We use cookies to improve your experience online. By using our website, you agree to the use of cookies as described in our cookies policy.

‘Picasso and Paper’ tickets are sold out for Friends and the public. Sign up to our newsletter to hear when more tickets are made available.

Edward Francis Burney, The Antique School at Old Somerset House
Edward Francis Burney, The Antique School at Old Somerset House

The Antique School at Old Somerset House, 1779

Edward Francis Burney (07 Sep 1760 - 1848)

RA Collection: Art

This drawing is one of a pair by Edward Francis Burney (1760-1848) which together provide a glimpse of daily life at the Royal Academy during 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 spent up to three years 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 1868. Teaching originally took place at premises in Pall Mall, then at Old Somerset House on the Strand before the Academy as a whole was given apartments in New Somerset House and later in the National Gallery building at Trafalgar Square. According to an inscription on the back of the sheet, this drawing shows students at work in Old Somerset House, crammed with copies of statues like the Apollo Belvedere (centre left). In the right-hand corner of the room is Leonardo da Vinci's famous cartoon for 'The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' (ca.1499-1500; National Gallery). However, as Old Somerset House was being demolished from 1776 onwards, it is possible that this scene in fact shows the RA Schools operating from a different building altogether or it may have been drawn from memory. By 1779, Academy was about to move into its apartments in New Somerset House.

The students sit at benches absorbed in their work while their teacher, the figure wearing a blue coat, offers advice and corrections. This image was probably painted from memory and recollections, however, as the room itself had almost certainly been demolished by 1779 to make room for the new building.

The artist, Edward Burney was himself a student at the Academy from 1777 and went on to become a popular illustrator and history painter.

This work is supported by The Tavolozza Foundation

Object details

The Antique School at Old Somerset House
Edward Francis Burney (07 Sep 1760 - 1848)
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

Associated works of art

1 results

return to start

Start exploring the RA Collection

read more
  • Explore art works, paint-smeared palettes, scribbled letters and more...
  • Artists and architects have run the RA for 250 years.
    Our Collection is a record of them.
Start exploring