BI

British Institution

The British Institution was founded in June 1805 by a group of private subscribers; originally it met in the Thatched House Tavern in London. In September of that year it purchased the lease of the former Boydell Shakespeare Gallery building at 52 Pall Mall. The gallery building had been commissioned in 1788 by engraver John Boydell as a showroom for a series of paintings and prints of scenes from works by William Shakespeare. The architect was George Dance the Younger, then the clerk of the city works. The gallery had a monumental, neo-classical stone-built front, and three exhibition rooms on the first floor, with a total of more than 4,000 square feet (370 m2) of wall space for displaying pictures.  Boydell ran up large debts in producing his Shakespeare engravings, and obtained an Act of Parliament in 1804 to dispose of the gallery and other property by lottery. The main prize winner, William Tassie, a modeller, then sold the gallery property and contents at auction. When the British Institution took possession, they also retained a sculptural group on the façade by Thomas Banks, which had been intended to be used as a monument on Boydell's tomb. The British Institution opened at the Pall Mall site on 18 January 1806. From 1807 prizes were given to artists who painted the best companion pieces to works by Old Masters on display at the gallery. By the time of an 1835 visit by Thomas Carlyle, the gallery had become known colloquially as the Pall Mall Picture Galleries, but was evidently still among the popular society haunts. The Institution's routine was to hold a spring exhibition of paintings by contemporary artists, available for purchase, followed by a summer exhibition of old masters. Tourist guides in the 1840s reported that the spring exhibition ran from the start of February to the first week of May, and the old masters exhibition from the first week of June to the end of August. When the gallery building was demolished during 1868–1869, the Banks sculpture from the building's façade was moved to Stratford-upon-Avon and re-erected in New Place Garden.