The Royal Irish Institution

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

The Royal Irish Institution for encouraging the Fine Arts in Ireland, was founded in 1813 as the outcome of a public meeting held in the Rotunda on the 4th June. Its objects were the "stimulating native talent by furnishing models to assist the labours of Irish artists and by rewarding the authors of works of superior merit." For these purposes collections of the works of the old masters were to be got together and exhibited. The Society consisted of life members and a Committee of Directors, with the Prince Regent as Patron; the Lord Lieutenant, Earl Whitworth, Guardian; the Duke of Richmond, Vice-Patron; and the Duke of Leinster, President.

The establishment of the Society was strongly opposed by a section of artists and others, who considered that such an Institution would be useless and impracticable; the chief opposer was John Comerford, the miniature painter, who was always against the establishment of any Society or body which would encourage the multiplication of artists. He led the opposition, but in spite of his endeavours the Institution was formed and commenced its operations. The Duke of Richmond, Lord Lieutenant, subscribed £100 to its funds, and his successor, Lord Whitworth, gave the same amount. Substantial subscriptions were also received from the Earl of Liverpool, the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Sidmouth and Sir Robert Peel, as well as from many others in England and Ireland. The Prince Regent within three months of its foundation gave his name as Patron of the Institution and contributed £200. The first exhibition was held in the Gallery of the Dublin Society's House in Hawkins Street; but afterwards premises were built in College Street, where subsequent exhibitions were held.

The principal object towards which the members of the Institution directed their attention was the establishment of an Academy in Dublin. The Dublin artists, after 1819, had no organization, and were unable to hold exhibitions, and found little encouragement from an apathetic public. "Owing to the want of taste and encouragement," says the author of the "Picture of Dublin," in 1821, "though there are many painters of merit, there is no existing Society of Artists in Dublin, and many have been compelled to seek for support in other occupations, tired out and disgusted with repeated efforts unrewarded." To carry out their design the members lent all their aid to the small body of artists who were working for the formation of a permanent Academy of Arts, and in 1823 their persistent advocacy of the scheme was crowned with success, when a Charter was signed establishing the Royal Hibernian Academy. The Institution made a strenuous, but unsuccessful, effort to have the sum of £12,000—which had been subscribed for a national testimonial in honour of the visit of George IV to Ireland in 1821—applied to the building of a gallery for the advancement of the Fine Arts.

With the achievement of the establishment of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the work of the Institution was ended. It continued its existence for some years, until its work in the practical encouragement of native art was taken up by the Royal Irish Art Union in 1840.

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