Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Walter Thornbury, 'Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery', Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878), pp. 141-149. British History Online [accessed 25 June 2024].

Walter Thornbury. "Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery", in Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878) 141-149. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2024,

Thornbury, Walter. "Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery", Old and New London: Volume 3, (London, 1878). 141-149. British History Online. Web. 25 June 2024,

In this section



"England expects that every man
This day will do his duty."—Old Song.

Formation of Trafalgar Square—The "King's Mews"—Mr. Cross's Menagerie—A State Coach-house—The Royal Humane Society—The Nelson Monument—Sir E. Landseer's Lions—Statues of George IV., General Havelock, and Sir Charles Napier—Proposal for planting Trafalgar Square as a Garden—The Royal College of Physicians—Dr. Harvey's Benefaction—Anecdote of Dr. Baillie—Dr. Radcliffe and Sir Godfrey Kneller—History of the Foundation of the College of Physicians—Cockspur Street—O'Byrne, the Irish Giant—Statue of George III.—Society of Painters in Water-colours—The National Gallery—Its Formation and Subsequent Additions—Agitation for an Academy of Painting—Sir Godfrey Kneller's Drawing Academy—Sir James Thornhill's Propositions rejected—Establishment of the Royal Academy—Biographical Notices of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Martin A. Shee, Sir Charles L. Eastlake, and Sir Francis Grant—Suggestions for the Enlargement of the National Gallery—St. George's Barracks.

The large and open space known as Trafalgar Square, occupying as it does a commanding position, as it looks down Parliament Street towards the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, was pronounced by the late Sir Robert Peel, perhaps with a little exaggeration, the finest site in Europe. Its formation was commenced about the year 1830, on a spot of ground that up to that time was covered with a knot of filthy and disreputable abodes. In 1829, it appears, a variety of improvements were made immediately around St. Martin's Church. Amongst others, a whole labyrinth of close courts and small alleys was then swept away—a district including places known as the Bermudas, the Caribbee or Cribbe Islands, and Porridge Island, notorious for its cook-shops; whilst, nearer Charing Cross, several wretched buildings were swept away, with the same object in view. The savoury delights of "Porridge Island" as a provocation to the appetite more than once formed the subject of banter between Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale, at Streatham.

There had previously been an open space or square on this spot, but of more contracted dimensions. On its north side, where now stands the National Gallery, was the large building called the "King's Mews," to which we have alluded in a previous chapter. It was from this place, during the civil wars of the houses of York and Lancaster, that the Lincolnshire rebels, under Robert Rydsdale, took Lord Rivers and his son John, carried them away, and beheaded them at Northampton. Early in the present century the "Mews" was occupied by Mr. Cross's collection of wild animals, which were removed hither on the breaking-up of Exeter 'Change; here also the first exhibitions of machinery were held, and the public records were for a long time preserved—or, at least, such of them as were not eaten by rats. It may be added that Chaucer was not only Clerk of the King's Works, but also "Clerk of the Mews at Charing."

On the east side of the square was a meanlooking building, with folding doors, used as a state coach-house in the time of George II. Here at the present time are the offices of the Humane Society. This benevolent institution, which was founded by Dr. Hawes in the year 1774, has been instrumental in saving thousands of lives from drowning, more especially in the Thames and in the ornamental waters in the public parks. We shall have to speak of its operations hereafter, when we come to describe the Serpentine.

In the centre of the open space, facing the statue of King Charles, and looking down Whitehall to the Abbey and Houses of Parliament, stands the statue of Lord Nelson, upon the summit of a column which the nation raised, it must be owned, with a tardy generosity, in 1840–3, in honour of her greatest naval hero. The fluted column itself, with capital cast in gun-metal, which is 176 feet high, and in the Corinthian style, was designed by Mr. William Railton, architect; whilst the colossal statue of the great naval hero is the work of the late Mr. E. H. Baily, R.A., and is admired for its fine proportions. The square pedestal is thirty-six feet in height, and is of beautiful proportion, the four sides containing, in basso-relievo, representations of Nelson's four great battles, cast in gun-metal taken from the enemy in his various engagements—namely, the Battle of the Nile, by Woodington; the Battle of St. Vincent, by Watson; the Battle of Copenhagen, by Ternouth; and the Death of Nelson, by Carew. These four works are fine examples of English sculpture, and, with the statue, cost above £28,000. The four gigantic lions at the angles of the base were at first assigned to the sculptor, Mr. Lough, but were subsequently executed by the late Sir Edwin Landseer. The attempt to add the laurels of a sculptor to those of a painter can hardly be said to have been a successful one. For many years the lions were not forthcoming, and the guardians of the pillar were still in the artist's studio at St. John's Wood Road. They were so constantly promised that at last the public patience was sorely tried, and Sir Edwin's embryo lions began to furnish a standing jest to the newspaper writers. At length, in the year 1868, they were set up; but many a cruel joke was uttered at their expense: amongst others it was said that the old lion on the top of Northumberland House would not acknowledge them as brethren.

On the north side of the enclosure, between the column and the National Gallery, are two fountains, supplied by a well near Charing Cross, upwards of 380 feet deep, sunk by Messrs. Easton and Amos, for the Government, for the purpose of supplying these fountains, Buckingham Palace, and several of the Government offices in Whitehall. The fountains are of Peterhead granite, but are by no means striking objects. They were an afterthought, being added in 1845, from a design by the late Sir Charles Barry.

In the north-east corner of the Square is the bronze equestrian statue of George IV., by Sir F. Chantrey, which was placed in its present position in 1845. It is considered a very fine work of art, and cost 9,000 guineas. It was originally intended for the top of the marble arch which formerly stood at Buckingham Palace, but was afterwards removed to the north-east corner of Hyde Park.

At the south-east corner of the Square is the bronze statue, erected in 1861, to the memory of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, from the design of W. Behnes; and at the south-west corner is a bronze statue of Sir Charles Napier, by G. G. Adams, erected in 1857.

Upon the demolition of Northumberland House, mentioned in the preceding chapter, the Duke of Northumberland offered to lay out some of the purchase-money which he received for his late residence in beautifying Trafalgar Square. Apropos of this intention, it may be observed that this was not the first time that such a plan had been contemplated, as in the "British Almanack and Companion," published in 1838 by Charles Knight, the following notice occurs:—"How the area of Trafalgar Square will be laid out or decorated we cannot yet say. At present a strong opposition is manifesting itself to the plan of its being made an enclosed garden, under the pretence that the people will thereby be deprived of an open promenade. This, however," observes Mr. Knight, "does not exactly follow, for the public might be admitted into the garden under the same regulations as those under which they are now admitted into St. James's Park. Neither is it a matter of necessity or of course that there should be a thick screen of shrubs all around it as in other 'square gardens,' so as to shut out the view of the garden itself from those who are not admitted into it."

At the north-west corner of the Square, with its frontage in Pall Mall East, is the Royal College of Physicians. This elegant and commodious building was erected in 1825, from the designs of the late Sir Robert Smirke. The principal front of the structure is composed of an hexastyle projecting portico of the Ionic order, which supports a wellproportioned pediment. The front is elongated by two antæ in one each side of the portico, which is repeated, with a break between them, in the eastern front; it has also a distinguishing centre-piece of two slightly-projecting antæ and an elevated attic, with a balustrade in each wing.

The building is divided into two storeys, and the windows are decorated with architraves and subcornices. The columns are beautifully wrought, and impart to the edifice at once a pleasing and grand appearance. Within, the apartments are of airy and noble proportions. A door on the left of the entrance-hall leads into the dining-room, which is lighted by six windows overlooking Trafalgar Square. The room is handsomely decorated, and has over the fireplace a fine portrait of Dr. Harvey. During the time of the Civil War, when the property of the College at Amen Corner was condemned as part of the possessions of the Church, and actually put up to auction, Dr. Harvey became the purchaser, and shortly afterwards settled it in perpetuity upon the College. From the entrance-hall a staircase leads towards the gallery or landing, whence are entered the library and Censor's room. This latter apartment has its oak-panelled walls adorned with several pictures and busts. In this room candidates for diplomas undergo their examinations, at three separate meetings of the Censors' board, the vivâ voce part of each such examination being carried on in Latin. These examinations are strict, and afford good security to the public that none but those who have had a liberal and learned education can hope for success, and that the order of English physicians shall always consist of men who will do honour to their profession by their general abilities and high qualifications. Among the busts that adorn the Censor's room, is one of Dr. Baillie, of whom the following anecdote is told in Charles Knight's "London:"—"This learned doctor was occasionally very irritable, and indisposed to attend to the details of an uninteresting story. After listening with torture to a prosing account from a lady who ailed so little that she was going to an opera that evening, he had happily escaped from the room, when he was urgently requested to step up stairs again; it was to ask him whether on her return from the opera she might eat some oysters. 'Yes, ma'am,' said Baillie, 'shells and all!'"

The library, a splendid room—long, broad, and high—is lighted by three beautiful lanterns in the ceiling, and the walls consist of two storeys, marked at intervals by flat oaken pillars below, and clusters of flat and round imitation-marble pillars above. In the lower storey the shelves round the walls are filled with books, mostly the gift of the Marquis of Dorchester, who left his valuable library to the College. In the gallery which extends round the upper part of the room, the walls are fitted up with bookcases, hidden by crimson curtains, containing preparations, amongst which are some of the nerves and blood-vessels constructed by Hunter. From the gallery a narrow staircase leads up to a small theatre or lecture-room, where are some interesting busts and portraits, and among the latter a fine one of Hunter. Among the portraits in the library is one of Dr. Radcliffe, the founder of the magnificent institution at Oxford which bears his name, and whose executors gave £2,000 towards the erection of this building. It was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. An anecdote in which both the painter and the doctor are concerned we give as it is related:—"They lived next to each other in Bow Street, Covent Garden, and the painter having beautiful pleasure-grounds, a door was opened for the accommodation of his friend and neighbour. In consequence of some annoyance, Sir Godfrey threatened to close up the door; to which Radcliffe replied that he might do anything with it, if he would not paint it. 'Did my very good friend Dr. Radcliffe say so?' cried Sir Godfrey. 'Go you back to him, and after presenting my service to him, tell him that I can take anything from him but physic.'"

The eminent society of which we are speaking was established in 1523, under a charter from Henry VIII., which authorised its council to forbid any one to practise as a physician within seven miles of London without having been admitted a licentiate or fellow of this College. Nor can any one become a fellow without having taken a degree in the faculty of medicine at Oxford or Cambridge, or be admitted a licentiate without a previous study at an English university, or obtaining a diploma from Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Dublin, and passing an examination before the Censors of the College.

The first building which served as a "college" for the society was a mansion in Knightrider Street, given to them by Dr. Linacre, physician to King Henry VIII. They afterwards removed to a house which they purchased in Amen Corner, Paternoster Row, where Dr. Harvey built a library and a public hall, which he granted for ever to the College, and endowed it with his estate, which he resigned to them in his lifetime. Part of this estate is assigned for an annual oration in commemoration of their munificent benefactor, and to provide a dinner for the members of the College. This building was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, after which the society purchased a piece of ground on the west side of Warwick Lane, and raised a considerable sum in 1674 for the erection of a new college. Sir John Cutler offering to subscribe a large donation, a committee was appointed to wait upon him to thank him for his liberality; and in 1668 statues in honour of the king and the liberal donor were ordered to be executed at the expense of the College. In 1689, the buildings being completed, the Fellows borrowed a sum of money of Sir John to defray the expenses; but, upon his death, to their great surprise, his executors demanded upwards of £7,000 of them; as in his books he had made them debtors, not only for the sum he had lent them, but also for the sum he had given them, and all the accumulated interest. The executors at length accepted £2,000, and the College expunged the inscription of the old miser's liberality from under his statue, that remained in a niche in the western front of the theatre, which was standing in Warwick Lane down to a very recent period. (fn. 1)

The majority of the leading physicians and of their opulent patients now reside more to the westward of the metropolis than they did in the reign of Charles II., when the fellows assembled in that goodly building of brick and stone which Dr. Garth describes in his "Dispensary" as a place—
"Where stands a dome majestic to the sight,
And sumptuous arches bear its oval height;
A golden globe, placed high with artful skill,
Seems to the distant sight a gilded pill."


Accordingly they removed their establishment to the substantial and elegant structure in Pall Mall East here described.

Cockspur Street, the thoroughfare uniting Charing Cross with Pall Mall East, skirts the south side of the Union Club, which joins on to the Royal College of Physicians, and of which we will say more in our chapter on the Club-land of Pall Mall. In the street died, in 1783, O'Byrne, the famous Irish giant, whom we have already mentioned in our account of the College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields. At the junction of this street with Pall Mall stands the equestrian statue of George III., by Wyatt, which, though it has been considered, in an equestrian sense, one of the best "seats" for a horseman in London, has been much derided on account of the stiff "pig-tail" so characteristic of that monarch. When it was cast, in 1835 or 1836, permission was obtained for its erection on the triangular spot of waste ground on which it stands—not a bad place to show off a statue to advantage. But some of the tenants of the adjoining houses, finding that in their leases it was covenanted that the open space should not be occupied, raised objections which were held valid by the then Vice-Chancellor. His ruling, however, was set aside on appeal to the Lord Chancellor, and so the statue was set up.

Returning along Pall Mall East we have on our left, next to the United University Club House, the building devoted to the uses of the Old Society of Painters in Water-Colours, of which Sir John Gilbert, A.R.A., is president. The exhibition of the works of members of this society takes place annually, during the summer months, and the public are admitted on payment of a shilling.


We now arrive at the National Gallery, and ascend the steps leading to the portico, where we certainly obtain one of the finest views in London. Looking across Trafalgar Square, its fountains sparkling (occasionally) in the sunlight, the scene embraces the open vista of Whitehall and Parliament Street, which is closed by the towers and pinnacles of the Houses of Parliament and the venerable walls of the Abbey.

From its first conception to the present time no building, perhaps, has been the subject of more lively criticism than that which now serves as the chief depository of the pictures belonging to the nation. The edifice, though perhaps a fine one in itself, is not considered in any sense adequate to its national object. Most persons agree that the main front is too much cut up in petty detail, and some have even humorously nicknamed it "The National Cruet-stand"—an idea which has evidently been suggested by the pepperbox-shaped cupolas with which it is crowned.

The National Collection of Paintings originated in the year 1824, in the purchase of the Angerstein gallery of thirty-eight pictures, for which a sum of £57,000 was voted by Government. The owner of these pictures, Mr. Julius Angerstein, was an opulent banker, and secured his collection abroad, chiefly during the war against the Great Napoleon. The nucleus of a National Gallery having been thus formed, several bequests and presentations of valuable paintings were afterwards made to the nation by public-spirited individuals, and extensive purchases have also been at different times effected by the Government, mainly on the recommendation of the President of the Royal Academy. Sir George Beaumont, an amateur artist of great taste and skill, presented to the country, in 1826, fifteen choice pictures, chiefly by the ancient masters. In the same year the Rev. William Holwell Carr, who is stated to have expended a fortune in acquiring it, bequeathed to the nation the whole of his collection, amounting to about thirty in number, and all of a high class. This was followed, in 1838, by a bequest from Lord Farnborough of fifteen paintings, comprising specimens of the Dutch, Flemish, and Italian schools. Eighteen more pictures were presented by Lieut.-Colonel Ollney. George IV., William IV., and the Duke of Northumberland are also to be included amongst the liberal contributors to the national collection. The Governors of the British Institution likewise presented several valuable paintings. To these were added the collection made by Mr. Vernon, and called after his name; and last, though not least, there is the Turner collection, which was presented to the nation by the greatest of our modern landscape painters.

These pictures—at least, such of them as were national property—were at first shown to the public in a small, dingy, ill-lighted house on the south side of Pall Mall, until 1833, when it was proposed to erect a special building for them. The site chosen was that hitherto occupied by the Royal Mews, and the present building was erected. The new building was completed in 1838, from the designs of Mr. Wilkins, the architect; but it was scarcely occupied before it was discovered to be much too small. In preparing his design, Mr. Wilkins was sorely hampered with conditions. The edifice was not to intercept the view of the portico of St. Martin's Church; it must not infringe on the barrack space in the rear; the public must have one right of way through it, and the Guards another; the old columns of Carlton House were to be used up; and the true faith in architecture insisted on having porticoes, dome, and cupolas; moreover, the building, by no means too large for a National Gallery, was to be shared with the Royal Academy. With such instructions Mr. Wilkins prepared his plans and estimates. The building was to cost £50,000, but, as in most other instances, perhaps, the architect is not to be bound by his estimate. The entire sum reached, we believe, some £25,000 in addition.

Notwithstanding the limited space in the new building, the pictures belonging to the nation were brought thither and deposited in the eastern wing, whilst the other portion of it was handed over to the Royal Academy, of which institution we will here say a few words.

It is stated by several writers that the establishment of an academy for painting was agitated as far back as the time of Charles II.; and when the subject was revived at a subsequent date, its projectors and patrons appear to have intended to erect the necessary buildings for its accommodation in the centre of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Happily, however, the idea was never carried out, and that square was still preserved as an open space.

For long years the sentiment had prevailed in England that art was no affair of the State, had no sort of interest for the governing power of the country, or, indeed, for the general public; and it was, of course, left to those persons to whom an academy of art was in any way a matter of necessity or importance to found such an institution for themselves. For the benefit of his brother artists, therefore, Sir Godfrey Kneller instituted a private drawing-academy in London, in the year 1711; but certain forms and ceremonies having been introduced into the academy which were objectionable to several members, divisions and jealousies arose in the general body; and finally, the president and his followers, finding themselves caricatured and opposed, locked out their opponents, and closed the academy.

Sir James Thornhill, who had headed the most important of the parties into which the institution had become divided, and who held the appointment of historical painter to George I., then submitted to the Government of the day a plan for the foundation of a Royal Academy which should encourage and educate the young artists of England; and the site proposed by him was at the upper end of the King's Mews, Charing Cross. The Government, however, declined to find the means for carrying out the design, and the proposition accordingly fell to the ground.

Not altogether daunted by this ill success, Sir James Thornhill determined to do what he could on his own responsibility, and without the aid of the Treasury. He therefore opened a drawingacademy at his house in James Street, Covent Garden, and gave tickets to all who desired admission. It is to be feared that Sir James's generosity was somewhat abused. At all events, dissensions arose in his academy, as in Kneller's, and a rival school was founded, where, according to Hogarth, a "female figure was introduced, to make it more inviting to subscribers." This, however, did not last long; and, on the death of Sir James, his academy was also closed.

It is mentioned casually in a London newspaper of October 12, 1723, as an article of information, that "the Academy of Painting and Sculpture opened on Monday last, as usual, in St. Martin's Lane." We may, however, search in vain through the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn, and through the letters of Horace Walpole, for information as to the members and the character of this academy. Malcolm, whose industry in hunting up old and curious facts is above praise, tells us, in his "Londinium Redivivum," that an academy for students in painting was held in Queen Street for some years previous to 1724, in which year, a difference arising on some question of art, its members parted company. One part of them seceded with Vanderbank, who opened an academy in what had been a Presbyterian meeting-house, in the same neighbourhood; "but this," adds Malcolm, "soon came to nothing." Sir James Thornhill, the head of the other party, built at the back of his house, near Covent Garden Theatre, a room for this purpose; and this subsisted till his death, in 1734, when his son-in-law, Hogarth, becoming possessed of the models, lent them to a society of artists, who took a house for their accommodation in St. Martin's Lane. The members of this society afterwards met at the "Turk's Head," in Gerrard Street; and in 1760 they were bold enough to make their first exhibition of paintings, at "the great room of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, opposite Beaufort Buildings." Encouraged by success, they next year again exhibited, under the title of "A Society of Artists associated for the Relief of the Distressed and Decayed of their own Body, their Widows and Children." Their exhibitions were continued afterwards for several years—first in Spring Gardens, and then in Pall Mall, where they were visited, on June 1, 1767, by George III. and his queen, who presented the association with a purse of a hundred pounds. This gift being made known in the journals of the day, set the tide of fashion in the right direction, and ensured the success of "the Exhibition," as it soon became to be called, par excellence.

The first formal meeting of the Royal Academy was held in Pall Mall, on the 14th of December, 1768. Mr. Chambers, the architect, who had been appointed treasurer, read a report to the artists assembled, relating the steps that had been taken to found the Academy. It set forth that on the previous 28th of November, Messrs. Chambers, Cotes, Moser, and West had had the honour of presenting a memorial to the Crown, signed by twenty-two artists, soliciting the royal assistance and protection in establishing a new society for promoting the arts of design. The objects of the society were stated to be "the establishing a well-regulated school or academy of design, for the use of students in the arts, and an annual exhibition open to all artists of distinguished merit, where they may offer their performances to public inspection, and acquire that degree of reputation and encouragement which they shall be deemed to deserve." Statements of the intentions of the memorialists were afterwards drawn up and submitted to the king, who, on the 10th of December, signified his approbation, ordered that the plan should be carried into execution, and with his own hand signed Mr. Chambers' plan—"the Instrument," as it was then and has ever since that time been called. Mr. Chambers then read the "Instrument" to the meeting, after which the artists present signed an obligation, or declaration, promising to observe all the laws and regulations contained in that document, and all future laws that might be made for the better government of the society, and to employ their utmost endeavours to promote the honour and interest of the establishment so long as they should continue members of it. The Academy thus obtained its constitution, and assumed such form of legal existence as it has ever since possessed.

The rules declared that the Academy should consist of forty members only, who should be called Academicians; they were to be at the time of their admission, painters, sculptors, or architects of reputation in their professions, of high moral character, not under twenty-five years of age, resident in Great Britain, and not members of any other society of artists established in London.

Of the forty members who were to constitute the Academy, the "Instrument," as signed by the king, named thirty-six only; and of these, while many were artists of fame, there were many others whose names, but for their registry upon the list of original Academicians, would probably never have been known to posterity in any way. Having named the original members, the "Instrument" proceeded to lay down the rules for the further government of the institution; to prescribe the manner of electing future members, a council and president, a secretary and keeper (the treasurer was to be nominated by his Majesty, "as the king is graciously pleased to pay all deficiencies"), the appointment of different professors, the establishment of schools, and a library for the free use of students, and of an annual exhibition of works of art to be "open to all artists of distinguished merit." New laws were to be framed from time to time, but to have no force until "ratified by the consent of the general assembly and the approbation of the king." At the end of the Instrument the king wrote: "I approve of this plan; let it be put in execution"—adding his signature, "George R."

Thus the plan was matured, and the Royal Academy was instituted, under the patronage of King George III. The success of the institution was further secured by the fortunate appointment of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose grasp of the first principles of art has never been excelled, as its first president.

The members of the Royal Academy used to give large dinners to the nobility and gentry and the exhibitors, at the "Freemasons' Tavern," on the king's birthday; but subsequently the exhibitors were left out of the list of invited guests. In 1770 they celebrated the king's birthday in the following manner, by the aid of their own pencils, as we learn from the London Chronicle of June 5th in that year:—"Yesterday being the anniversary of his Majesty's birthday, the Royal Academicians gave an elegant entertainment at their house in Pall Mall; and in the evening the whole front of the Royal Academy was illuminated with transparent paintings, as usual, executed by the Academicians." The designs were fanciful in the extreme, and the paintings on this occasion, it may interest our readers to learn, were by Cipriani, Dance, Richards, Baker, and Benjamin West (afterwards president).

A few short notices of the distinguished men who have successively occupied the presidential chair of the Royal Academy may not be out of place here.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first on the list, was a native of Plympton, near Plymouth, in Devonshire, where he was born in the year 1723. At the age of seventeen he became a pupil of Hudson, but after two years' study he returned to Plymouth. He subsequently paid visits to Italy with Keppel, and afterwards settling in London, founded the Literary Club, in conjunction with Johnson, in the year 1764. He was a man highly cultivated and scholar-like, and had immense power in grasping the principles of art; in fact, he may be put down as the real originator of the English school of painting. Among his principal pictures may be mentioned, "Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy," "Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse," "The Infant Hercules," "Sheridan," &c. Sir Joshua was appointed principal painter to the king in 1784, became partially blind in 1789, and died in 1792.

Benjamin West, his successor, who was born at Springfield, in Pennsylvania, in 1738, was somewhat heavy and formal in his style of painting. He visited Rome in 1760, and three years later arrived in England, where he became the protégé of George III. He was appointed historical painter to the king in 1772, and occupied the presidential chair from 1792 down to his death in 1820.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, the next president in succession, was a native of Bristol, where he first saw the light in the year 1769. He became a student at the Royal Academy in 1787. Courtly, graceful, with perhaps more beauty than Sir Joshua Reynolds, but not half his power, Thomas Lawrence soon became a rising man in the art world, and in 1792 was appointed to the post of painter to George III. He was knighted by the Prince Regent in 1815, and succeeded to the presidential chair of the Royal Academy in 1820. For many years Sir Thomas Lawrence derived from his works an income approaching the large sum of £15,000 per annum; but so eagerly did he contest the possession of any rare and valuable art productions when occasion offered, that even this princely income was not enough for him; and true as it is that the value of the collection which he had formed was estimated, after his decease, at £50,000, he nevertheless died in straitened circumstances. His death occurred in the year 1830, and his memory was honoured by a tomb in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Sir Martin Archer Shee, who will be remembered as the author of "Rhymes on Art," and similar works, was born in Dublin, in 1770. He came to London at the age of eighteen, and in the following year exhibited at the Royal Academy. He became a Royal Academician in 1800, and received the honour of knighthood on his appointment to the presidential chair, in 1830. He died at Brighton, in 1850.

Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, the successor of the above, was a native of Plymouth, and was born in 1793. He became a student of the Royal Academy in 1808, and in early life paid visits to Italy in company with Sir C. Barry and Brockendon. He was appointed Secretary to the Commission of Fine Arts in 1841, and Librarian to the Royal Academy in the following year. He was afterwards chosen Keeper of the National Gallery, and subsequently became Director. He will be best remembered by his pictures of "Pilgrims Arriving in Sight of Rome," "Christ Weeping over Jerusalem," and "Christ Blessing Little Children." He was the author of "Materials for a History of Oil-painting." Sir Charles Eastlake died at Pisa, in 1865.

Sir Francis Grant, the present President of the Royal Academy, is of Scottish extraction, being the fourth son of the late Mr. Francis Grant, of Kilgraston, in Perthshire. He was born in the year 1803, and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834. He became an Associate in 1842, and attained full honours in 1851. He is chiefly known for his portraits, and has painted, perhaps, more of the aristocracy than any other living man.

The inconvenience arising from want of space, caused by the building in Trafalgar Square affording shelter to both the National Gallery and the Royal Academy, taxed the energy of Parliament and the various governments for years to find a remedy. In 1848 Lord John Russell, Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Hume, and others forming one Committee of the House of Commons, "after careful deliberation, unanimously concurred in the opinion" that the present National Gallery should be enlarged and improved. Two years later Lord John Russell, Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Hume, and others, forming another Committee, reported that they could "not recommend that any expenditure should be at present incurred for the purpose of increasing the accommodation of a National Gallery on the present site," and were "not prepared to state that the preservation of the pictures and convenient access for the purpose of study and improvement of taste would not be better secured in a gallery further removed from the smoke and dust of London."

The result of this very negative report was to induce architects and others, year after year, to inflict on the public their views of the vexed question. A writer in the Cornhill Magazine has strung together a few specimens which may be interesting. "One suggestion was to put a third storey on the top of the Greek porticoes and columns of the British Museum, and invite the public to climb a hundred stairs to get to the picture-gallery. Another was to pull down Burlington House, which Sir William Chambers characterises as 'one of the finest pieces of architecture in Europe,' and turn out the Royal Society. The 'Ring,' in Hyde Park, and the inner circle of the Regent's Park, were in turn recommended as eligible sites for a picturegallery. It was proposed to convert Marlborough House and St. James's Palace into a great National Gallery; also to pull down Kensington Palace—a favourite idea with the Times and 'H. B.' My Lord Elcho proposed to build on the site of the Exhibition of 1851, in Hyde Park; and the Duke of Somerset, when First Commissioner of Works, caused one plan to be prepared for appropriating a part of Kensington Gardens, in the Bayswater Road, and a second for erecting a building opposite the Kensington Road. Finally, the House of Commons voted £167,000, and the Prince Consort added to that sum the surplus of the Exhibition of 1851, with which was bought the land opposite and outside Hyde Park, at Kensington Gore, the site for which the Government had previously commenced negotiations with the same object, though they had failed to secure it at the time. The House of Commons, however, rejected the plan for removing the National Gallery to this site; and the present conclusion seems to be that the pictures will remain where they are." Part of the difficulty has, however, been got over by the removal of the Royal Academy to Burlington House, of which we shall have more to say hereafter, when we come to Piccadilly. The Vernon and Sheepshanks galleries, too, which form part of the national collection, have been removed westward, and found more suitable quarters in the saloons of the South Kensington Museum. It is, however, proposed to build a new National Gallery, and to this end a sum of £30,000 has been voted by Parliament. As far as science will enable the builders to go, the new National Gallery is to be rendered fireproof, and in every way worthy of the purpose to which it is to be devoted. When the building is completed, it is proposed to bring together, under one and the same roof, the whole of our national collection of paintings.

In the rear, between the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, are the St. George's Barracks. These are constantly occupied by a regiment of Foot Guards.


  • 1. See Vol. I., p. 216, and Vol. II., p. 431.