Burlington House, originally built about 1664-67 for the first Earl of Burlington, enjoyed its chief celebrity and splendour under the art-loving third earl (1695-1753), the patron of Pope, Gay, and Arbuthnot. This nobleman, himself a good amateur architect, assisted by Colin Campbell, encased the original brick mansion in stone and added a much admired colonnade on each side, together with a screen-wall on Piccadilly. In 1854 the property was sold to the Government for ï¿½140,000; a few years later the colonnade was taken down, and in 1866 the extensive alterations indicated above were begun.
Old Burlington House is now occupied by the Royal Academy of Arts, which here maintains its free School of Art. At the Exhibition of the Royal Academy, which takes place here annually from May until August, paintings and sculptures are exhibited which have been executed within the previous ten years and have not been exhibited elsewhere. The private view of the Exhibition and the Academy Soiree, admission to both of which is by invitation of the Academy, are highly fashionable functions; and still more exclusive is the Academy Dinner, held on the Saturday before the opening of the Exhibition, the guests being restricted to those of 'elevated position, high rank, distinguished talents, or known patrons of the arts.' In winter (January to March) an exhibition of the works of some Old Master or recently deceased modern artist is usually held.
A staircase to the right in Old Burlington House ascends to the permanent collections of the Royal Academy in the Diploma Gallery and the Gibson Gallery (open free daily, 11-4). The GIBSON GALLERY contains models and casts of the works of John Gibson (1790-1866), bequeathed by the sculptor. The Diploma Gallery consists mainly of the diploma works (paintings, sculptures, and architectural designs) presented on their election by Academicians elected since 1770. Among these may be mentioned: 76. Raeburn, Boy and rabbit; 8. Cosway, Venus and Cupid; 83. Hoppner, Portrait of himself; 111. Paynier, Fortune-teller; 121. Leighton, St. Jerome; 123. A. Hacker, A wet night at Piccadilly Circus; 131. Alma-Tadema, Road to the Temple; 133. Sir Alfred East, Evening in the Cotswolds; 141. Arnesby Brown Rain-cloud; 147. Millais, Souvenir of Velazquez; 159. J. S. Sargent, Interior in Venice; 182. George Clausen, Interior of an old barn; 227. G. F. Watts, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear.' The gallery contains also some good examples of the original members of the Academy (Reynolds, Gainsborough, Richard Wilson, etc.), 15 landscape studies and Dedham Lock (No. 243) by Constable, and a number of interesting foreign works, including a Holy Family by Leonardo da Vinci (cartoon in black Chalk); Temperance, by Giorgione or Sebastiano del Piombo; and beautiful relief of the Virgin and Child and St. John, by Michael Angelo. Here is also a full-size copy, of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, at Milan, by his pupil Marco d' Ogginno. The Sitters' Chair, preserved here, originally belonged to Sir Joshua Reynolds, and was purchased in turn by every succeeding President until Lord Leighton presented it to the Academy in 1878.
The ROYAL. ACADEMY OF ARTS, founded in 1768, with Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first president, had its abode first in Pall Mall, afterwards at Somerset House (1780-1838), and then at the National Gallery (1838-69). It consists of 40 Academicians (R.A.) and 30 Associates (A.R.A.) and vacancies in the list are filled up by vote of the whole body of members. There are several honorary members. The president is Sir Frank Dichsee. The Academy, whose whole income is derived from the admission-fees to its exhibitions, maintains a free School of Art, the students of which have access to the fine Library of books and prints. It administers also the Chantrey Bequest. A tablet in the doorway of one of the rooms records that the room was wrecked by an air-raid in 1917.
The other buildings at Burlington House accommodate various learned societies; in the east wing, the Royal Society, the Geological Society, and the Chemical Society; in the west wing, the Society of Antiquaries, the Astronomical Society, and the Linnean Society. Visitors are admitted to the regular meetings of all these on the introduction of a fellow.
The ROYAL SOCIETY, one of the most famous scientific bodies in the world, originated in a coterie of savants who began to meet informally in London or in Oxford in 1645. Its formal foundation dates from 1660 and its royal charter of incorporation from 1662. It now numbers about 510 fellows (F.R.S.), with about 40 foreign members. Its meetings are held on Thursday from November to June. The Society issues Philosophical Transactions, Proceedings, a Year Book, and a Catalogue of Scientific Papers. It awards the Copley Medal, two Royal Medals, the Davy Medal, and the Hughes Medal annually; the Rumford and Darwin Medals biennially; the Sylvester Medal every third year; and the Buchanan Medal every fifth year. The rooms contain a library of 100,000 volumes and numerous manuscripts, and many busts and portraits of distinguished Fellows, including those of Boyle, Martin Folkea (by Hogarth), Newton, Wren, Pepys. Sir Hans Sloane (these three by Kneller), Sir Humphry Davy (by Lawrence), etc.; also some interesting relics: Newton's telescope, watch, and sundial; MS. of the Principia; original model of Davy's safety lamp, etc. Visitors are admitted by Fellow's introduction only.
The CHEMICAL SOCIETY, founded in 1841, possesses perhaps the finest chemical library in the world, besides busts and portraits of eminent members. The meetings take place twice monthly from October to June.
The SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF LONDON, believed to have been founded in 1572 by Archbishop Parker but not formally reconstituted until 1717, holds a charter of 1751. Its meetings take place on Thursday from November to May. On the introduction of a Fellow visitors may inspect the paintings, manuscripts, and other objects of interest in the Society's collections, and its extensive archaeological library. The Society publishes Archeologia.
The LINNEAN SOCIETY, founded in 1788, with members of both sexes, has for object the cultivation of the science of natural history in all its branches. Meetings are held twice a month from November to June. The Society possesses the Linnaean collections and a natural history library of 45,000 volumes. It publishes Transactions, etc.
The GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY founded in 1807 and incorporated in 1826, claims to possess the most complete geological library in the world. The ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY was founded in 1820.
The BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE (or 'Brit. Ass.'), a scientific body, enlivens the holiday season by its papers. It meets at different towns in different years.
The BRITISH ACADEMY (incorporated in 1902), for the promotion of historical, philosophical, and philological studies, likewise meets at Burlington House.
Burlington House is skirted on the west by the Burlington Arcade (dating from 1818), a covered passage with fashionable shops, near the other end of which, in Burlington Gardens, is the Italian Renaissance edifice, built in 1869, by Pennethorne for London University. The numerous statues of scholars on the exterior refer to this original destination, but since 1902 the Civil Service Commission, which conducts the competitive examinations for posts in the Government civil service, has had its seat here.
At the east end of Burlington Gardens is SAVILE Row, a street of fashionable tailors. Grote came to live at No. 12 in 1848 and died here in 1871; Sheridan lived at No. 14 and died in 1818 in the front bedroom of No. 17. The Burlington Fine Arts Club, at No. 17, the art connoisseurs' club, holds interesting exhibitions from time to time (admission on introduction by a member). No. 23, at the end of the street, is the Alpine club.