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But-be the causes what they may—the alleged defects are undeniable: and the very benefits which the institution has in past times produced makes them the more to be deplored. The first step towards improvement will be the conviction in the minds of the directors that they have a serious duty to perform towards artists and towards the public, and that if part of this duty must be delegated to others, it should be committed only to known and responsible persons.
The cessation of premiums, so important a feature in the original plan of the institution, is the more surprising, since there does not appear to be any deficiency of funds. There is however reason to hope that their resumption may be looked for during the next season.
The directors of the British Institution never had better opportunities for promoting its admirable object, than now lie before them. I cannot doubt that they will yet profit by these opportunities to their fullest extent, and thus restore the confidence so justly placed in the Institution heretofore.
The limitation of the exhibition of the British Insti
tution to the winter months, together with the confined Society of and inconvenient situation of the Royal Academy in
Somerset House, led, in 1823, to the formation of the Society of British Artists, for the purpose of obtaining convenient galleries for the exhibition and sale of their works. This society was immediately assisted by the liberal donations of Lords Durham, Colborne, Carysfort, De Tabley, and Dover, of Sir Gerard Noel, of Messrs. Douglas Kinnaird, Bond Cabbell, Baring Wall, Soane, R.A.;* and of many others distinguished for their high character as connoisseurs. A further sum was raised by way of loan from members and others, and in the spring of 1824 the society opened its first exhibition in the new galleries in Suffolk street, which it rented of Mr. Nash, by whom they had been erected, under a provisional agreement with the society.
* To this list were added, in the second year, the names of the Duke of Bedford, of Lord Glenorchy, and of Messrs. Denison, Hart Davis, Morrison, Broadburst, and J. Edwards.
From the outset it was to be regretted that the members of the Royal Academy (with the distinguished exceptions of Messrs. Soane and Northcote,) refused all assistance or countenance to the new undertaking, although, in the very year preceding, that body had issued a circular expressing their regret that the limited extent of their rooms obliged them to refuse admission to many works of merit. This unworthy feeling of jealousy was strongly condemned by many of the speakers at the inauguration dinner of the new society, 13th April, and especially by H. R. H. the Duke of Sussex, the chairman; and by Lord Durham, (then Mr. Lambton.) “ This society," said the latter, “is not formed in opposition to any other; it is calculated to promote and encourage the talent that abounds in the land, but it has not originated in any disposition of jealousy or motive of envy."
The society had also to struggle with another difficulty arising out of the disingenuous conduct of its landlord, Mr. Nash. Within less than half a year after the opening of the first exhibition, the roof of the large gallery became obviously insecure, and it was found necessary to obtain a bond from Mr. Nash covenanting to secure it for seven years. The mischief soon increased, and an eminent surveyor pronounced his 1827. opinion that a new roof was necessary. After repeated and fruitless applications to Mr. Nash, the interference of the commissioners of woods and forests was obtained, 25th Oct and at length the galleries were (at a great sacrifice) 1828.
given up to Mr. Nash, in order that this serious defect
should be substantially remedied. But on the comDec. 1829. pletion of his alterations, of the progress of which the
society were advised to take no cognizance, it was discovered, that instead of putting on a new roof of lighter construction, he had merely propped up the old one with iron pillars, to the serious injury of the gallery for the purposes of exhibition. Legal proceedings were commenced against Mr. Nash for compensation, but unfortunately a system of temporizing was adopted, and after much delay the matter, instead of being submitted to a jury, was referred to an equity barrister,
who, on grounds purely technical, but grossly inequit31st Dec. able, decided in favour of the defendant. From the
severe losses entailed by this affair the society has never recovered.
It is also to be noticed, that considered merely as an exhibition_(leaving out of view its character as a place of sale for pictures)—the expenses of which have to be defrayed from the money received for admission, the gallery of the society is unfavorably located: and this disadvantage has probably been increased by the proximity of the Royal Academy, in its new situation. This combination of unfavorable circumstances appears to have compelled the members to make great sacrifices, of money* as well as of time, in order to continue their operations,
• It is stated that within the last ten years the members have subscribed not less than £1765 to meet demands which the receipts at the door have failed to provide for. See a Report of the rise and progress of the Society of British Artists, addressed to its patrons and supporters, p. 23. In 1825, £4000 bad been raised by way of mortgage, at 5 per cent. to enable the society to purchase its rooms, (for the value of wbich 7 per cent. was charged as a rent), wbich, however, still remained chargeable with an annua payment of £107, reserved in the lease. Ib. p. 15.
While placed in this position the society has been earnestly requested to afford its co-operation to the efforts of the Society for obtaining free admission to national monuments and to works of art, &c. In re- See ante, sponding to this application it has expressed its cordial seqq. willingness to do all within its power for the advancement of so desirable an object: and in earnest of its sincerity the Society has already afforded free admission to its exhibition to several public schools, and to the students of the recently formed School of practical design. " Prudence, however," it is stated in the appeal which the society has published, “ forbids any further extension of the free lists in the present state of its affairs."*
“ But,” continues this appeal, “the society now earnestly and respectfully entreat the friends of the arts to assist them in an application to Parliament to place them in that state of independence which will enable them to advance those liberal and extensive views that are so well suited to the exigencies of the times. The amount required to effect the purchase of the galleries, the ground-rents, discharge of debts, &c.,...is £10,000, a sum which is believed to be annually expended by the French government in the purchase of modern works of art: the society, by being relieved from their liabilities, would be enabled to promote, in an efficient manner, the general interests of art, and to appropriate certain days for the free admission of the public, while the current expenses of the exhibition would be provided for by the receipts at the door.”+
Adverting to a comparison which had been instituted by some of the witnesses before the committee on arts and manufactures, between this society and the Royal
Academy, the Report thus proceeds to contrast the
relative positions of these bodies: Relative “The members of the Royal Academy occupy their positions of this Society
rooms rent free, their exhibition is held in a national and of the edifice, a guard of honour attend at the entrance, and Royal Academy.
every cause combines to render it a popular place of public resort; the receipts at the door are consequently large and accumulating, from which resources they provide salaries for their officers, chosen from their own body; such salaries being sufficient to contribute very materially to their comfort, respectability, and independence, which, however, is the less necessary, because the distinction of R. A. attached to their names would alone produce this, as it carries with it generally the reputation of an inseparable talent, and is the passport to favour and patronage.
“The Society of British Artists,” continues the Report, “occupy rooms built at their own cost, and subject to a charge for rent and taxes of upwards of £400 a year; the absence of royal distinctions, their exhibition being held in a private building,...renders it neither so popular nor so fashionable a place of resort, consequently the receipts at the door are inadequate to the payment of salaries to officers; and although the duties cannot be so great as in the larger institution of the Royal Academy, they yet encroach sufficiently on the time to be occasionally extremely inconvenient. This is not all, for the deficiency in the receipts for current and extraordinary expenses is, of necessity, annually supplied by the contribution of the members. * * * *
“The Society, in conclusion, beg the friends of both parties to judge impartially between them, and to do the Society of British Artists the justice to believe that the comparisons made, are not urged in the spirit of rancour; they look not with envy on the prosperity of