The Chelsea Arts Club

Chelsea Arts ClubThe Chelsea Arts Club has been serving the interests of London artists since 1891 from its charismatic home on Old Church Street.  Yet the club is witnessing changes as galleries move from the West End to East and outer London, and beyond, with artists following them.  One hundred artist members leave London for the country each year, says Dudley Winterbottom, secretary of the club.  However, he also says that once artists have made enough money, they often return to areas closer to Chelsea.

The naturally convivial atmosphere of the club is characterised by the central club-room, dominated by a vast billiard table.  A member or two sits at the bar, and one finds oneself falling into conversation as in an Irish pub.  Outside, the delightful garden’s principle charm is its hidden nooks; it has been the subject of many a painting and drawing by club members.  Yet the prices in the club are also charming.  The impressive menu is a bargain for Chelsea, and the cheap rooms above provide an ideal base for country members visiting London.

The club boasts its own cricket, snooker, and rowing and chess teams; there is a racing syndicate whose horse, Mahlstick, sometimes doesn’t come trailing in at the end of a race.  There are events throughout the year, such as a fancy dress ball.  Winterbottom avows his favourite occasion, however, is “my fireworks” on 5 November.

The responsibilities of the club as an arts club are not neglected.  Every year funds are collected for worthy art causes.  For example, the Club helped to raise money for the National Portrait Gallery’s purchase of Lely’s Duchess of Cleveland.  Money is also regularly contributed to the Artists General Benevolent Institution, the Trinity Hospice, and the Chelsea Arts Club Trust.

There has also been no neglecting the electronic age.  The website hosts a gallery of artists’ works, and being able to send out e-mails to members has “changed our lives,” claims Winterbottom.

— Orlando Bridgeman

The Chelsea Arts Club
143 Old Church Street
Chelsea, London
020 7 376 3311

It never fails to be a treat to be invited to the Chelsea Arts Club, especially to have lunch  in the bar, where the atmosphere is leisurely and bohemian.  The food is unpretentious and retro and features the favourites you’re too lazy to cook at home, like cassoulet or bourguignon.  The newspapers are at hand on the billiard table and fires are lit so you feel invited to settle in and enjoy a winter’s evening, home away from home.  In the good weather the garden is the piece de résistance. It is true luxury to sit in such a giant garden space in the heart of Chelsea.

Whistler was a founder member and since then many artists have used this club as their “local.”  The feel is eccentric and unique.  It’s a very special place that makes you want to go back for more.  If you’re lucky enough to be a member, you probably spend a lot of time here.

— Mrs M

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  • Chelsea Art Club