Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Societies - Society of Arts

Society of Arts ... The rooms of this society, which, were there no other attraction, Barry's pictures would alone render worthy of a visit, are open to the public, free of charge, every day in the year, Sunday and Wednesday excepted, between the hours of 10 and 8.

The Society of Arts is a handsome and convenient building, in John Street, Adelphi. The society had its origin in 1574, from the patriotic zeal of the late Mr. William Shipley (brother to the Bishop of St. Asaph), who, aided by the influence of the late Lords Folkestone and Romney, established it on a sure basis. Its grand objects are, to promote the arts, manufactures, and commerce of the United Kingdom, by donations both honorary and pecuniary, for all useful inventions, discoveries, and improvements, which are not protected by patents. It consists of about eighteen hundred members, who are chosen by ballot, and pay two guineas annually. The distribution of premiums and bounties takes place about the end of May, in the great room, where the society hold their meetings, and is an interesting ceremony. Upwards of 100,000l. have been distributed in rewards by this institution. The series of fine paintings by the late Mr. James Barry (who, to his immortal honour, executed them gratuitously, when he was himself in want of almost every necessary of life), which occupies the whole circumference of the great room, an extent of 178 feet, is most interestingly impressive. Its design was to illustrate this maxim -" The attainment of happiness, individual and public, depends on the cultivation of the human faculties." A good library, and a large collection of ingeniously constructed models, belong to this society, which has itself published nearly forty volumes of "Transactions."

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844