Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy

Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy

George du Maurier

Punch

19 June 1877, p. 226

In this delightfully animated illustration, George Du Maurier depicts the long-vanished custom of Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy. Generously recognizing that painters, like everyone else, often leave too much for last, the Academy originally created Varnishing Day to permit artists to bring in freshly painted canvases and then later apply protective varnish. Note the paint box labelled "DuMaurier" at the lower right! Artists soon began to use the opportunity to make little last-minute minor corrections, and the great Turner famously would send in a practically bare canvas, and while his fellow-artists struggled to fix some minor mistake would paint an entire picture, thus displaying his legendary technical virtuosity — and awing his peers.

What I find so interesting about this work is the inclusion of obviously professional women painters — three of the nine — unaccompanied by any satirical or other comment. Clearly, women had become increasingly accepted, at least by du Maurier, in the art world, though this is not the impression one would receive from his many other humorous depictions of the artistic life.