The Buffalo Society of Artists was formed in April, 1891 as the result of an informal discussion in James Francis Brown’s studio and Brown became its first president.
The first annual exhibition of the BSA was held at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy galleries, and then located in the old Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in Lafayette Square. Patrons helped to pay the cost of publishing the catalog. Brunn’s Carriage Manufactory on Summer Street and H.H.Otis’ Bookstore on lower Main Street were among the advertisers on the back pages of the catalog.
In 1893, the Buffalo Society of Artists established a fellowship prize for a Buffalo art student to study in New York. This award was based on the French precedent whereby provincial cities sent promising art students to study in Paris at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
The Society’s second exhibition included out-of-town exhibitors as “educators”. Twelve artists from New York City sent their work in 1893, among them Theodore Robinson, John Thwachtman, William Merrit Chase, and Andrew Wyant. In 1894, the French Impressionists Monet and Pissaro were included as “educators” along with a group of distinguished American painters.
Women artist members coming from prominent and wealthy families contributed the success of the Friday afternoon receptions, which included art exhibitions accompanied by expert lecturers.
In 1895, the BSA established a fellowship prize of $50 to be awarded to the best painting in the annual exhibit. The Society was given permanent rooms on the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy galleries in the library building, William C. Cornell, president, expanded the group’s program. He organized a campaign to raise money for a permanent art library and reading room. This library was the first of its kind to be established by an artist’s association in the United States. The Society sponsored an exhibition of fine book-bindings, bookplates and posters. The work of the relatively unknown Audrey Beardsley was exhibited.
In 1896, the Society offered a prize for the best design for a flag for the City of Buffalo.
Mrs. Charles Cary, a member of a prominent Buffalo family, became president in 1897. She was listed in the Social Register and was instrumental in interesting other Buffalo socialites in becoming patrons the Society. Under her auspices, the Society organized a series of fornightly at-homes. These informal “at-homes”, as they were called were held in BSA members’ homes or studios. These studio “at-homes” are still offered today.