This essay offers a new reading of the Royal Academy exhibitions of late-eighteenth-century London, through a close focus on two images: Sir Joshua Reynolds's equestrian portrait of the Prince of Wales, shown at the 1784 exhibition, and Edward Burney's study of the crowded wall of paintings on which Reynolds's portrait hung during that year's display. "Reading the Walls" suggests that, to better understand the role and meanings of the paintings on show at the Academy in this period, we need to think more productively about the ways in which they interacted with each other across the exhibition space, and in so doing participated in a range of pictorial narratives operating beyond the boundaries of individual canvases. The essay also suggests the ways in which pictures such as Reynolds's Prince of Wales would have stimulated visitors and critics to conjure up the memory of previous Academy exhibitions, and to interpret the pictures they encountered on the Academy's walls in relation to earlier paintings that had been displayed in the same environment.


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pp. 581-604
Launched on MUSE
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