Art on the Line:
The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836

David H. Solkin

Publicaton Date
May 2001
Standard Number
Yale University Press
288 pages

On 1 May 1780, England's Royal Academy of Arts opened its twelfth annual exhibition, the first to be held in the magnificent rooms of William Chambers's newly built Somerset House. For the next fifty-seven years, the Great Room of Somerset House effectively defined the centre of the London art world - the place where viewers had to see and be seen, and where artists fiercely vied for the attention of potential buyers. Such great exhibition performers as Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, J. M. W. Turner and David Wilkie sharpened their skills during these stimulating decades. In this extensively illustrated book, seventeen renowned experts revisit and assess the Somerset House years, a period of great achievement and central importance in the history of British art. The book's contributors view the Somerset House phenomenon from a broad range of perspectives. They deal with the physical nature of the exhibitions, the audience, the role of the press, the Royal Academy's place within the larger world of urban entertainments, and how the conditions of display shaped and even transformed patterns of art production. In addition, they explore such topics as the tactics of exhibitors in different genres of painting, the exhibition histories of works in other media and the impact on foreign artists and observers of an increasingly self-confident national school of British art.

About the author

  • Head and shoulders photo of David H. Solkin

    Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art