The Royal Society is a Fellowship-based organisation, founded in 1660, which acts as a learned society, funding body and national academy for promoting science and its benefits. Fellows are drawn from all areas of science, mathematics, engineering and medicine. The Society has extensive historical resources (archives, books and scientific artefacts) and has collected pictures since the seventeenth century, specialising in portraits of scientists.
The art collection has accumulated nearly 190 oil paintings and these are supplemented by thousands of original works on paper, sculpture busts, engravings and photographs. Most of the portraits have been donated by Fellows and their families, both to commemorate scientists’ associations with the organisation and to celebrate their research achievements. However, since the twentieth century the Society has also commissioned portraits of its Presidents. Paintings include works by leading artists from Sir Peter Lely (1618–1680) to Salvador Dali (1904–1989). Since Fellowship of the Society was not limited to scientists until the late nineteenth century, several of the portrait painters represented, including Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) and Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), were also Fellows of the Royal Society.