Mezzotint engraver Richard Earlom (1742-1822), executed a series of prints after drawings and paintings by well-known artists such as Claude Lorraine, Jan van Huysum, Guido Reni, Joshua Reynolds, and others. This mezzotint reproduces an oil painting attributed to Johann Zoffany, depicting 36 members or academicians (RAs) of the Royal Academy of Arts, London. The group is seen in the Life Room at the Old Somerset House, where members gathered for life drawings sessions. Each of the figures can be identified, and a complete list of names can be found on the National Portrait Gallery’s website: http://www.npg.org.uk
Full membership to the academy is limited to painters, printmakers, sculptors, or architects actively working in Great Britain. Both Earlom and Zoffany were elected to this celebrated group. In the beginning, both men and women were accepted into membership: Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) and Mary Moser (1744-1819) were among the founding members. However, these two women were not allowed to serve on the governing council of the Academy, or to take part in committee work, as other members were required to do. The two women were also not allowed to attend life classes, where models were drawn in the nude. So it is fitting that these two women are only seen in this image as portraits on the wall.
Things quickly got worse for female artists. The organization discouraged other women from joining and after Kauffman and Moser died, no other female artist was accepted to full membership until 1922. The only exception came in the late-nineteenth century, when a few women were allowed to hold a life class inside the Academy but no men were allowed in the room.
To see other work by Earlom, see Liber veritatis (1777-1819). Marquand Library SAX Oversize ND553.G3 A31f