British Institution

British Institution

The British Institution (in full, the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts under the Patronage of His Majesty; founded 1805, disbanded 1867) was a private 19th-century club in London formed to exhibit the works of living and dead artists.Citation|contribution=Pall Mall, North Side, Past Buildings|title=Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1|page=325-338|publisher=English Heritage|url=|date=1960|accessdate=2007-11-16] Unlike the Royal Academy it admitted only connoisseurs (rather than practicing artists) to its membership. In its gallery in Pall Mall the Institution held the world's first temporary exhibitions of Old Master paintings, [Conlin, Jonathan (2006). "The Nation's Mantelpiece: A history of the National Gallery". London: Pallas Athene,, p. 43] which alternated with exhibitions of the work of living artists. From 1807 prizes were given to artists who painted the best companion pieces to works by Old Masters on display at the gallery.


The British Institution was founded in June 1805 by a group of private subscribers; originally it met in the Thatched House Tavern in London. In September of that year it purchased the lease of the former Boydell Shakespeare Gallery building at 52 Pall Mall.

The gallery building had been commissioned in 1788 by engraver John Boydell as a showroom for a series of paintings and prints of scenes from works by William Shakespeare. The architect was George Dance the Younger, then the clerk of the city works. The gallery had a monumental, neo-classical stone-built front, and three exhibition rooms on the first floor, with a total of more than convert|4000|sqft|m2 of wall space for displaying pictures. Boydell ran up large debts in producing his Shakespeare engravings, and obtained an Act of Parliament in 1804 to dispose of the gallery and other property by lottery. The main prize winner, William Tassie, a modeller, then sold the gallery property and contents at auction. When the British Institution took possession, they also retained a sculptural group on the façade by Thomas Banks, which had been intended to be used as a monument on Boydell's tomb.

Heyday of the Institution

By the time of an 1835 visit by Thomas Carlyle, the gallery had become known colloquially as the "Pall Mall Picture Galleries", but was evidently still among the popular society haunts. [Citation|url=|title=Letter to William Graham|first=Thomas|last=Carlyle|doi:10.1215/lt-18350110-TC-WG-01|date=10 January 1835|access_date=2007-11-16]

Later years

When the gallery building was demolished during 1868-1869, the Banks sculpture from the building's façade was moved to Stratford-upon-Avon and re-erected in New Place Garden.

Prominent Members


*Sir George Beaumont, 7th Baronet

External links

* [ "British Institution (Pall Mall)"] (1 April 1808) aquatint by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson from Rudolph Ackermann's "Microcosm of London, Volume I"


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