One of the pleasures of going to the Yale Center for British Art at the moment is that a postgraduate student has labelled the relevant pictures in the top floor display with the date they were exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This may be a recondite interest, but not for me, because it demonstrates more clearly than I have ever previously seen, except perhaps in Art on the Line, how the existence of the Summer Exhibition transformed the way artists painted.
First off is Samuel Scott’s The Thames and the Tower of London, shown in 1771:-
Benjamin West’s The Artist and His Family was shown the following year:-
In the same year, James Barry exhibited his Education of Achilles (the reviewer in the Middlesex Journal was underwhelmed:-
Gainsborough was there as well with a big picture of Lord Pulteney, described as Portrait of a gentleman:-
In 1773, Benjamin West showed The Cave of Despair(the exhibitions were still in Pall Mall):-
Thomas Jones showed his View of the Campi Flegrei from the Camoldolese Convent near Naples in 1784:-
You get a very clear sense of how artists were exploring new forms of art – a more public subject matter, literary and sensationalist, trying to appeal to a wider and more democratic audience. It’s all there on the top floor.