Seeing Double: Portraits, Copies, and Exhibitions in 1820s London

Thursday, June 24, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010

In 1829, the young artist John Scarlett Davis sought to make a splash on the London art scene with his painting The Interior of the British Institution Gallery. An image of an art exhibition, the painting is also an elaborate visual puzzle. Seeing Double: Portraits, Copies, and Exhibitions in 1820s London invited viewers to decode this puzzle, and in the process explore the relationship between display and replication in early nineteenth-century Britain. The painting has long been recognized as a valuable record of an important exhibition venue, representing in miniature works by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, among others. What has less often been recognized is that the figures who chat amiably or stop to examine canvasses are themselves replicas of paintings: Davis copied the figures from pre-existing portraits, notably those by Sir Thomas Lawrence. By examining this practice, Seeing Double revealed hitherto unknown connections between works in the Center’s collection.


John Scarlett Davis, The Interior of the British Institution Gallery (detail), 1829, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


Seeing Double:
Portraits, Copies, and Exhibitions in 1820s London was organized by the Center and curated by Catherine Roach, Postdoctoral Associate, Department of the History of Art & Visual Studies, Cornell University. The organizing curator at the Center was Cassandra Albinson, Associate Curator of Paintings and Sculpture.