A SHILLING WELL LAID OUT. Tom and Jerry at the Exhibition of Pictures at the Royal Academy


In a room in Somerset House, a throng of people view the Exhibition. Well-dressed couples mingle and inspect paintings with catalogues in hand. The couple in the center stand with their backs to the viewer, the man leaning slightly in to speak with the woman on his arm. Tom and Jerry accompany the Misses Trifle: one couple sits on a bench in the left corner, the other stands in conversation (Egan 342). The crowd is composed of spectators from a variety of classes and races. The walls are entirely covered with paintings: the upper row consists mainly of portraits, seen in detail, while the lower row is hidden by the crowd.

Accession Number: 

CA 8931

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Royal octavo, 8 volumes, in twelve monthly parts (Oct. 1820-July 1821), and subsequently in picture boards (Cohn 74; Rosenbach 67)
This image was first bound in Pierce Egan's Life in London (London, 1823).
Annual Exhibition of the Royal Academy

In 1769, the Royal Academy presented its first annual art exhibition. The exhibition was a major source of income for the independently-run Academy: admission was charged and catalogues were sold, subsidizing the Academy; meanwhile, the sale of art was often the primary source of income for the painters who exhibited their work. Works were usually reviewed and selected at the beginning of April for the Exhibition held during the London season between late April and early June. Once it moved in 1780 to Somerset House, the Exhibition increased in size and income, enabling the Academy to make a profit for the first time (Fenton 93). The central—and most prestigious—gallery was the Great Hall. The Antique and the Life Schools were also used as exhibition spaces, sometimes used to display sculpture, watercolors, and prints (Murdoch 17). The scale of the Exhibition was huge: “The 489 works shown in 1780 had grown to 1,195 by 1797, remaining thereafter in the region of 900-1,200” (Sunderland 23). This scale in number of works was matched by the number of visitors: approximately 48,000 people visited Somerset House each year between 1780 and 1798; the number grew to over 56,000 each year from 1799-1808, and then to over 67,000 each year from 1809-18 (Hoock 62). The Annual Exhibition, also known as the Summer Exhibition or simply the Exhibition, was not only the most prestigious showcase of British art but also one of the highlights of the London social calendar (Solkin xi).

Marriage of George Cruikshank

In 1823, George Cruikshank married Mary Ann MacNaughton. He subsequently ceased his excessive drinking and assumed a more domestic life; this shift in lifestyle paralleled and perhaps contributed to his turn from political caricature to social observation and book illustration in his work. Moreover, George Cruikshank’s prominence, though still significant, diminished as he was surpassed by Robert Cruikshank and William Heath (Wardroper 19).
The Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy was founded in December, 1768, with the support of George III. Though private academies, auction houses, art clubs, and print shops had been prevalent in London for a century, access to art remained limited. The Royal Academy began to address this problem by functioning as a public center of the arts, providing education and access to art through its school and annual exhibitions. It was also considered the major force behind the professionalization of art; this was due in large part to the Royal Academy Schools, where the distinction between the liberal arts—painting, sculpture, and architecture—and the mechanical arts—such as engraving and craft-oriented practices—turned on education (Bermingham 130).

Though the Academy was one of the last academies to be founded in Europe, it was the first truly modern institution, and was run independently by its artist members. Free of government support and patronage, it supported itself through annual exhibitions. The Royal Academy not only served as a school of learning and a major site of art exhibitions, but also acted as a charity for the relief of poor artists and their families. Its membership consisted of forty Royal Academicians and numerous associates. Artists included painters, sculptors, architects, and, eventually, engravers. The Academy held the foremost position as the arbiter of taste until the nineteenth century (Schofield).

Despite these modern innovations, female membership in the Royal Academy was very limited. At its founding, there were only two women Academicians, Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann. Upon Moser’s death and Kaufmann’s return to the Continent, women were not admitted to the Academy until Annie Swynnterton acquired membership in 1922 (Fenton 252). 

The Schools of the Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy Schools made up the most important institution of art education in London until the establishment in 1837 of the Government School of Design (Hoock 52). Following the Renaissance tradition of art training—centered around the antique, the life class, and the study of anatomy—the Royal Academy Schools, under the direction of the Keeper, were made up of the Antique Academy, the Plaster Academy, and the Academy of Living Models; the Painting School was added in 1815 when permission was obtained to borrow pictures from the Dulwich Picture Gallery (Nead 46). As can be concluded from these divisions, the human figure constituted the principal area of study.

Students underwent a probationary period before being formally accepted to the Schools. The order of coursework for those accepted mandated at least one term at the Antique Academy before attendance at the Life Academy. The Academy Schools’ studentship initially lasted six years, but was later extended—first to seven, and then to ten years; consequently, not many students completed the course. Women, though not barred, were not admitted to the Royal Academy Schools until 1860, and then only on a small scale; furthermore, they were not allowed entry to the Life Academy (Hoock 53). Teachers were drawn from the Academicians and Associates and taught for several months at a time. Education was free until 1977. Prizes were given annually, presented with a discourse given by the President; these ceremonies resulted in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ fifteen discourses, which served as the Academy’s policy for the arts (Schofield).

The Life Academy used both male and female models. Though men were able to model as a form of casual employment, women models were employed anonymously (some female models were actually prostitutes) (Fenton 131, 146-47). However, in contrast to schools on the Continent, English academies from the late seventeenth century onwards used female models fairly frequently (Nead 46). Interestingly, the importance of the female model is shown in the change in rates of pay. At the start of the Academy, they were paid half a guinea—ten shillings and sixpence—a night, while male models were paid three shillings; in 1811, the women’s rate was twelve shillings to the men’s five, and by 1821 the rates were (respectively) one guinea to half a guinea (Fenton 131).

Somerset House

Located on the south side of the Strand on the banks of the Thames in central London, Somerset House functioned first as an aristocratic mansion, then as a royal estate, until 1649, when it fell into disuse. In the 1660s, it was rebuilt according to the designs of the late architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), only to be demolished a century later in 1775. The Royal Academy was permanently housed in the new Somerset House, designed by William Chambers, from 1780 until 1836, when it moved to the National Gallery. Previously the Academy had been meeting in auction rooms in Pall Mall, which were hired season by season. The move to Somerset House was symbolic in establishing the Academy as a prestigious institution: by housing the Academy in the same residence as the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries, and the Royal Navy, art and the Academy acquired state significance (Fenton 114-15). The Royal Academy spaces at Somerset House constituted its school, library and collection of casts and galleries: the Life Academy was located on the ground floor; the Antique Academy, in the library; the Council Room, on the first floor; and the Great Room, on the top floor (Solkin xi; Murdoch 17).
Finish to the adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, with numerous coloured illustrations by Robert Cruikshank (1828)

This text, also by Pierce Egan, was written as a sequel to Life in London, in which A Shilling Well Laid Out was first published. A Shilling was also reproduced in:

-Diorama Anglais ou Promenades Pittoresque a Londres, Renfermant les notes les plus extacte sur les caractères, les moeurs et usages de la nation anglaise, prises dan les different classes de la société . . . (Paris: Chez Jules Didot l’Ainé, Librarie, 1823)

-The New Pedestrian-Equestrian Extravaganza and Operatic Burletta, in Three Acts of Gaiety, Frisk, Lark and Patter, called Tom and Jerry, or Life in London (George Cruikshank and Pierce Egan)

Associated Images

-The Exhibition of the Royal Academy (1787): engraved by Pietro Antonio Martini; painted by Johann Heinrich Ramberg

-Thomas Rowlandson’s Exhibition, Stare Case (1811)

-Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin’s Exhibition Room, Somerset House: printed in The Microcosm of London (published by Ackermann in 1808-10, London)
This image depicts Tom and Jerry—the two main characters from Pierce Egan's popular journal, Life in London—attending the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Academy.
The illustrations of Life in London (1823) are considered the first important “non-caricature work” of George Cruikshank (Wardroper 19). As such, they mark the beginning of George Cruikshank’s turn from political caricature and his first success in “depicting the drama and drollery of contemporary life in a style that was not caricature but was derived from it” (Wardroper 102).

Contemporary critics have debated whether the characters of Tom, Jerry, and Logic are based on Robert and George Cruikshank and Pierce Egan, the sporting journalist. Robert Cruikshank was, allegedly, the originator of the concept and story. The speculations regarding the inspiration for Tom and Jerry are based on the fact that the Cruikshanks enjoyed the “company of pugilists, journalists, jolly tars, gamblers, Grub Street hacks, Bacchanalians, and actors” (Patten, “George Cruikshank").

Egan’s story and the accompanying illustrations by the Cruikshanks (it is noted that Robert was mainly responsible for them) quickly became a popular success. It was initially published in monthly installments, then as a book. The story was set to music and dramatized in more than a dozen stage versions. George Cruikshank even joined in the fray, collaborating with Egan in mounting The New Pedestrian-Equestrian Extravaganza and Operatic Burletta, in Three Acts of Gaiety, Frisk, Lark and Patter, called Tom and Jerry, or Life in London at the Adelphi Theatre (Wardroper 19). George and Robert Cruikshank designed and painted the scenery, as well as contributing a color plate of the pony race, which was depicted on stage with real ponies (Wardroper 19). Life in London was also quickly pirated: “the first pirated edition, by Catnach, was apparently on the streets within twelve hours of the original” (Feaver 11). Moreover, "Tom" and "Jerry" became bywords in London society where tailors advertised “Corinthian” and “Tom and Jerry” patterns. Their images also appeared on tea trays, snuff boxes, fans, and screens (George X.14320).

The very title of Tom and Jerry’s adventure at the Royal Exhibition, A Shilling Well Laid Out, brings out several important aspects of the experience of art during the Romantic period. Going to the Exhibition was a significantly valuable aesthetic experience, and perhaps an even a richer social one. The titular shilling refers to the price of admission, which served to finance the Royal Academy and also, less apparently, to restrict access, keeping out the lower classes (Fenton 93). It is noteworthy that all those attending the Exhibition with Tom and Jerry are well dressed: women in elaborate dresses and bonnets and men in top hats; even the one black man is fashionably attired. However, the price of admission was not too restrictive, as it allowed a far larger population access to art than any private gallery or previous exhibitions.

In response to this influx of individuals who were interested in art but who did not have the knowledge or status of connoisseurs, much was written on the proper way of conducting oneself and experiencing art—as well as interacting with society—at the Royal Exhibition. When Tom proposes that Jerry and Logic go to the Exhibition, he states:
That, to a person who is not a connoisseur in paintings, a visit to the Exhibition is a treat; but, to the real lover and promoter of the fine arts, in order to witness the improvement of the experienced artists, and the rising talents of the young painter since the last season, is an inexpressible pleasure. (Egan 339-40)
Tom makes a distinction between the pleasure gained by an amateur and that experienced by a professional. For those who are “not a connoisseur,” a trip to the Exhibition is a mere “treat," implying a superficial and short-lived experience. Meanwhile, the “real lover and promoter of the fine arts” is invested in the careers of artists, examining works for signs of development and in turn developing a deep and sustained pleasure that is even artful in being inexpressible.

Tom suggests that one way to cultivate such aesthetic taste is, ironically, frequenting the Exhibition rather than cultivating knowledge in art itself. He proposes a course of attending the Exhibition that involves not one or two but four visits. During the initial visit, Tom’s instructions are to look at the pictures with a “mere glance” and to “mark your catalogue with any subjects that may have made an impression on your mind in your hurry and bustle through the rooms, not only to save you time, but that it may be profitably occupied on a second visit” (Egan 340). The third visit serves to further strengthen the degree of familiarity, and the fourth is finally devoted to criticism: “A fourth visit, in all probability, may enable you to decide, satisfactorily to yourself, on the merits of those subjects which had claimed your attention” (Egan 340). Tom’s four-step process seemingly speaks to the amount of work and attention required to produce the informed criticism of a connoisseur. However, Tom’s Exhibition guidebook ironically emphasizes a sort of faux connoisseurship which involves going through the exhibition rooms at rapid pace with very little time or emphasis on viewing the artwork.

The four visits with Tom's instructions implicitly speak to the need to be seen at the Exhibition rather than to see its paintings. This social motivation and its accompanying faux connoisseurship is depicted clearly in the Cruikshanks’ illustration. There are several figures reading catalogues in the crowd, but Tom and Jerry, who both have catalogues in hand, are busy conversing with the Misses Trifles. Moreover, even fewer heads are turned towards the pictures: only one head is turned upwards looking at pictures hanging on the middle row, the prime hanging location. As a result, the image implies that there is a difference between being viewers of art and spectators of crowds, or between real and faux connoisseurship.
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Life in London: or, The day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom: Accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis / By Pierce Egan; Embellished with thirty-six scenes from real life . . . and . . . numerous original designs on wood. (London: Sherwood, Neely, & Sons 1823)