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Sir Albert Richardson PRA, The Starecase at the Royal Academy, preliminary study

The Starecase at the Royal Academy, preliminary study, 1962

Sir Albert Richardson PRA (1880 - 1964)

RA Collection: Art

This watercolour sketch shows crowds on the staircase at Burlington House during a private view at the Royal Academy. The view is from the landing by one of the doors to the Fine Rooms looking towards the painting The Triumph of Galatea (03/188) by Sebastiano Ricci and the entrance to the President's Corridor.

The subject and the deliberate misspelling of the title are a light-hearted nod to the work of Georgian satirist Thomas Rowlandson, whose well-known engraving Exhibition Starecase (c.1800) pokes fun at the Academy by suggesting that art was perhaps not the only attraction on show at its exhibitions. Richardson’s interest in Rowlandson’s work is hardly surprising given his great passion for the eighteenth century: his home, Avenue House in Ampthill, Bedforshire, was lit by candlelight, filled with eighteenth-century artefacts and he liked to be carried around the nearby streets in a sedan chair.

Richardson’s version is much less bawdy than its predecessor, but it effortlessly conjures up the lively, slightly chaotic, atmosphere of exhibition opening night. Richardson depicts a group of Royal Academicians and Academy staff standing on the balcony overlooking the crowd as they rush towards the galleries. Although the finished work is less frenetic than the sketch, both versions feature a figure falling on the stairs, a motif borrowed from Rowlandson, and both highlight people in fashionable dress. By the time he painted Starecase, Richardson had retired and there is a sense in which this is his wry glance at the wave of change beginning to engulf the old institution.

Object details

The Starecase at the Royal Academy, preliminary study
Object type
Copyright owner
Pencil and watercolour on wove paper laid on card

578 mm x 645 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Lowell Libson 15th October 2013, Rowena Libson 15th October 2013, Bart Tiernan 15th October 2013, Nini Tiernan 15th October 2013, Loyd Grossman 15th October 2013, Diane Nixon 15th October 2013, and Rosemary Lomax-Simpson 15th October 2013

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