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“At the back of the shop I had a permanent exhibition of older prints, for the window always reflected the news of the time, and it seemed to me that the drawings had value even if the events they described had passed. Thus, behind a curtain in the rear, I had old Hogarths, Gillrays, Bunburys and other artists, and I charged a penny for admission to view. I filled the walls with humorous prints, floor to ceiling, like a parody of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and I often heard guffaws from behind the curtain.” 

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In Death and Mr. Pickwick, there are several remarks of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. One is from an autobiographical note by an “anonymous” print-shop proprietor/ress as quoted above. Interestingly, he/she also describes the fashionable beaus at the print-shop window performing mischievous stuff in the book. Contrasted with a penny per admission to the rear of the print-shop, visitors were obliged to well pay out catalogue of one shilling each as admission price to the Royal Exhibition, as mentioned in Life in London, narrated by Pierce Egan and illustrated by Cruikshanks. The catalogue of the first exhibition being held on 21st April, 1760 (before the founding of Royal Academy of Arts in 1768) was sixpence each but only for the interested party concerned if they wanted to cough up the money voluntarily. The annual exhibition of the Royal Academy was held initially at Pall Mall, then located its residence to Somerset House in 1780 and Burlington House in the late 1860s till today for visitors to cast casual glances on others’ talent or observe pictures at close quarters.

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“[I]n tracing the features of the philanthropist, the scholar, and the hero, such portraits, in themselves, become perfect studies, in order to view the feeling that adorns the face, the intelligence with decorates the mind, and the loftiness of character that depicts a nobleness of disposition and greatness of soul, cannot fail to be a source of infinite pleasure and delight.” (from Life in London)

With respect to the founding of the Royal Academy of Arts, apart from George III as the significant contributor, I am always fascinated in the history of the Foundling Hospital, and found that the charitable entity, which operated in 1740, was not in the least oblivious in its significance as well as its governor, William Hogarth, the marvelous painter, who presented the portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (the sole parent of the Hospital) and his other drawings at this philanthropic institution.  It was indeed a win-win situation for both the hundreds of patron artists and the Hospital in achieving a boost of fame and reputation, because as being the first proper art exhibition open to the public, it always gravitated a big number of spectators as a fashionable stamping ground.

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“Stare” Case

I put some pictures depicting the royal art exhibition.They say much better as to the vast popularity of the event than I can express in words.

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