John Busby, an SWLA Founder member, painting Landscape of Autumn Clouds in Addingham, 1961  © Estate of John Busby
John Busby, an SWLA Founder member, painting Landscape of Autumn Clouds in Addingham, 1961 © Estate of John Busby


The original work of wildlife artists was not readily available in the late 1950s and yet this was a time of widespread and growing interest in natural history. With a society of artists in mind which might seize such an opportunity, Robert Gillmor and Eric Ennion, with the enthusiastic support of Peter Scott and Keith Shackleton, organised an exhibition of contemporary bird paintings in the Reading Art Gallery in 1960. Maurice Bradshaw, then Director of the Art Exhibitions Bureau, joined the organising committee and as a result, the Bureau took this exhibition on tour for a year.

Such was the interest shown by provincial galleries that the tour was extended for a further year, and during this time R.B. Talbot-Kelly and Maurice Wilson joined the organisers to plan a society to build on this interest, and they began inviting founder members. The inaugural exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) was held in London and opened by James Fisher in August 1964. The exhibition featured 149 works by 35 founder members, eight of whom are still members. By 2009 there were 359 works selected for the annual exhibition in the Mall Galleries, London and the Society had 73 elected members and 7 Associate Members.

From the outset, the SWLA was one of eight member societies comprising the Federation of British Artists (FBA) which was founded in 1960 and which had grown out of the Art Exhibitions Bureau. The FBA is a non-profit making organisation and Registered Charity which provides a central forum and administrative body for all the societies. It is responsible for subscriptions, commissions, submission fees and other dues and general administration resulting from their activities, and it provides an excellent exhibition space in the heart of London at the Mall Galleries.

In 1990 the Society of Wildlife Artists became a Registered Charity with the charitable purpose of fostering and encouraging all forms of visual art based on or representing the world’s wildlife. Through art, the Society actively seeks not only to generate an appreciation of and enthusiasm for the natural world, but also to advance the interest, education and concern of the public in the conservation of wildlife. In pursuit of these objectives, the SWLA undertakes various activities to support and promote arts-based objectives of other conservation and wildlife charities.