Copyright
J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

. (page 15 of 35)
Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 15 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the Secretary :

"DERBY, list October 1782.

Sir, I take the liberty of troubling you with a letter
previous to my signing the Obligation, to know why in the last
Catalogue I stood Academician elect, and now on the list of
candidates as an Associate?

" When I wrote you in February last, it was my intention
to have been in town at the ensuing Exhibition, but was pre-
vented by business which was not to be delayed. I did not
then know the necessity of either appearing or writing,



JOSEPH WRIGHT (OF DERBY) 165

otherwise if I could not do the one I should not have
omited (sic) the other. I am, Sir, your most obedient,
humble servant,

"JOSEPH WRIGHT."

The Secretary replied as follows :

"R.A., 8//fc November 1782.

"Sir, I am favoured with yours dated 2ist October, which
I should have answered but have been prevented by absence
for a few days.

"If you will please to refer to the last Catalogue you will
find at the beginning that the Academicians are distinguished
by the letters R.A., the Associates by the letter A.

" After your name you will find A. Elect, and in the list of
the exhibitors at the end of the Catalogue you will find Joseph
Wright, Associate Elect, Derby. I am, Sir, your most obedient,
humble servant,

" F. M. NEWTON, R.A., Secretary.
" Mr Joseph Wright, Derby."

He appears to have been satisfied with this explanation, as
we find the Secretary reporting to the Council on 3ist December
1782, that he had received the copy of the Obligation from
Mr Joseph Wright, duly signed. The first vacancy that occurred
in the ranks of the Academicians after Wright's election as
an Associate was filled up on nth February 1783, when
Edmund Garvey was elected by 10 votes against 8 given for
Wright. Garvey, it may be mentioned, had been an Associate
since 1770, and was not, as has been asserted, merely a painter
of gentlemen's seats. The next election of an Academician
took place on loth February 1784, and Wright was elected
by 8 votes against 7 given for J. F. Rigaud. At the meeting
of the Council on 26th March following, however, a letter was



166 ASSOCIATES ELECTED UNDER REYNOLDS

read from Mr Joseph Wright, wherein he declined being an
Academician, and it was resolved " that his name be erased
from the List of Associates according to his desire." The
Associate's Roll of Institution contains the following entry
in the space where Wright should have signed his name :
"Mem. Mr Jos. Wright, elected 5th November 1781, resigned"
Wright, therefore, ceased to be an Associate of the Academy,
and the letter A. ought not, strictly speaking, to be appended to
his name. This is further proved by the fact that when he again
began exhibiting at the Academy in 1788, his name is not
printed as that of a member. He died in 1797.

JOSEPH BONOMI, A.,

was born in Rome in 1739, and studied architecture there. In
1767 he was persuaded by the brothers Adam to come to
London, and was employed by them for many years on archi-
tectural and decorative work. Having married in 1775 a cousin
of Angelica Kauffman's, he was persuaded by her to return to
Rome with his wife and family in 1783, but soon came back to
London, where he regularly settled down to practise his profes-
sion. In 1789 he was elected an Associate of the Royal
Academy by the casting vote of the President, who subsequently,
as already narrated, endeavoured to get him elected an Acade-
mician, in order that he might become Professor of Perspective.
The failure of Reynolds to accomplish this object led to his
temporary resignation of the Presidency. Bonomi had a great
reputation for architectural knowledge and taste, and designed
several well-known country houses. His talents were acknow-
ledged in his native town by his appointment in 1804 as
Honorary Architect of St Peters. He died on 9th March 1808.





Ou

w

H

O



W



.




s I






^f



."s|^ss w :^i

jfJlfilirair
PriffVJii-



CHAPTER XI

THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

"ON the 23rd of February, 'twixt eight and nine in the evening,
died our worthy President." So runs the heading of the Council
Minutes of Sunday, the 26th of February 1792, on which day a
meeting had been summoned to make arrangements for the
funeral of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The executors of the deceased
President were anxious that the body should be conveyed to the
Royal Academy the evening before the interment to lie in state
there ; but Sir William Chambers reminded the Council that as
surveyor of Somerset House, appointed by the king, he was
bound not to permit it to be used for any other purposes than
those specified in the grant, and that therefore the request of
the executors must be refused, which was accordingly done.
Benjamin West, however, who was on the Council, appears not
to have been satisfied with this result, and to have taken advan-
tage of the favour which he enjoyed at court to have Chambers'
veto removed ; for at the General Assembly held on 28th
February, and of which he was elected chairman, he announced
that he had that day waited on His Majesty, and informed him
of all the circumstances, and that His Majesty, while approving
of the Council's "caution," was "most graciously pleased to
signify that it is his royal will that that mark of respect should
be shown, and gave his commands for its being so ordered."
Accordingly it was resolved " that the body be moved to the
Royal Academy the night preceding the funeral " ; and " that
a part of the model Academy be enclosed, to be hung with
black, sconces, etc., to deposit the corpse." The funeral took

167



168 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

place in St Paul's Cathedral on the 3rd of March, the cost being
defrayed by the members of the Academy out of their own
pockets, each member subscribing thirty shillings, as may be
seen by a list of the payments still preserved in the Academy
archives. There were ten pall-bearers, the Duke of Dorset, the
Duke of Leeds, the Duke of Portland, the Marquis Townshend,
the Marquess of Abercorn, the Earl of Carlisle, the Earl of Inchi-
quin, the Earl of Upper Ossory, Viscount Palmerston, and Lord
Eliot. A long line of carriages, ninety-one in number, followed,
containing, in addition to the members and students of the
Academy, all the most distinguished men of the day. The
grave is in the crypt, close to that of Sir Christopher Wren.
The monument in the nave, which is by Flaxman, was not
erected till 1813.

The pomp of that funeral, the stately edifice which received
the remains of the deceased President, the long procession
through hushed streets where shops were closed, the great men
who followed mourning, all the circumstances which have marked
that day with solemnity, seem appropriate as closing not only
the first chapter in the history of the Royal Academy, but a
great era of English Art. In saying farewell to the first Presi-
dent of the Royal Academy, we are also taking leave of a school,
a school as distinct as that of Phidias, and as remarkable for its
individual character, for the suddenness of its development,
and for the shortness of its duration.

Great men followed after, and the succession is still unbroken ;
but these in their tendency, the direction of their aim, in their
excellencies and in their defects, fail to exhibit the same unity
and singleness of purpose. One great artist, perhaps the
greatest England has produced, namely, J. M. W. Turner,
combined in his practice the excellencies of many schools, but
founded none ; he was too many-sided, his imagination was too
discursive, and the range of his achievement too vast, to admit
of followers ; he stands alone, as such men always do, a solitary
beacon, a pharos shining through the darkness of history, and



ENGLISH ART IN THE 18ra CENTURY 169

we can discern none like him. Whereas in that group of
painters which constituted the nucleus of the Royal Academy
at its outset, though there is great difference of merit, we can
discern a distinct family likeness ; they had formed the same
ideal, and pursued the same object, and the difference between
them is chiefly marked by the varying degrees of their ability
to attain to it. However this may have come about matters
not to us here, but it is a patent fact, that with the death of
Reynolds and the Presidency of Benjamin West, English Art
entered on a new phase, in which we see more effort, more
ambition, but less conviction, less unity of purpose, and con-
sequently also less distinctive character.

Those who frequent exhibitions and auction-rooms, though
they may not have reasoned upon it, are aware that in the depths
of their consciousness there is a peculiar type which they associ-
ate with the art of Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Romney ; and if
chance brings them to a picture by Cotes, by Dance, by Wilson,
or by Chamberlin, they recognise that type, and mentally
associate those pictures with that art. They are affected in the
first place by a sense of colour, of repose and dignity ; then they
become aware that there is very great economy of details, that
the design always aims at grandeur, and when it fails to attain
to it, falls back into meagreness ; that the colouring aims at
richness and depth rather than brilliancy; that there are no
strong contrasts, and that pure white is sparingly used. It is an
art which is quite peculiar, and which, once observed, can never
be mistaken. It reminds one of other things, it recalls remini-
scences of Flanders, of Venice, and of Rome, but in a vague and
indistinct way ; over and above these, presiding over, guiding,
and governing them, there is a distinct expression of nationality.
This art has its definite position both in time and in space ; it
belongs to England and the latter half of the eighteenth century ;
no other age or country has ever produced anything like it. To
this phase of English Art we are now going to say good-bye, and
not without regret ; it was pure in its spirit and noble in its aim,



170 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

but, alas ! it was not destined to be a starting-point, but a
culmination.

But if not to be looked upon as a starting-point qua Art,
it may certainly be considered so in every sense of the term
as regards the Institution founded by its exponents, which,
under their fostering care, increased year by year in power and
influence. At the death of Reynolds, and, indeed, for some time
previously, the Academy occupied a thoroughly stable and
independent position. From being housed in a small room in
Pall Mall, it had become the occupier of a fine suite of apart-
ments in Somerset House. Its exhibitions had increased in
size and importance, from 136 works in 1769 to 780 in 1792 ;
and whereas of the 136 works 79 had been contributed by
members of the Academy, and 57 by non-members, of the 780,
126 were by members and 654 by outside contributors. The
annual receipts from the exhibition had also largely increased,
having risen from 699, 175. 6d. in 1769 to ^2602 in 1792 ; and
from being dependent on the royal bounty to make up the
difference between the receipts and the expenditure on the
schools and other outgoings, the Academy had become the
possessor of more than ; 12,000 of invested moneys, the interest
from which was sufficient to cover any deficiency in its annual
income. Its free schools had flourished and admirably fulfilled
the purpose for which they were founded. From the beginning
of 1769 to the end of 1791, 564 students had been admitted, of
whom 50 had attained the rank of Associate or Academician ;
and among these may be found such names as Cosway, Banks,
Northcote, Russell, Wheatley, Stothard, Lawrence, Hoppner,
Beechey, Shee, Flaxman, Turner, Soane, Wright (of Derby).
Nor had the charitable intentions which were in the minds of
the original founders when they presented their memorial to
George III. been lost sight of, from 70 to 180 having been
given away yearly to distressed artists, their widows and children.

It was, therefore, no infant institution struggling into exist-
ence, to the chair of which Benjamin West was elected by twenty-



ROTATION OF COUNCIL 171

nine votes against one registered for Richard Cosway, on I7th
March 1792. By the fostering care of those who had presided at
its birth and had carefully nursed its early years, coupled with the
immediate and active patronage and protection of George III.,
the Royal Academy had become, to use the pardonably magnilo-
quent language of the address presented in 1793, the year after
Reynolds' death, to the royal founder to commemorate the
celebration of the twenty-fifth year of the Institution, " a per-
manent monument of public utility and royal munificence."

The presidency of Benjamin West lasted for twenty-eight
years, from 1792 to 1820. During that time forty Academicians
were elected, besides fifteen Associates who did not attain to
the higher grade. When West took the helm, the Academic ship
was sailing in smooth waters, and nothing occurred to ruffle
the calm till 1797, when began the unfortunate proceedings
which ended in the expulsion of James Barry, the story of
which has been already told in Chapter VIII.

This was followed by another internal dispute, caused by a
newly elected member, Henry Tresham, representing to the king
that the law in the Instrument of Institution, by which the seats
on the council were to go by succession to all the members, had
been systematically violated, the vacancies having been balloted
for. This certainly appears from the minutes to have been the
case, but no one seems to have objected, probably because the
result of the ballot proved generally to be in accordance with the
law. However, at the annual election of officers for the year 1 800,
on loth December 1799, Tresham, who had been elected an
Academician in that year, was not chosen as one of the Council,
a position to which he considered himself entitled, and he accord-
ingly appealed to the king. This action of his led to a long
and acrimonious discussion in the General Assembly, and to a
counter appeal to George III., who eventually, while exonerating
the Academy from blame, gave it as his opinion that the
meaning of the law was explicit, and that each member should
serve on the Council in rotation, the names of the newly



172 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

elected members who had received their diplomas being always
placed at the top of the annual list. Nor has any change
ever been made in this admirable rule, which prevents the
conduct of the affairs of the Academy ever falling into the
hands of a clique, however able ; gives each member in his
turn an opportunity, at any rate, of endeavouring to carry out
his own views on any point on which he may feel strongly ;
and enables newly-elected members to become acquainted
at once with the business and general working of the body
to which they belong.

Another far more serious cause of difference arose in 1803,
involving a dispute between the Council and the General
Assembly which was the cause of a great deal of bad feeling.
It arose out of a refusal of the majority in the Council of 1803
to allow the receipt of a Report drawn up by a Committee
chosen by the General Assembly to report upon an increase
in salaries, on the ground that by the Instrument the President
and Council having the entire management and direction of
the affairs of the Society, no business of any kind could be
delegated to a Committee that did not consist of the members
of the Council. Feeling ran very high ; and when on the 24th
May, the Council passed a resolution stating that it was " in
no respect whatever subordinate to the General Assembly,"
and that the members of the Council were "not responsible
either collectively or individually to the General Assembly as
to their proceedings in Council " ; and further proceeded to call
upon the President to lay the above resolutions before the
king and request His Majesty to be "graciously pleased to
express his sentiments thereon for the future guidance and
direction of the Royal Academy," the General Assembly
responded on 3Oth May, by declaring " that the conduct of
John Singleton Copley, James Wyatt, John Venn, John Soane,
Esquires, and Sir Francis Bourgeois in the Council on the
24th May 1803, has rendered it expedient to suspend pro
tempore the said members from their functions as Councillors



THE COUNCIL AND THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY 173

of the Royal Academy," and appointed a Committee of eleven
members to consider the whole question and recommend what
measures should be taken. No record exists of the proceed-
ings of this Committee ; but on loth August, the President
reported to the General Assembly that he with the Secretary
had attended at Windsor, and presented to His Majesty " the
address of the General Assembly, with the report of the Com-
mittee to the General Assembly, and their resolutions, as well
as the vote of the General Assembly for 500 as a subscrip-
tion to the list of subscribers at Loyds in aid of those who
may suffer or distinguish themselves in the present war," and
that His Majesty, after glancing over the papers, had said
that they seemed to be very important, and that he must
have time to look them over, and consult with high authority.
West's report goes on to say : "His Majesty then laid the
papers on his table, and entered on the subject of the Arts,
their patronage, and exhibitions, for more than two hours and
a half." On 2ist November, the following statement was
read by the Secretary to the General Assembly : " The Presi-
dent, Secretary, and Treasurer attended at the Queen's Lodge,
Windsor, November I3th, according to His Majesty's com-
mands : His Majesty having graciously received us, said as
follows, that he had examined those papers presented to him
by the President and Secretary in August last, according
to the promise he then gave, and consulted legal authority,
and that His Majesty's answer was contained in the paper he
held in his hand, that he had committed it to writing to pre-
vent there being too much or too little said on the subject
at the general meeting, when his decision on this business
was made known ; and immediately gave it to me, and com-
manded me to read, which I did, and is as follows :

"'GEORGE R.

" ' By the Laws of the Royal Academy, the General Body have
no power whatever to apply any part of the funds belonging



174 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

to that Society, without the authority and consent of the
Council ; and also no part of the funds can be applicable to
any purposes but those of the Institution of the Royal
Academy.

" * The king therefore disapproves of the donation proposed.

" * His Majesty also disapproves of the conduct of the General
Body of the Royal Academy, in censuring and suspending
some of the members of the Council ; viz., John Singleton
Copley, James Wyatt, John Venn, John Soane, and Sir Francis
Bourgeois ; and therefore orders and directs that all matters
relating to these proceedings shall be expunged from the
Minutes of the Royal Academy. And it is further the king's
pleasure that this be recorded, as a future guide for the
General Body on such occasions. G. R.'



>



There was nothing for the General Assembly to do but
to accept this rebuff with the best grace it could, and a
somewhat fulsome address of "gratitude" for His Majesty's
" deliberate attention to the proceedings of the Academy " was
drawn up, which also stated that "sensibly feeling it to be
your Majesty's desire to re-establish harmony and good under-
standing among the members of this Institution, we can best
endeavour to repay it by seconding in every way those gracious
views." Unfortunately, however, the address was accompanied
by a series of resolutions of an explanatory and exculpatory
nature which did not meet with the king's approbation ; for
although West reported on loth December that His Majesty
had on the 4th of that month " received the address with
every mark of gracious attention, and signified his pleasure
at the handsome manner in which the Academicians had
shown their attachment to his person and reign, as well as to
his communications to them, by seconding his wishes for the
harmony and prosperity of the Royal Academy," it was evi-
dent that a subsequent perusal of the resolutions made him
take a rather different view, since at the same meeting the



ACTION OF GEORGE III. 175

Secretary stated that on the /th the Treasurer had handed
to him by His Majesty's command a paper which he proceeded
to read, in which, as will be seen, the king administered a final
and decisive snub to the busybodies who had been trying to stir
up strife and make mischief.

"GEORGE R.

" His Majesty, finding that the communication made by
him to the Royal Academy early in the last month has not
been clearly understood, he thinks it necessary to convey
his sentiments in a manner that will prevent any misunder-
standing in future.

" His Majesty therefore directs, in order to shew his disap-
probation of Committees being appointed by the General
Body to transact any business which it is the duty of Council
to perform, that the protest delivered by John Singleton
Copley, James Wyatt, John Yenn, John Soane, and Sir Francis
Bourgeois, shall remain on the Minutes of the Council of the
Royal Academy.

" And His Majesty also directs that the Motion made by John
Singleton Copley on the 24th day of May last and seconded by
Sir Francis Bourgeois (a copy of which he has directed to be
annexed hereto) shall be re-entered on the Minutes of the
Council of the Royal Academy as a further mark of his dis-
approbation of the business of the Council being interrupted by
any other power in the Academy.

"And in order that His Majesty's sentiments and determina-
tion on these points may be more clearly understood, he directs
that all the Minutes, Resolves, and other Transactions of the
General Body respecting the censure and suspension of John
Singleton Copley, James Wyatt, John Yenn, John Soane, and
Sir Francis Bourgeois, shall be expunged from the recollection
of the Royal Academy.

" And His Majesty further directs (as it is his wish to restore
good harmony, and to see it continue amongst the Academicians



176 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

of the Royal Academy), that the Resolutions of the General
Body, of the 1st day of December (as presented to him with the
Address) shall be obliterated from the Minutes of that meeting.
" The king orders the Secretary of the Royal Academy to
carry the above directions into effect and to enter these his
Royal Commands in the Books of the Council of the Royal
Academy. G. R."

The merits of the case, viz., the respective powers of the
Council and the General Assembly which caused this unseemly
squabble, are not easily determined ; and indeed it may be said
that notwithstanding George III.'s very definite interpretation
under legal advice of the meaning of the laws and regulations,
the matter is one which has constantly been the subject of
discussion and friction. In the present instance, so far as can be
judged from the minutes of the two bodies, the majority of the
Council acted in the first instance without much tact or discre-
tion, and the General Assembly displayed even less of those
very desirable qualities. To the President, the king's decision
must have been rather a disagreeable surprise, as he had, so far
as can be judged from the records, strongly taken the view of
the General Assembly. In so doing, however, it is permissible
to surmise that he was not altogether uninfluenced by a personal
feeling. The unfortunate episode of the " Hagar and Ishmael "
picture happened in this year, and there is no doubt that West
strongly suspected Copley of being the member who, in his
absence through illness, drew attention to the fact of the picture
having been exhibited before, and persuaded the others of the
majority who acted with him to decline to allow it to be
exhibited, although they accepted West's explanations that
the picture had been so much altered and repainted as to be
practically entirely different from the one exhibited in 1776, and
sent an official statement to the papers contradicting a garbled
account which had previously appeared of what took place
when it was first seen by them. West, feeling sure that this



FINANCES OF THE ACADEMY 177

garbled account must have been furnished by one of the Council,
brought the matter before the General Assembly, and further
aggravated matters by denouncing the Council for having given
Copley permission, which he did not avail himself of, to send in
a picture after the appointed date, and then allowing him to



Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 15 of 35)