Tag Archive | Royal Academy

The Microcosm of London or London in Miniature: The Royal Academy

published by Rudolph Ackermann in 3 volumes, 1808–1811.

Previous to the institution of a Royal Academy, there was an exhibition at the Lyceum in the Strand. It was denominated THE SOCIETY OF ARTISTS OF GREAT BRITAIN; and the profits were to be applied to the relief of distressed artists, their widows and children. In this place were exhibited some very fine productions by Mortimer and other of our most celebrated painters. 

The princes of the house of Hanover had many virtues of a description that adorn and dignify human nature. George II, was a gentleman of high honour and undeviating integrity; but he possessed no portion of taste for the fine arts, the professors of which were very coldly considered during his reign. 

The accession of his present majesty displayed a very different scene, and those who had talents found now a sovereign who had taste to discern and appreciate them, and sought every opportunity of affording them countenance and protection.

The Royal Academy

In the year 1774, old Somerset Place was purchased of the crown, and an act of parliament passed for embanking the river Thames before Somerset House, and for building upon its scite various public offices, &c. The part of the building appropriated to the artists, is the object of our present enquiry. 

The room on the ground-floor is allotted to models of statues, plans, elevations, and drawings. 

The coved ceiling of the library was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Cipriani. The center is by Sir Joshua, and represents the Theory of the Art, under the form of an elegant and majestic female, seated on the clouds and looking up wards: she holds in one hand a compass, in the other a label, on which is written, 

Theory is the knowledge of what is truly nature. 

The four compartments in the coves of the ceiling are by Cipriani, and represent Nature, History, Allegory, and Fable. These are well imagined, and sufficiently explain themselves. 

The adjoining room, being originally appropriated to models and casts from the antique, of which this society has a most valuable and curious collection, is plain and unornamented. 

The council room is more richly decorated ; the stucco is in a good taste, and in the center compartment of the ceiling are five pictures painted by Mr. West. The center picture represents the Graces unveiling Nature; the others display the four elements from which the imitative arts collect their objects, under the description of female figures, attended by genii, with Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, exhibited under different forms and modifications. The large oval pictures which adorn the two extremities of the ceiling, are from the pencil of Angelica Kauffman, and represent Invention, Composition, Design, and Colouring. Besides these nine large pictures, there are in the angles, or ospandrells in the center, four coloured medallions, representing Apelles the painter, Phidias the sculptor, Apollodorus the architect, and Archimedes the mathematician; and round the great circle of the center, eight smaller medallions, held up by lions, on which are represented, in chira-obscuro, Palladio, Bernini, Michael Angelo, Fiamingo, Raphael, Dominichino, Titian, and Rubens; all of which are painted by Rebecca.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds was the first president ; and his urbanity of manners, and high rank in the arts, gave him a respectability with the society, which it will not be easy for any of his successors to equal. 

It is not proper to pass the name of this great man without some general account of his character: 

“His art was nature, and his pictures thought.” 

He was born heir to the manor of portrait-painting, the soil of which he has so improved, enriched, and fertilized, as to give this hitherto barren spot in the province of art, an importance it was never before thought capable of receiving. At the hour he began to paint he was the leader of his art, and, whatever improvements were made by his contemporaries, preserved that rank to the last year of his life. He was sometimes praised for excellences which he did not possess, and sometimes censured for errors of which he was not guilty. To analyze his character fairly, it is necessary to consider the state of the arts when he began to paint; and to say a man was superior to the painters who immediately succeeded Hudson, is, with very few exceptions, saying little more than that he was a giant among pigmies. By his fondness for experiments in colours, he frequently used such as vanished before the originals they were designed to commemorate, and many of them the world need not lament. 

Every succeeding year of his life he improved; and that some of his later pictures have been painted with colours that fled, every man of true taste will regret; at the same time that the mezzotintoes so frequently engraved from them, shew us in shadow, that such things were. He did not aim at giving a mere ground-plan of the countenance, but the markings of the mind, the workings of the soul, the leading features which distinguish man from man; by which means he has represented real beings with all the ideal graces of fiction, and united character  to individuality. Invention and originality have been said to be the leading excellences of a poet or a painter, and the president has been accused of borrowing from the works of others. Let it be remembered, that the merit does not lie in the originality of any single circumstance, but in the conduct and use of all the branches and particular beauties which enter into each composition. Such appropriation has a right to the praise of invention, and to such praise was Sir Joshua entitled. He frequently united the elegance of the French style with the chastity of the Roman; he imitated the brilliant hues of Rembrandt, but never introduced what was either mean or disgusting; he had the richness of colouring of Rubens without his excess and tumult; and by thus judiciously selecting and skilfully blending the colours of the various masters, he has formed a style wholly his own, on the merit of which other painters have separately about as high claim, as the mason who hewed the stones for Whitehall had to the honours due to Inigo Jones. 

Considered in every point of view, he has given a new character to portrait-painting, and his pencil may, without exaggeration, be called creative. 

The School

The stated professors of painting in its different departments, read lectures to the students in their various branches; and as they possess a most capital collection of casts and models from antique statues, &c. they have what may be fairly deemed a good school for drawing. A school for colouring they still want; and it has been recommended to them to purchase a collection of pictures, to which the students might resort, and compare their own productions with those of the great masters, whose works have stood the test of ages. The Lectures by Sir Joshua Reynolds are published, and are models of elegant composition as well as scientific taste. Those by Mr. Barry were published a few years ago, and contain much original and useful information, blended with some of this singular painter’s peculiarities. 

Mr. Sheldon, professor of anatomy, delivers six lectures annually, during the summer season. 

Prize medals (of silver), for the best academy figure, are delivered once a year. 

Gold medals for historical compositions in painting, sculpture, and designs in architecture, once in two years. The latter are presented to a full assembly, and succeeded by a discourse from the president. 

Students have generally during the whole year an opportunity of studying nature from well chosen subjects, and of drawing from the antique casts. 

Admission to the lectures is by a ticket signed by an academician; they are held on Monday evenings, at eight o’clock, in Somerset Place. 

The annual exhibition generally opens in May, and every person admitted pays one shilling ; and sixpence for a catalogue, if he wishes to have one. 


The room in which this is done we have already described; and by the manner in which it is arranged, and their errors being pointed out, a number of our young students draw with great correctness. It is devoutly to be wished that their colouring was as meritorious as their drawing; but for colouring they have not yet a good school, though several of the royal academicians have made many attempts to obtain it; but, alas! those attempts have not hitherto been crowned with success. 


This most spirited drawing is covered with the representation of pictures and figures, in a manner with which it would not be easy to find one with which it could be paralleled; nor would it be easy to find any other artist, except Mr. Rowlandson, who was capable of displaying so much separate manner in the delineations placed on the walls, and such an infinite variety of small figures, contrasted with each other in a way so peculiarly happy, and marked with such appropriate character. The peculiar mode by which different persons shew the earnestness with which they contemplate what they are inspecting, and display an absorbed attention to the object before them, is incomparably delineated; and the whole forms an admirable little picture of that busy scene, in which such crowds are annually engaged in watching the progress of the fine arts as annually exhibited at the Royal Academy. 

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Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II


Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!

The Paintings in the Pillared Saloon

The Pillared Saloon was built onto the Rotunda in 1750-51 to provide more wall space for paintings and, of course, draw more visitors. The original idea was to have allegorical paintings of the royal family—Prince Frederick and his family—demonstrating how love of the arts manifested his virtue and patriotism. Frederick’s untimely death in 1751 put paid to this idea and delayed the project for almost ten years.

Two full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte in their coronation robes did appear soon after their marriage in 1761. The royal pair is known to have sat for the painter—undoubtedly Frances Hayman—in person as a special favor to Jonathan Tyers.

The Seven Years’ War Paintings

In contrast to the lightheartedness of the supper-box paintings and the drama of the Shakespearean scenes, the four remaining paintings for the Pillared Saloon were to be patriotic history paintings. These were not the typical classical scenes or representations of events from the distance past, but “very recent military actions populated by real living people wearing contemporary costume.”

[Hayman] chose not the violence of heroic death or even topographical portrayals of military action, but rather its aftermath, in order to convey the virtues of the individual British military commanders, magnanimous and humane in victory.


The Surrender of Montreal to General Amherst

Amazingly, this painting appeared in the Pillared Saloon in 1761, only eight months after the event it depicts.

It was the most overtly propagandic of the four military scenes, emphasising the selfless humanity of General Jeffrey Amherst: Hayman showed him handing out food to the starving and defeated population and returning to them their possessions; this was intended to be in stark contrast to the merciless treatment they might have expected from the French, had they been victorious, and especially from their Indian allies.

In the Description (1762), much is made of the contrast between the defeated and miserable French and the victorious but humane British, and the author instructed readers to view the paintings as a true representation of one of ‘the most glorious transactions of the present war’.


The Triumph of Britannia

The second painting, which was installed for the opening of the 1762 season, was a representation of the defeat of the French fleet at Quiberon Bay in November 1759. “As its allegorical title would suggest, it was intended to glorify the British military leaders involved in the action and the natural alliance of Britannia with Neptune that had given Britain mastery of the seas.”

However, because it did not entirely succeed in capturing the essential majestic dignity that was necessary to this type of allegorical work, the Triumph of Britannia was not always taken seriously by its audience. It is specifically and humorously singled out in Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina of 1778; during a visit to Vauxhall, Mr. Smith ridiculously mistakes the figure of Neptune for that of a famous general, despite the fact that he is wearing ‘the oddest dress for a general ever I see’.

Lord Clive, Hayman, 1760

Lord Clive Receiving the Homage of the Nabob

A companion piece to the Surrender, this painting was installed in time for the 1763 season. The historical event depicted was the Battle of Plassey, at which Robert Clive ousted the ruling Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula and, “in an apparently magnanimous act, [Clive] then supported the claim to supremacy of the elderly general Mir Jafar (c. 1691-1765), Nawab of Murshidabad, who had actually fought against the British, but who was more easily persuaded to the British point of view.”

In that battle the British forces were famously outnumbered by twenty to one, but were nevertheless victorious with the loss of only eighteen men (according to Clive), lending it the heroic ideal; in fact this was undeserved, and the British were saved from probable defeat only by the quick thinking of their artillerymen who covered their weapons and powder during a downpour, while the enemy did not.

The description of the painting started with “The subject of this picture is of the most interesting nature, to every Briton who regards the honour and propsperity of this country’, no doubt insinuating that it would be unpatriotic to criticize it.
The second description

praises General Clive for his leadership, and for his generosity in giving the sultanate to Mir Jafar;

therefore performing for his Country a most important Service, as well as procuring for the India Company and Individuals the Sum of Three Millions Sterling, for their Losses sustained at Calcutta; with such Privileges, Immunities, and Advantages, as they never enjoyed before. And this Revolution hath been moreover the Means of the India Company’s acquiring the Territorial Possessions, to the Amount of Seven hundred thousand Pounds per Annum.

In retrospect, General Clive’s generosity seems less altruistic considering the huge commercial gains resulting from the acquisition of this territory.

Britannia Distributing Laurels

A companion piece to the Triumph of Britannia, Britannia Distributing Laurels was installed in 1764. Unfortunately, no version of this piece is known to be in existence. However, it is known to have depicted the full-length figures of Generals Granby, Monckton, Albemarle, Coote, Townshend and Wolfe, all in Roman costume, allegorical in nature.

The story goes that, when Granby came to Hayman’s studio in St. Martin’s Lane, he challenged Hayman to a boxing match before the sitting. After a hesitant start, which Granby overcame by saying that the exercise would give animation to his portrait, Hayman apparently floored the marquis with a tremendous punch to the stomach, and Mrs. Hayman, hurrying upstairs to see what the noise was, found them ‘rolling over each other on the carpet like two bears.’

Tyers as the Ultimate Patron of 18th century British Art

The inscription under the engraving of Hayman’s Triumph of Britannia describes him as a ‘”Lover and Encourager of the Arts.’” He was described by Henry Angelo as having “laid out more money in the encouragement of English art than any man of his time. Indeed, his house was so full of pictures, that after hanging them, even on his stair-case, there were still some to spare.”

Jonathan Tyers didn’t just use art to further his commercial ambitions; he was a true conoisseur. And it was his dream to open up the arts to all layers of society, not just the upper class.

The huge developments in British art through the middle of the eighteenth century were in large part due to the concurrence of Vauxhall Gardens, the Foundling Hospital, the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy and to the men involved in those institutions, notably Hogarth, Hayman and, of course, Tyers… After the collaboration of Tyers and Hayman, the visual arts at Vauxhall never again received the same degree of patronage from its proprietors.

The paintings and sculpture at Vauxhall Gardens would have been the best-known works of art in England at the time, seen by tens of thousands of people, including significant numbers of artists, every year. Although Tyers owed much to Hogarth, initially the driving force behind the artistic concept of the gardens, it was Hayman, Tyers’s artistic director, who could be seen as the more influential figure. This was partly because of the huge exposure of his original work at Vauxhall, and also because he was the linchpin that held together the London art profession, with a finger in all the principal artistic pies of the time—the St Martin’s Lane Academy, Vauxhall Gardens, the Foundling Hospital, the Society of Artists and, eventually, their august offspring, the Royal Academy.

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever