On a visit to the current Google HQ just north of King’s Cross (we glimpsed a model of the new one planned by Thomas Heatherwick RA), one has to sign an affidavit that one will not take photographs. But I was given special permission to take photographs from the balcony outside the Ninth Floor which has a fairly spectacular view out over the St. Pancras station train shed, designed by William Barlow, the Midland Hotel, Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece, John McAslan’s recent additions to King’s Cross, the Crick Institute, and the rest of central London to the South Downs in the distance:-
Downstairs the Barber has a case display of Royal Academy exhibition catalogues from their library, beginning with an early listing of the works in THE THIRD exhibition, held in 1771:-
The catalogue had shrunk to a handlist by 1880:-
But at least it had a plan of the galleries, with a SCULPTURE GALLERY (the current Gallery 6) and a LECTURE ROOM next to the OCTAGON, as well as a route out of Gallery 2 into a REFRESHMENT ROOM:-
By 1957, it had shrunk further (was this to save on printing costs or was people’s eyesight better ?):-
Then there is a curiosity. In 1815, someone printed a catalogue of The Rejected Pictures…by a distinguished member of the hanging committee:-
I was asked to give a lecture at the Barber Institute who have mounted a small, but choice display about Joshua Reynolds and his collection to celebrate the RA’s 250th. anniversary. Most people think of Reynolds only as a fashionable portrait painter, but he was also a passionate student of the history of art, hauntimg the auction rooms and buying work not least to strip them down and find out how they were painted. There’s a drawing attributed to Tintoretto with his collector’s mark clearly visible:-
Next door is a painting which Reynolds thought (most likely, wrongly) was by Rubens of his second wife, Hélène Fourment (also wrongly).
Then an early work, when he was a jobbing artist in Devonport:-
The Rev. William Beele, also from the late 1749s, when he went to Italy (what a vast improvement):-
The Gideon children, painted in the mid-1780s, for which he was paid £300, a huge sum:-
Then it was closing time.
I have found it harder than I expected to find a nineteenth-century photograph of the façade of Burlington House after Sydney Smirke had raised its height to add the extra diploma galleries on the leven above William Kent’s enfilade of rooms on the first floor. Smirke has had a bad press for adapting the eighteenth-century façade, designed by Colen Campbell, presumably under the eagle supervision of the third Earl, but surviving photographs of the façade pre-1868 show an oddly undistinguished building which Smirke enriched with height, statuary and flanking Venetian windows.
Anyway, today, by chance, I walked into the courtyard and found it unusually empty and the façade bannerless, so have recorded it as it would have been, more or less, in 1868:-
One of the benefits of writing my blog is that I learn something every day, including today, that I have muddled the authorship of the paintings in the Burlington House front entrance hall. The ones in the middle are not by Angelica Kaufman, but were commissioned from Benjamin West, but are now thought to be by Gilbert Stuart who was working in West’s studio from 1777 to 1782. The paintings only came to Burlington House when the Front Entrance Hall was reconfigured by T.G. (Anglo) Jackson in 1899. My apologies for the mistake:-
One of the things I really liked about the film about The Private Life of the Royal Academy was the extent to which it showed the work of the staff – curators, conservators, collections managers, our archivist heroically carrying the Roll of Obligation back and forth to meetings, the Head of Collections overseeing a hang in the General Assembly Room. The Angelica Kauffmans are shown being taken down from the corners of the front entrance hall in Burlingto House. They are the Four Elements of Art – Invention, Composition, Design and Colour – and were originally painted for the ceiling of the Council Room in Somerset House. Three of the four are now back in place.
We had a private screening last night of a film which Adam Low and Martin Rosenbaum of Lonestar Productions have made called The Private Life of the Royal Academy. They have been following what the public doesn’t see for the last five years: the meetings, the rituals, discussions and life behind closed doors. These fly-on-the-wall documentaries have a history which has not always been happy for their subjects: Molly Dineen’s The Ark (1993) ends with the Chief Executive leaving; and I don’t think The House (1995) was beneficial for the Royal Opera House or the arts as a whole. But the mood last night felt wry, occasionally ironic, and generally benign. Olwyn Bowey RA is the star. It is expected to go out on BBC2 on Saturday 12 May.