This is one of a pair of drawings by Edward Francis Burney, depicting the Old and New Somerset House premises. The Royal Academy occupied several London premises before settling into Burlington House in 1869. Teaching originally took place in a building in Pall Mall and then at Old Somerset House on the Strand. In 1780 the RA moved into purpose-built rooms in New Somerset House. This drawing presents the new elegantly decorated Antique School (now the galleries of the Courtauld Institute of Art).
Many of the same casts can be seen in the drawing of Old Somerset House, but the overall impression here is of a grander and more ordered environment. In the foreground a group of students draw the figure of Cincinnatus. It’s been suggested that the student wearing a blue jacket is the young William Blake, who joined the Schools in 1779. The artist, Edward Burney, was also a student at the Academy from 1777 and he went on to become a popular illustrator and history painter.
The drawing gives a glimpse of daily life at the Royal Academy in the 18th century, portraying RA students drawing casts of classical and Renaissance sculptures. Skilful draughtsmanship was essential for aspiring artists at this time and students at the Academy usually spent at least a year drawing casts before they progressed to life drawing. Most of the casts shown in the drawings are from Greek and Roman sculptures.