St. Martin's Lane Academy
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The St. Martin's Lane Academy, which was the precursor of the Royal Academy, was organized in 1735 by William Hogarth, from the circle of artists and designers who gathered at Slaughter's Coffee House at the upper end of St. Martin's Lane, London. The artistic set that introduced the Rococo style to England was centered on "Old Slaughter's" and the drawing-classes at the St. Martin's Lane Academy were inextricably linked in the dissemination of new artistic ideas in England in the reigns of George II and George III.
In Britain in the early eighteenth century there was no organised public official patronage of the arts, aside from commissions for specific projects. There was no established body to compare with the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture that Colbert had established in France, and no public exhibition of recent paintings such as the Paris salons, held every other year. The closest approximation to an academic life-drawing class was established by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1711, and assumed by Sir James Thornhill, his official successor, who conducted life-drawing classes from a room he added to his own house in James Street, Covent Garden, from 1724 until his death in May 1734, but with small success in finding subscribers, his son-in-law William Hogarth recalled; Hogarth attributed its failure in some measure to the rival drawing-academy set up by John Vanderbank and Louis Cheron which split off from Kneller's in 1718. It was Hogarth who established the St. Martin's Lane Academy in 1735, removing apparatus from Thornhill's studio, and Hogarth remained its central figure. Hogarth wrote an account of its formation about 1760, in which he takes credit for the sound democratic principle that all should contribute an equal sum to the Academy's expenses and have an equal vote, "attributing the failure of the previous academies to the leading members having assumed a superiority which their fellow-students could not brook." Thus the Academy abandoned hierarchic seventeenth-century precedents and was formed on the basis of a club.