Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Art as an Ending

Somerset House has a long history as a London royal palace. It also was a site for art, culture, and science, which continues to today. 

It was commissioned by George III and designed by Sir William Chambers, it was constructed between 1776 and 1801 on the site of the palace by Edward Seymour. Seymour was Edward VI's uncle and self-named Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset since Edward was too young to ascend the throne. As the new Duke and Protector, Seymour wanted a new palace suitable to his new rank. He began building his great mansion on land he already owned between the Thames and the Strand. Various monarchs have used the building and it has had its share of construction, demolition, and restoration by these monarchs and as a result of the Civil War, the plague, and the Great London Fire of 1665. The House fell into such disrepair in the 18th century that George III gave the site to the government for public offices, which found other purposes for the newly rebuilt Somerset House, completed in 1779. It became the center for the Royal Academy, the Government Art School, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries. 

The Royal Academy of Arts had their Exhibition Room in the newly rebuilt Somerset House until 1836, when the Academy moved to the National Gallery in 1836. 

The Royal Society is the oldest scientific society in Britain. They also took up residence at Somerset House in 1781 and stayed until 1857. One of the first scientific discoveries announced at a Society meeting after shortly moving to their new residence was by astronomer William Herschel of a newly discovered planet, Uranus.

These rooms are now the home of the Courtauld Gallery, which has an important collection of old master and impressionist paintings. Works are on display by French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist such as Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, and Seurat. I unexpectedly stumbled upon my favorite Mante, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

One of the exciting things about exploring is never knowing what you'll stumble upon. A curiosity about this royal palace and what had happened to it led me to discover not only a treasure trove of historical events that happened at this site but also one of my favorite paintings and some other outstanding works by some of my favorite artists. 

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