Eighteenth-century Drawing Schools

I spent the day at a conference in the Royal Academy Schools which explored the great variety of eighteenth-century drawing schools, mostly in London, but also the Foulis Academy, which was founded in Glasgow some time before the Royal Academy. What struck me was the range of opportunities which were on offer in eighteenth-century London for someone to learn to draw. There were drawing masters employed by the major schools, including Alexander Cozens at Christ’s Hospital and Eton. There was a movement to establish drawing schools at the ancient universities. There were individuals who advertised themselves as drawing masters. There were drawing prizes offered by the Society of Arts for girls as well as for boys. And the Duke of Richmond decided that it would be a good thing to offer facilities for boys to learn to draw at his newly established sculpture gallery on Whitehall. Why this great emphasis on drawing ? Part of it was a public recognition that for Britain to compete as a trading nation was going to need people who were good at designing objects and ornament, clocks, fabrics and all the things that stocked the shops on the Strand. Part of it was an understanding that drawing lay at the heart of all the fine arts, as was emphasised by Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses. But there was more to it. People understood that good quality drawing improved skills of invention, understanding and interpreting the world, as well as recording it for posterity.

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