The Antique School at Old Somerset House, 1779
Edward Francis Burney (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
335 mm x 485 mm
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