Accessibility links

The Society of Arts from 1760 famously held some of the first exhibitions of contemporary art in Britain.

They connected artists with a new public - a growing body of newly affluent, urban, middle-class consumers - who provided an alternative to the age-old reliance on the patronage of aristocrats.

But the new public in 1760 were not always well-behaved, committing many “irregularities” - a euphemistic term to cover all kinds of incidents. At the first exhibition in 1760, the Society’s unimaginatively named porter, Morgan Morgan, was assaulted for gently nudging a visitor to make way for some ladies (Morgan promptly returned the blow). 

The Society’s only recorded response was that ahead of any future exhibitions notice would explicitly be given that “order must be kept”. But in practice they came to rely on more than just firm words. The next year’s exhibition was guarded by six constables, and the person running security was given discretion to employ eight more.

Despite these measures, the event was still marred by “many tumults and disorders”, although the added muscle appears to have prevented it getting beyond the organisers’ control. The following exhibitions continued to have their troubles, though the evidence survives in less explicit hints: after the third exhibition in 1762 the Society was forced to compensate the venue’s landlady for a broken window!


Join the discussion

Please login to post a comment or reply.

Don't have an account? Click here to register.