Ellen Sharples

Portrait in oils of Ellen Sharples (1830 by Rolinda Sharples) RWA collections
Portrait in oils of Ellen Sharples (1830 by Rolinda Sharples) RWA collections

Ellen Sharples, together with John Scandrett Harford and Philip William Skynner Miles are the three people credited with founding the RWA. Ellen Sharples bequeathed £2,000 to the academy. It was accepted ‘as an assurance of the continued existence of the Society as a means of raising an Art School’.

In 1844, they did not have a building of their own to exhibit works, but had negotiated the use of a room at the recently opened Victoria Rooms and for the following year in the Bristol Institution (what is now known as the Masonic Lodge) on Park Street.

The founders were keen to have a suitable building to house the academy and Ellen Sharples’ generous donation was significant in helping to secure the Bristol Academy of Fine Art in the place it exists today. She died before the building was built, but you may notice a reference to Ellen Sharples on the original building.

Of particular interest: Mrs Ellen Sharples played a vital role in the creation of a suitable building for what later became the RWA. It is interesting to note that a woman played such an important part in this story, which is unusual for this time. Manchester’s Academy had been set up in the 1820s, but women were not admitted as members until 50 years later. It may be because of its benefactress, the Bristol Academy was ahead of its time and accepted women as well as men as members of the academy from the outset.