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Edward Francis Burney, The Antique School at New Somerset House

The Antique School at New Somerset House, ca. 1780

Edward Francis Burney (07 Sep 1760 - 1848)

RA Collection: Art

This is one of a pair of drawings by Edward Francis Burney (1760-1848) which provide a glimpse of daily life at the Royal Academy in the 18th century. Both portray RA students drawing casts of Classical and Renaissance sculptures in the 'Antique School'. Skilful draughtsmanship was essential for aspiring artists at this time and students at the Academy usually spent at least a year drawing casts before they progressed to life drawing . Most of the casts shown in the drawings are from Greek and Roman sculptures, revered for their combination of naturalism and ideal beauty.

The Royal Academy occupied several London premises before moving to Burlington House in 1869. Teaching originally took place in a building in Pall Mall and then at Old Somerset House on the Strand. In 1780 the RA moved into purpose-built rooms in New Somerset House. This drawing presents the new 'Antique School', elegantly decorated and situated on the piano nobile (now the galleries of the Courtauld Institute of Art). Many of the same casts can be seen in the drawing of Old Somerset House but the overall impression here is of a grander and more ordered environment. In the foreground, a group of students draw the figure of Cincinnatus and it has been suggested that the student wearing a blue jacket is the young William Blake who joined the Schools in 1779. The artist, Edward Burney, was also a student at the Academy from 1777 and he went on to become a popular illustrator and history painter.

Object details

The Antique School at New Somerset House
Edward Francis Burney (07 Sep 1760 - 1848)
ca. 1780
Object type
Pen and ink with watercolour wash on laid paper

335 mm x 485 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Colnaghi and Company in 5th July 1960

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