Exhibition Archive

Art on The Line:The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836

18 October 2001 - 20 January 2002


Art on The Line won The William M. B. Berger prize for British Art History, awarded by the The British Art Journal in Association with the Berger Collection Education Trust of Denver, Colorado. The judges commented that, “Art on The Line was the experience of a lifetime, which changed forever the way in which we look at British art of the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Print after Rowlandson and Pugin
Print after Rowlandson and Pugin, Exhibition Room, Somerset House (detail)
Reproduced in Rudolph Ackermann (pub.), 'The Microcosm of London’, 1808
50.6 x 89 cm, University of London Library


The most ambitious exhibition ever staged by the Courtauld, Art on The Line recreated the golden age of British art and was a highlight of The British Art Season. The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 with the backing of George III and twelve years later moved into the newly completed Strand block of Somerset House. Here the Academy held its annual exhibitions until 1836; it was the experience of those exhibitions that the Courtauld sought to recreate. Some 300 Royal Academy exhibits, all of which first went on public view at Somerset House, were brought together and presented in the manner of the original displays. These works, by all the greatest names in British art, were generously loaned by major public and private collections in Britain and overseas. Several pictures came from the collection of HM The Queen, who graciously agreed to be Patron of the exhibition.

Art on the Line exhibition view

Art on the Line took up the entire top floor of Somerset Houses recently restored Fine Rooms with the magnificent Great Room providing the main focus of attention, precisely as it did in the past. Here, in Sir William Chambers imposing and elegant gallery, one of Europes earliest purpose-built spaces to display modern art, a dazzling array of paintings by the leading masters of the day were hung in period fashion, frame-to-frame and from floor to ceiling.

“A wonderful exhibition, full of scholarship and sheer painterly excitement; unmissable.”
The Mail on Sunday, 21 October 2001

“…a remarkable feat of scholarly research”
Financial Times 23 October 2001

“I can’t remember seeing an exhibition of historic British painting as illuminating or as exciting as this one.”
The Daily Telegraph, 24 October 2001

“This show is the best in London. It should never be removed.”
The Times, 23 November 2001