Our Story

20 October 2019

PAI on the move

With the Paisley Museum and Art Gallery closed until 2022 while it undergoes a £42m refurbishment, Paisley Art Institute is on the move. In September 2019, the 131st Annual Exhibition will take place on the site of a former supermarket in The Piazza in Paisley town centre. As well as maintaining the high exhibiting standards the annual exhibition has long been renowned for, this venue also offers artists an exciting opportunity to consider exhibiting site specific works.
2015

Recent gifts to PAI's collection

To mark the centenary of the 1915 gallery additions to Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, three gifts were made to the PAI-associated permanent collection. These include two ceramic sculptures depicting Paisley and Glasgow by the artist and filmmaker Falconer Houston, gifted by the artist and Gordon Mabbott respectively. Colin C. MacKean also donated the portrait of his great uncle, James A.D. MacKean by Maurice Greiffenhagen to the PAI-associated permanent collection.
2013

PAI celebrates its 125th Annual Exhibition

In 2013 the Institute celebrated its 125th Annual Exhibition bringing artwork from all over Britain, with 26 prestigious awards presented to artists. To celebrate the event, the PAI Diploma body exhibited their work alongside the work they most admired from the Paisley Collections.
1995

The introduction of PAI Diplomates

The PAI Diploma was first proposed in 1995. It decreed diplomas be awarded to the "most distinguished" artist members of the Institute. The Diploma recipient was approved by a "Credentials Committee" and the artist proposed had to qualify for specific criteria, including being an artist member of PAI for at least ten years and a regular exhibitor with PAI. The letters PAI are granted in perpetuity and at any one time only 40 living artists hold this honour. As part of Diplomate requirements, nominated artists were expected to submit a "characteristic example of their work to be considered for addition to the permanent collection." To date, over 30 Diplomates have gifted work to PAI's permanent collection. Honorary Diplomas are also awarded to artist members, lay members and others on the committee's recommendation. One of the most high profile is artist, writer and Paisley Buddie, John Byrne.
1985

PAI Drawing Competition begins

The PAI biennial Drawing Competition, the only one to be held outside London, was founded in 1985, with selected drawings being exhibited in Paisley Museum and Art Galleries. One of the first winners was so-called "New Glasgow Boy", Peter Howson. To enter the competition, artists had to have a link with Scotland through "birth, residence of training... [or be] students at colleges of art in Scotland." Additionally, the competition awarded a prize fund, with the first three purchase prizes selected thereafter becoming "the property of the Institute... and made over to the Paisley Museum and Art Galleries". PAI held the competition every two years, also continuing the annual exhibition each year. The exception is the period from 2011–2016, when the competition didn't take place. To accompany its open exhibitions, PAI also runs a schools competition.
1970s

Keep calm and carry on

The 1970s were a difficult decade for PAI. By the early 1970s, Paisley Museum had stopped purchasing from PAI annual exhibitions and instead bought from the likes of the Royal Glasgow Institute, Aitken Dott, Royal Scottish Academy exhibitions. By the end of the decade, PAI was struggling and a motion was put forward at the general meeting to close the Institute. It wasn't passed. Thanks to the Presidencies of W.L. Nevill (1981-1989) and Joe Hargan (1989-2000), the Institute began to recover in stature and size.
1960s

The times they are a-changin'

The so-called "Swinging Sixties" were marked by a decreasing number of exhibitors at the annual exhibition in contrast to the pre-war years, and the flavour of the exhibitions was more local with few loan pictures. A journalist from the Paisley Daily Express wrote in March 1967: "Not so very long ago, it was common practice amongst artists to submit works to all the major exhibitions. Lately a noticeable feature of the art world has been the ‘one-man show’ and it would appear that the ambitious young artist sees more hope of personal success in exhibiting along than in exhibiting as one of a group. From the inception of PAI, many generations of the Clark family were members, with the most prominent being Lord Kenneth Clark, creator of the popular television series on art history, Civilisation, who served as Honorary Vice President from 1965-1983.
1950s

Recovery from war years takes time

Reports from the 1950s on the activities of PAI show the war years had a "detrimental effect" and PAI were making serious efforts towards recovery. The Committee appealed to lay members to continue the membership as "it is a recognised fact that the prospect of sales through the ballot was an inducement to many painters from widely scattered areas to send exhibits…" Additional storage facilities were given by PAI to Paisley Museum in the early 1950s to accommodate the growing collections held at Paisley Art Galleries and Museum.
1948-1949

PAI in the years following WWII

The annual exhibition was revived in May 1948, with approximately 300 art works exhibited. According to a report in Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette County Edition, the work was "more local in character than we have been accustomed to expect." In the same year, Miss Elizabeth S. Paterson bequeathes 22 oils and watercolours to the permanent collection of PAI. These larger gifts and bequests were important to PAI, not only by increasing the size of the permanent collection but also in improving the overall quality of the collection. The exhibition in 1949 received positive reviews. The Paisley Daily Express reviewer wrote: "although it does not reach the standard in wide representation... it is nevertheless of a highly interesting character, having more of the local and amateur example in its content."
1939 – 1947

World War II suspends all PAI activities

PAI closed their annual exhibitions before the outbreak of WWII in March 1939. By September 1939, the Clerks of the Committee of Management of the Museum had written to PAI to inform them that the art galleries were closing. Museum staffing was depleted during the war, with the Curator, W.P. Mayes, and Assistant Curator, William Davidson, on active service. A decision was taken to distribute the art collection among some of the private houses of Paisley, with pictures being returned to Paisley Museum in March 1945. The Institute operated throughout the 1940s, although it did not hold exhibitions from the years 1940-47. Gifts were being made throughout the war to PAI and purchases were made by the Institute. By April 1947, PAI had reconvened and aimed to hold its annual exhibition in 1948. PAI also organised a loan exhibition from the Burrell Collection in 1947.
1930s

The Fulton Bequest further boosts PAI's collection

The status of the PAI collection was boosted by the bequest of James Fulton (1839-1933) of the Glen, who left his collection of pictures to the Institute. From this, 54 pictures were selected by PAI. By 1933, the permanent collection associated with PAI numbered 138 pictures, which had more than doubled in size in less than twelve years of dedicated collecting. The Fulton Bequest included strong examples from the Continent, featuring contemporary examples from the Barbizon School, French Realism and from the Glasgow Boys. The effort made by PAI to build a permanent collection of predominantly modern paintings was progressive. In 1935, PAI loaned its collection to the Glasgow Art Club, as part of the Club’s memorial exhibition of celebrated artists. Notable among this work was the work of W.Y. Macgregor, whose rhythmic and structural use of oil paint was identified as a stylistic precursor to the Scottish Colourist, Leslie Hunter.
1925 and beyond

PAI's permanent collection starts to grow

In 1925, PAI invested a sum "not exceeding £500" to buy paintings from the Jubilee Exhibition the following year. The 1926 exhibition, which was opened by artist, Sir D.Y. Cameron, and "Glasgow Boy", James Paterson, attracted record sales totalling £2460. Vice-President, John S. Allan, noted the indebtedness of the Institute to the Corporation for purchasing four pictures. He makes a plea for "public-spirited citizens" to "come forward and take the place of the Corporation and the Institute" in the acquisition of pictures for the collection. The permanent collection associated with PAI reached a new level of prestige by the late 1920s through the bequest of W.H. Coats. The paintings bequeathed by Coats included four examples from the French Barbizon School through the work of Constant Troyon, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Narcisse Virgilio Diaz de la Peña.
1923

Philanthropy and education both key drivers in building PAI Collection

Mrs W.H. Coats, wife of thread magnate, W.H. Coats, opens the Annual Exhibition and underlines importance of philanthropy and education in progressing the permanent collection. She said: "One sincerely welcomes the pleasing fact that with adequate accommodation now provided, Paisley is quietly evolving a picture gallery of her own, and I believe if it were more fully understood by her good citizens that such a thing be realised must come from individual generosity, it would not be lacking."
18 February 1922

Former Prime Minister surprised that PAI has 'no permanent collection'

Former Prime Minister, the Right Honorable H.H. Asquith opens the 46th annual exhibition of PAI, and appealed to the great and good of the town to gift their artworks to the Institute to build the collection. He was quoted in the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette saying he was "rather surprised that it [Paisley] should not possess a permanent collection of works of art worthy of such a populous centre". PAI, like many institutions, was under financial pressure as it recovered from the effects of World War One. The Institute struggled to further the interests of the permanent collection due to a lack of funds. Vice-President of the Institute, John S. Allan, expressed a view that, "it was hardly fair that the money intended for the purchase of pictures should be used to carry on the business of the Institute."
1900-1916

Gallery additions to museum and growth of collection

PAI flourished under the Presidencies of John Millar (1895-1916), James Begg (1917-1930) and John S. Allan (1931-1937). This was a period of growth for the PAI-associated permanent collection, and also marked the building and handing over of gallery additions to Paisley Museum and Art Galleries in 1915, financed by Peter Coats Junior, for agreed use by PAI. The galleries were planned for completion by 1914 but Peter Coats died in 1913 and did not live to see the extended galleries. The Trustees of Coats presented the galleries to PAI , which John Millar then handed over to Provost Robertson as a representative of the Corporation. In March 1916, PAI presented a bronze bust of Peter Coats by Alexander Proudfoot to the galleries as an expression of thanks for the "generous gifts of the new Art Gallery for the encouragement of the study of art in Paisley".
1883 and beyond

PAI exhibits at Paisley Town Hall then moves to Museum

The PAI annual exhibition was held at the Town Hall in 1883 before moving permanently to the Museum. Irish born painter, Sir John Lavery, worked in Paisley in the 1880s, living at the Glen Estate. Before being exhibited in London and Glasgow, his seminal painting, Bridge at Grez, which brought him to the attention of the American public, was first shown at the Institute’s exhibition in 1883. There was a considerable amount of wealth in Paisley, with many local business people investing in art. The annual exhibitions provided a showcase for artists like Lavery and fellow "Glasgow Boys" George Henry, Joseph Crawhall, James Paterson and E.A. Hornel. Jessie Rowat Newbery, creator of the famous "Glasgow Rose" and daughter of a prosperous Paisley shawl manufacturer, also exhibited at this time. PAI provided many of their first crucial sales and exhibitions and contributed to the international interest in "modern naturalism".
22 September 1882

PAI galleries in Free Library and Museum & Art Gallery opened

At a PAI Conversazione to mark the opening of the extensions to the Free Public Library and Museum, Coats discussed the progress of art on a national scale due to Government Schools of Art. He said: "In view of the gratifying progress which has been made, it seemed to me most fitting that an institution such as this, which seeks the moral and intellectual elevation of a community, should have the department of art represented by picture and sculpture galleries. Despite being publicly and legally handed over to Paisley Corporation. Coats saw PAI as a successful exhibiting body, able to mount an impressive exhibition of loan pictures for the opening of the new galleries which was arranged and hung with the assistance of PAI. The Institute held its annual exhibition rent free each year in Free Library and Museum, although it paid for any electricity used while the Gallery was occupied.
July 1880

The Legros Gift boosts Institute's Collection

The gift of drawings and prints from French artist, Alphonse Legros, (1837-1911) comprises 85 art works, including drawings and prints by Legros and a selection of drawings and prints by his students from the Slade School of Art, London. The link between Legros, a Barbizon painter, and Paisley, appears to have been initiated by a demonstration given by Legros in the winter of 1879 when he sketched the portrait of Paisley starch manufacturer, John Polson Junior. Legros had been visiting art schools in the west of Scotland in "furtherance of his efforts for instruction in art." This portrait was then "left in the possession of the Art Institute." Polson was a member of the Institute and served on the Council of the Paisley Philosophical Institution. During the course of the next century, there has been an ongoing debate over ownership of the Legros Gift between the Museum and PAI.
24 April 1880

Sir Peter Coats to fund extensions to Paisley Free Library and Museum

A letter to Paisley's Provost from thread manufacturer and philanthropist, Sir Peter Coats, was read out at a meeting of the Town Council and Free Library Museum Committee in which he wrote: "attention has been recently called to the fact that some extension of the accommodation provided for the Free Library and Museum is urgently called for... I shall esteem it a privilege if the Corporation of Paisley in whom the property is vested will permit me to make the requisite addition at my own expense." By 1880, the PAI life class was formed of fourteen members, and it met for forty nights during the season
1878

No room at the inn for PAI

Paisley thread manufacturer and politician, Stewart Clark, opened the PAI exhibition in 1878, and expressed disappointment that: "that they had not a room in Paisley properly fitted in the matter of light and large enough to show the pictures as they should be seen." By 1880, Clark had promised a room in the new town hall for the Institute. The Clark family were then building the George A. Clark Town Hall for the town, and they anticipated finishing the build in a couple of years which was accurately forecast as the building was completed in 1882.
22 February 1877

First annual Paisley Art Institute exhibition held in Paisley School of Design

In this first exhibition, 137 pictures were displayed, including examples by well-known local artist, James Elder Christie (1847–1914). PAI's first President was William Stewart (whose idea it had been to set it up), and subscription to the Institute came from artist members and those interested in art. It also had a committee of honorary members. Its managing committee was made up of ten members and five honorary members. Conversazioni and exhibitions were to be held periodically throughout the season (commencing in September that year). The Liberal politics of Paisley in the nineteenth century were hugely significant to the town's cultural life.
29 December 1876

Meeting held at Paisley School of Design proposes an art society

Inspired by his pupils, Paisley School of Design art teacher, William Stewart (1826-1906), mooted the idea of setting up an art institute in the town. At a meeting chaired by Provost David Murray (1807-1879) and attended by interested parties, including starch manufacturer John Polson Jr (1825-1900), local antiquarian David Semple (1808–1878), and other prominent Paisley townsfolk, a plan was hatched which would promote "the rising talent of your town, to foster and develop a love and taste for art in this community." Stewart outlined a series of proposals for the Institute, to be passed at the meeting. These included the society being named the Paisley Art Institute, monthly meetings or conversaziones, where drawings or finished works could be exhibited, lectures on the history of art, a life class and exhibitions of art. The fact that wealthy Paisley business people were buying art was another important factor.
1871

Foundation of Paisley’s Free Museum and Library

Paisley Free Library and Museum was designed in an austere Greek Revival style by leading Glasgow architect, John Honeyman, who later went into partnership with John Keppie in the firm Honeyman & Keppie.