THE SOCIETY OF ARTS. (Page 406.)
THE public spirit of this age is perhaps in no instance more evident than in the rapid progress and present flourishing condition of this valuable Society. It was set on foot by Lord Folkestone, Lord Romney, Dr. Hales, and seven or eight private gentlemen, who were brought together by the unwearied pains of Mr. William Shipley, a person little known, who had long laboured to reduce into practice a scheme he had projected for this purpose. Their first meeting was at Rathmill's coffee-house, March 22, 1754, when those noble Lords not only approved and patronised the undertaking, but offered to make good any deficiencies of subscription which should be found at the end of the year. Premiums were accordingly offered for the discovery of cobalt, for designs in drawing, and for the planting of madder. From this beginning the Society has increased to the present extent, and is annually adding to the list of its subscribers and the number of premiums.
The Plate represents this fine Institution in the interesting moment of distributing its annual prizes for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce. The room is an oblong square, elegantly proportioned: the seats are ranged round the table in an oval form. Many of the figures in this Plate are portraits. The President, his Grace the Duke of Norfolk, is presenting a medal to a successful candidate. On his right is the Secretary, Mr. Charles Taylor; on his left Mr. Thomas Taylor, the Assistant Secretary. The seat immediately round the table is occupied by the Vice-Presidents and Chairmen of Committees. The second seat on the right of the President is reserved for ladies of rank. Among those represented in the Plate are the Duchess of Northumberland and her daughters. The second seat on the left of the President is allotted to foreign ministers, and other foreigners of distinction. The person immediately below the bar, with a white wand in his left hand, is Mr. Pearsal, one of the Managers for the day; the other, with a white wand, is Mr. Tooke, another Manager; and the gentleman handing a lady to her seat is Mr. Gold, a third Manager.
The figure entering the room, with his right hand extended, represents a Candidate. I n the area which is seen below the bar are seated ladies, Candidates. The other seats all round are occupied indiscriminately by members and visitors; but, as the Plate represents, the number of ladies who honour the Society with their presence on solemn occasions nearly fill the seats. The gentlemen, members and visitors, are standing in the area round the extreme seat.
The walls are decorated with a series of six paintings by Barry, representing the progress of man in civilization: they are among the finest productions of the age. For any adequate feeling of their merit we refer the reader to a view of them. Two of these pictures, and part of a third, are seen in the Plate. That over the President is part of the Olympic Games, a composition unrivalled in modern times. The group seen in the Plate is remarkable for the refinement of its taste and the sweetness of its effect. An old man is represented as borne on the shoulders of his two sons, severally victors in the games.—The next picture is the Triumph of Navigation. Father Thames is seated in his car, drawn by river nymphs. The pillar seen to the right is a naval pillar of a very novel kind, lately added by the painter: it is designed with exquisite fancy, and painted in a bold and finished style. A gallery winds on the outside of the pillar to the top, to enable the spectator to ascend and examine the bas relief on the shaft. The pillar is supported by Tritons, on sea-horses. The steeds and riders are executed with uncommon spirit.
The picture on the right of the Plate represents the distribution of the rewards of the Society. All the figures in it are portraits. That with his hat on is the late Lord Romney, the then President of the Institution. The figure in robes, nearer the foreground, represents his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The person sitting in the left corner of the picture is Mr. William Shipley, the founder of the Society. The female figure near the centre, with two girls near her, represents the late Mrs. Montague, who was an active member of the Society for fifteen years.—The portrait seen between the two last pictures represents the late Lord Romney; and below is a bust of the Prince of Wales. The small pictures behind the President are paintings and drawings of Candidates. The statues seen at the upper end and at the bottom of the room are casts of Venus and Narcissus, by the late Mr. John Bacon. This room, especially when the Society is in one of those sittings represented in the Plate, affords one of the finest spectacles in Europe.