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The Royal Academy Conversazione, 1891

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tademaback to top

Whole-length, full-face, standing and placed centrally, wearing evening dress, slightly behind Frederic Leighton’s right shoulder.Alma-Tadema is positioned behind Frederic Leighton, almost as if he were Leighton’s second-in-command. At this date he had been a member of the Royal Academy for fifteen years.

Dr Jan Marsh

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Btback to top

Profile to right, behind a bank of foliage and directly to the left of the RA porter at the right-hand side of the composition.

Philip Hermogenes Calderonback to top

Whole-length, profile to right, standing in evening dress in middle ground at centre of composition, behind and to the right of Frederic Leighton.

(Edward) Onslow Fordback to top

Half-length, standing, profile to left, behind foliage towards right of group.

Frederic Leighton, Baron Leightonback to top

Whole-length, standing to front in the centre of the composition, surrounded by thirty-seven other figures in a room at the Royal Academy.Leighton stands in the centre of this composition, poised to greet a young woman who stands in front of him. He is portrayed as a dashing figure, elegantly dressed and in possession of the utmost composure. Leighton’s dedication to his social duties was unrivalled and the success of his personal style depended equally upon his fashionable appearance and his eloquence as a talker. Women in particular were charmed by him. Richard and Leonée Ormond observe that ‘he gave the impression that whoever he was talking to claimed his exclusive attention. Many London hostesses believed for this reason that Leighton had a special feeling for her’.[1]

The drawing was first published in Black & White in 1891, by which time Leighton had been the President of the Royal Academy for twelve years, after his election to the position in 1878; he would remain so until his death in 1896. He was widely respected in this role and considered a particularly efficient and progressive figurehead for the institution. In 1885, the Magazine of Art described Leighton as, ‘with the exception of Sir Joshua Reynolds … the most skilful administrator and most enlightened President that the Academy has ever had’.[2] For nearly twenty years, Leighton was indeed the axis around which the institution revolved. He tirelessly stood at the head of the stairs to greet guests on formal occasions, conducted royalty around the galleries, and rose to speak at the annual dinners. To these duties he adapted himself as though born to them. In an interesting text which accompanied the engraving in Black & White, describing the rituals of the RA’s yearly ‘soirée’, this quality is closely observed:

At the vestibule the guests are announced by the gorgeously-attired porters to the President, who, surrounded by his Council, receives them with the graciousness and amiable courtesy for which he is renowned: with a smile and a handshake for his friends, or a dignified bow for those outside his immediate circle of acquaintanceship. It is a favourite custom of guests who have already passed the President to stand behind the banks of flowers and watch the charming way in which Sir Frederick Leighton discharges his tedious function.[3]

Elizabeth Heath

Footnotesback to top

1) Ormond & Ormond 1975, p.111.
2) MA, 1885, p.236.
3) Black & White, 27 June 1891, p.666.

William Powell Frithback to top

Centre back, head and shoulders, beyond the arch.

Sir Hubert von Herkomerback to top

Half-length, clean-shaven with centre parting, to the left of the man in military uniform.

John Callcott Horsleyback to top

Upper half of head, facing right, with white hair, in group on right.The drawing includes thirty-eight heads. Twenty-three were identified in the published caption in 1891; in 1936 Marion Harry Spielmann listed twenty eight names.[1] In 2004 the NPG Complete Illustrated Catalogue listed twenty-six firmly identified heads for this drawing.[2] None of the lists include John Callcott Horsley although as Academician, RA treasurer, trustee and main organizer of the RA Winter Exhibition, he must have been present for the occasion. In fact the upper half of his head can be spotted in a group of figures on the right side of the drawing, between the hall porter and Henry Tanworth Wells.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Handwritten list accompanying typed letter from M.H. Spielmann to H.M. Hake, 6 Apr. 1936, NPG RP 2810–20.
2) Horsley catalogued as ‘Unknown Man’.

Sir Henry Irving (John Henry Brodribb)back to top

Half-length, facing front, at the left of the composition to the right of Henry Stacy Marks.In this portrait Irving is, with Terry (seen four heads to his right), one of the few sitters who are not artists. His head is based on a late 1880s photograph.

Carol Blackett-Ord

John Seymour Lucasback to top

Half-length, in profile on the extreme left.Manton seems to have built up the large composition not from live sittings but secondary, mainly photographic sources. He placed Lucas in profile to best accommodate the familiar Van der Weyde profile (see ‘All known portraits, Photographs, 1880s’).

Carol Blackett-Ord

Henry Stacy Marksback to top

Head-and-shoulders, profile to left, wearing a large moustache and pointed beard, on the left-hand side of composition between Marcus Stone and Henry Irving.

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Btback to top

Bust only visible, profile to right, standing at the entrance to the Octagon Room (next to W.C.T. Dobson), as member of the RA Council.

Sir William Quiller Orchardsonback to top

Half-length, the second male figure from left.In 1897, when the presidency of the Royal Academy was again vacant, Orchardson was invited to stand for election.

He gave the matter his deepest thought; to be President of the Royal Academy was an honour not lightly to be forgone, especially for his wife’s sake. But was he strong enough to perform the duties of the office? His sense of duty was very high, his health had been failing for some time, a great unhappiness had come into his life, so he no longer cared for social life…[1]

He therefore declined the nomination and Edward John Poynter was elected.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Gray 1930, p.132. As PRAs were always knighted, their wives would acquire the social precedence that went with a title.

John Pettieback to top

Head only, directly to the left of Lawrence Alma Tadema, in the centre of the composition.Manton apparently based the portrait of Pettie on a photograph by George Whitfield.[1]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Photograph repr. The Year’s Art 1888 1888 (cutting, NPG SB [Pettie]).

James Santback to top

Full-length, profile to right, partly obscured, in the background directly to the left of William Powell Frith.

Marion Harry Spielmannback to top

Head only, three-quarters to right, standing second from right between two unnamed ladies.Spielmann’s head is based on the drawing by Emile Wauters (see ‘All known portraits, 1890’): this was reproduced in Cassell’s RA Pictures 1890, and thus easily accessible for copying. Manton apparently used it and included Spielmann in the group without his permission. When it came to engraving the group for Black & White, Spielmann ensured that his head was deleted and replaced by that of Sir John Hare.[1]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) ‘This portrait was introduced by the artist without M.H.S.’s knowledge, by whose direction it was changed by Manton into one of Sir John Hare for the engraving on wood – for a large double-page in Black & White.’ Note by Spielmann, NPG RP 2820.

Marcus Clayton Stoneback to top

Head only, to the left-hand side of the composition, directly to the left of Henry Stacy Marks.

Dame Ellen Alice Terryback to top

Terry: head only visible, in the background at the left-hand margin of the composition, between J.S. Lucas and W.Q. Orchardson.

Henry Tanworth Wellsback to top

Head only, three-quarters to left, partly visible between two unidentified ladies in foreground at the right-hand side of the composition and standing between J.C. Horsley (at left) and M.H. Spielmann.

William Frederick Yeamesback to top

Head only, right of the centre of the composition, directly to the right of Edward Onslow Ford.