The Company of Artists

The Origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London

Charles Saumarez Smith

192 pages: 250 x 190mm
52 colour illustrations

  • On Friday 9 September 1768 an almighty row broke out within the Society of Artists. At its heart was a disagreement over the practice of art in Britain, and no amount of good humour on the part of the Society’s ‘jolly president’ could ‘persuade the disputants to lay aside their mutual Bickerings, and drown their Heartburnings in bumpers of wine’. From this eruption emerged the Royal Academy of Arts.

    An elegant and often amusing day-by-day account of these events and the two years that followed, The Company of Artists reveals the opposing models of a continental and a British art academy that divided leading artists of the day. As he explores their attempts to outmanoeuvre their fellows and win the support of King George III, Charles Saumarez Smith brings to life the characters involved and shows how they shaped the new Royal Academy of Arts, thereby changing the practice and perception of art in Britain for good.

  • ‘Charles Saumarez Smith knows the company of artists well enough to know that artists are an amusing bunch; you tend to get an equal amount of miscreant with your creant. The major artistic themes of the 18th and 19th centuries are observed and the key players nodded to, but the book is best on the politics and exploded stuffiness of an institution that stands for both creativity and the Establishment. This is well told and beautifully drawn – and it seems that the best way to live in the titular fellowship is to open a bottle of something stronger’, Monocle

    ‘In Charles Saumarez Smith’s blow-by-blow account of the early days, I recognise the Royal Academy as it still is today. The big egos. How to teach art. The status of drawing. Whether or not art stems from genius, ambition or sheer hard work. Everything that is still important and good about the Royal Academy was discussed and debated in those first few weeks.’
    Christopher Le Brun PRA – President, Royal Academy of Arts

    ‘An enthralling behind-the-scenes look at the egos, the politics and the good and bad intentions that led to the founding of one of our most enduring cultural establishments.’
    Loyd Grossman – Broadcaster and heritage campaigner

    ‘Charles Saumarez Smith writes with verve and enthusiasm, evoking the period with curious anecdotes and pungent quotations. For anyone interested in the RA’s history, this is essential reading’
    Giles Waterfield –  RA Magazine

    ‘Art politically momentous: bringing the then so vividly to life, throws a spotlight on our – and the Academy’s – now’, Michael Daley, The Jackdaw

    The Company of Artists is to the art community what The First Three Minutes is to the science world. A real insider’s view, this elegant, illuminating and often amusing account of the Royal Academy’s early history brings to life the characters involved and its surprisingly tumultuous beginning’,  Finch’s Quarterly Review

  • Former director of the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery, Charles Saumarez Smith is Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts. His previous publications include The Building of Castle Howard (1990), The National Portrait Gallery (1997) and The National Gallery: A Short History (2009).


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