiasm and effort in making this an excellent occasion, and 'a reason to be cheerful' about Ipswich.' To tie it all together the society has produced an art trail map, linking the different exhibitions, with views of the town made by Art Society artists over its history.

'We hope people will tour the town to see if they can spot the difference,' says Stephen. 'The Ipswich Tourist Guides Association – based at the 200-year-old Ipswich Institute – will be offering art walks to lead people round key areas. The reverse of the map has all the programme details, so we hope everyone will be involved in as many aspects as they can.'

For more information:

Book a walk:

Ipswich Art Society sharing membership for the year with The Friends of Ipswich Museums, a charity dedicated to supporting and promoting the three Ipswich Museums.

Great British Life: Ipswich Art Society's annual exhibition in Ipswich Arts Centre at St Clements Church. Ipswich Art Society's annual exhibition in Ipswich Arts Centre at St Clements Church. (Image: Supplied by Ipswich Art Society)


May 4 – June 15: Ipswich Art Society Annual Open Exhibition at St Clement’s Arts Centre, Star Lane.

May and June throughout: Christchurch Mansion showing specially labelled works by Ipswich Art Society Members from the Borough Collection

May 3 – June 3: University of Suffolk Waterfront Building, Making it Count; exhibition of the work of fine art students, in response to new and archival information on Suffolk flora and fauna

May 24 – June 8: The East Anglian Traditional Art Centre, Wickham Market. Works from the collection of Suffolk art held at the centre, marking 60 years of collecting by the Day family. A selection of works by Suffolk artists from 1875 -1950 will be for sale.

April 20 – May 25: The Cut, Halesworth. A collection of works (1955-2024) by long-term member Richard Pinkney.


The Hold Lecture Theatre (Thursdays) 7pm. Booking essential. £10, £7 (conc). Book at

May 16: Emma Roodhouse, art collections & learning curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service – Art Gossip and Sketching: Art in the Borough Collection. The history of the Ipswich Art Society and the Ipswich Borough art collection are inextricably intertwined.

May 23: Matthew Bowman, art critic and lecturer – Haunting Suffolk Landscapes. The 150th anniversary of Ipswich Art Society coincides with the 120th anniversary of M R James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. The Suffolk settings reflect the changing understanding of the landscape during the time of industrialisation.

Other birthdays…

This year also celebrates major anniversaries of other prominent Ipswich societies and organisations.

The Ipswich Institute is 200 years old in 2024. It provides lending library facilities and an extensive programme of leisure learning courses, talks and trips to over 2,000 members. The anniversary will be celebrated at a special event at The Hold at 2pm on November 22. All welcome.

Ipswich Choral Society is also 200 years old. Special performances include Haydn’s Creation in Christchurch Park on June 29 as part of Wolsey 550; and Handel’s Messiah, December 14, Ipswich Corn Exchange.

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 140th anniversary. Sir Edward Packard, founder member of the chamber was also a founder member of Ipswich Art Society.

Ipswich Symphony Orchestra is 122 years old. Its summer concert is at Ipswich Corn Exchange, June 29, 7.30pm. Berlioz, Florence Price, Dvořák. Piano soloist Alexandra Dariescu.