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Royal Academy of Arts

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Christopher Le Brun

+44 20 7300 8090

Royal Academy of Arts

1768; 249 years ago (1768)

Piccadilly Circus London, W1, England, United Kingdom

1,267,784 (2009) (Ranked 11th nationally)

Public transit access
Green Park; Piccadilly Circus

Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0BD, UK

Open today · 10AM–6PMThursday10AM–6PMFriday10AM–10PMSaturday10AM–6PMSunday10AM–6PMMonday10AM–6PMTuesday10AM–6PMWednesday10AM–6PMSuggest an edit

Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough


The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly in London. It has a unique position as an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects; its purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate.


2016 royal academy of arts show david hockney 21 portraits


The Royal Academy of Arts was founded through a personal act of King George III on 10 December 1768 with a mission to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition. The motive in founding the Academy was twofold: to raise the professional status of the artist by establishing a sound system of training and expert judgement in the arts, and to arrange the exhibition of contemporary works of art attaining an appropriate standard of excellence. Supporters wanted to foster a national school of art and to encourage appreciation and interest in the public based on recognised canons of good taste.

Fashionable taste in 18th-century Britain was based on continental and traditional art forms, providing contemporary British artists little opportunity to sell their works. From 1746 the Foundling Hospital, through the efforts of William Hogarth, provided an early venue for contemporary artists in Britain. The success of this venture led to the formation of the Society of Artists of Great Britain and the Free Society of Artists. Both these groups were primarily exhibiting societies; their initial success was marred by internal factions among the artists. The combined vision of education and exhibition to establish a national school of art set the Royal Academy apart from the other exhibiting societies. It provided the foundation upon which the Royal Academy came to dominate the art scene of the 18th and 19th centuries, supplanting the earlier art societies.

Sir William Chambers, a prominent architect, used his connections with George III to gain royal patronage and financial support of the Academy, and it was founded in 1768. The painter Joshua Reynolds was made its first president. Francis Milner Newton was elected the first secretary, a post he held for two decades until his resignation in 1788.

The instrument of foundation, signed by George III on 10 December 1768, named 34 founder members and allowed for a total membership of 40. The founder members were Reynolds, John Baker, George Barret, Francesco Bartolozzi, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, Augustino Carlini, Charles Catton, Mason Chamberlin, William Chambers, Francis Cotes, George Dance, Nathaniel Dance, Thomas Gainsborough, John Gwynn, Francis Hayman, Nathaniel Hone the Elder, Angelica Kauffman, Jeremiah Meyer, George Michael Moser, Francis Milner Newton, Mary Moser, Edward Penny, John Inigo Richards, Thomas Sandby, Paul Sandby, Dominic Serres, Peter Toms, William Tyler, Samuel Wale, Benjamin West, Richard Wilson, Joseph Wilton, Richard Yeo, Francesco Zuccarelli. William Hoare and Johann Zoffany were added to this list later by the King and are known as nominated members. Among the founder members were two women, a father and daughter, and two sets of brothers.

The Royal Academy was initially housed in cramped quarters in Pall Mall, although in 1771 it was given temporary accommodation for its library and schools in Old Somerset House, then a royal palace. In 1780 it was installed in purpose-built apartments in the first completed wing of New Somerset House, located in the Strand and designed by Chambers, the Academy's first treasurer. The Academy moved in 1837 to Trafalgar Square, where it occupied the east wing of the recently completed National Gallery (designed by another Academician, William Wilkins). These premises soon proved too small to house both institutions. In 1868, 100 years after the Academy's foundation, it moved to Burlington House, Piccadilly, where it remains. Burlington House is owned by the British Government, and used rent-free by the Royal Academy.

The first Royal Academy exhibition of contemporary art, open to all artists, opened on 25 April 1769 and ran until 27 May 1769. 136 works of art were shown and this exhibition, now known as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, has been staged annually without interruption to the present day. In 1870 the Academy expanded its exhibition programme to include a temporary annual loan exhibition of Old Masters, following the cessation of a similar annual exhibition at the British Institution. The range and frequency of these loan exhibitions have grown enormously since that time, making the Royal Academy a leading art exhibition institution of international importance.

Britain's first public lectures on art were staged by the Royal Academy, as another way to fulfil its mission. Led by Reynolds, the first president, a program included lectures by Dr. William Hunter, John Flaxman, James Barry, Sir John Soane, and J. M. W. Turner. The last three were all graduates of the RA School, which for a long time was the only established art school in the country.


The Royal Academy does not receive financial support from the state or the Crown. Its income is from exhibitions, trust and endowment funds, receipts from its trading activities, and from the subscriptions of its Friends and corporate members. It also gains funds by sponsorship from commercial and industrial companies, in which the Academy was one of the pioneers.

One of its principal sources of revenue is hosting a programme of temporary loan exhibitions. These are comparable to those at the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and leading art galleries outside the United Kingdom. In 2004 the highlights of the Academy's permanent collection went on display in the newly restored reception rooms of the original section of Burlington House, which are now known as the John Madejski Fine Rooms.

Under the direction of the former exhibitions secretary Norman Rosenthal, the Academy has hosted ambitious exhibitions of contemporary art. In its 1997 "Sensation," it displayed the collection of work by Young British Artists owned by Charles Saatchi. The show was controversial for its display of Marcus Harvey's portrait of Myra Hindley, a convicted murderer. The painting was vandalised while on display. The Academy also hosts an annual Royal Academy summer exhibition of new art, which is a well-known event on the London social calendar. In the 21st century it is considered less fashionable than in earlier centuries, and has been largely ignored by the Brit Artists and their patrons. But, Tracey Emin exhibited in the 2005 show. In March 2007 Emin accepted the Academy's invitation to become a Royal Academician, commenting in her weekly newspaper column that, "It doesn't mean that I have become more conformist; it means that the Royal Academy has become more open, which is healthy and brilliant."

Anyone who wishes may submit pictures for inclusion in the summer exhibition; those selected are displayed alongside the works of the Academicians. Many of the works are available for purchase.

In 1977 Sir Hugh Casson founded the Friends of the Royal Academy, a charity designed to provide financial support for the institution. Over the years the Friends scheme has grown in size and importance and by 2007 had almost 90,000 members.

In 2004, the Academy attracted media attention for a series of financial scandals and reports of a feud between Rosenthal and other senior staff. These problems resulted in the cancellation of what were expected to have been profitable exhibitions. In 2006, it attracted the press by erroneously placing only the support for a sculpture on display, and then justifying it being kept on display.

In September 2007, Charles Saumarez Smith became secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy, a newly created post. In March 2014, critic and broadcaster Tim Marlow was appointed the Royal Academy's first director of artistic programmes.

The Academy has received many gifts and bequests of objects and money. Many of these gifts were used to establish Trust Funds to support the work of the Royal Academy Schools by providing "Premiums" to students displaying excellence in various artistic genre. The rapid changes in 20th-century art left some of the classifications of the older prize funds as somewhat anachronistic. But efforts are made to award each prize to a student producing work that bears a relation to the intentions of the original benefactor.

On 8 December 2011, Christopher Le Brun was elected president of the Royal Academy on the retirement of Sir Nicholas Grimshaw.

Royal Academy Schools

The Royal Academy Schools form the oldest art school in Britain. They offer a three-year postgraduate art course to students.

The Royal Academy Schools was the first institution to provide professional training for artists in Britain. The Schools' programme of formal training was modelled on that of the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, founded by Louis XIV in 1648. It was shaped by the precepts laid down by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In his fifteen Discourses delivered to pupils in the Schools between 1769 and 1790, Reynolds stressed the importance of copying the Old Masters, and of drawing from casts after the Antique and from the life model. He argued that such a training would form artists capable of creating works of high moral and artistic worth. Professorial chairs were founded in Chemistry, Anatomy, Ancient History and Ancient Literature, the latter two being held initially by Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith.

In 1769, the first year of operation, the Schools enrolled 77 students. By 1830 over 1,500 students had enrolled in the Schools, giving an average intake of 25 students each year. They included men such as John Flaxman, J. M. W. Turner, John Soane, Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake, Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, George Hayter, David Wilkie, William Etty and Edwin Landseer. The term of studentship was at first six years. This was increased to seven years in 1792 and to ten in 1800; it remained at ten till 1853. These figures must be regarded, however, only as years of eligibility. Likely many of the students did not complete their full term, but there are no records of attendance and termination of studentships from the early years.

Professors and Royal Academician "Visitors" taught through a series of lectures. Royal Academicians, practising artists, were elected as Visitors, and served in rotation for nine months of the year. Each Visitor attended for a month, setting the models and examining and instructing the performances of the students. This system lasted through into the late 1920s, when Visitors were replaced by permanent teachers.

The first woman to enrol as a student of the Schools was Laura Herford in 1860. Three more women enrolled in 1861, with an additional three in 1862.

Today some 60 students study in the Schools on a three-year postgraduate course. The programme is focused on studio-based practice across all fine art media. The studios accommodate a wide variety of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, print, installation, and time-based and digital media. Selection of candidates is based on evidence of individual ability and commitment, with an emphasis on potential for further development across the three-year course. Students are given the opportunity twice each year to show their work in the Royal Academy.

In 2011 Tracey Emin was appointed Professor of Drawing, and Fiona Rae was appointed Professor of Painting – the first women professors to be appointed in the history of the Academy. Emin was succeeded by Michael Landy, and then David Remfry in 2016 while Rae was succeeded by Chantal Joffe in January 2016.

Library, archive, and collections

The Royal Academy has an important collection of books, archives and works of art accessible for research and display. A large part of these collections have been digitised and can be investigated through the Collection website.

The first president of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, gave his noted self-portrait, beginning the Royal Academy collection. This was followed by gifts from other founding members, such as Gainsborough and Benjamin West. Subsequently each elected Member was required to donate an artwork (known as a "Diploma Work") typical of his or her artistic output, and this practice continues today. Additional donations and purchases have resulted in a collection of approximately a thousand paintings and a thousand sculptures, which show the development of a British School of art. The Academy's collection of works on paper includes significant holdings of drawings and sketchbooks by artists working in Britain from the mid-18th century onwards, including George Romney, Lord Leighton and Dame Laura Knight, as well as a large collection of engravings after the Old Masters, prints after all the leading British artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, and a growing collection of original prints by current academicians.

The library of the Royal Academy is the oldest institutional fine art library in Britain. For more than 200 years it has served the needs of students and teachers in the Academy Schools and provided an important source for the history of British art and architecture. The library contains some 65,000 books, including an historic book collection of approximately 12,000 volumes, acquired before 1920, reflecting the early teaching philosophy of the Academy Schools. The archive forms one of the world's most significant resources for the historical study of British art since 1768.

The photographic collection consists of photographs of Academicians, landscapes, architecture and works of art. Holdings include early portraits by William Lake Price dating from the 1850s, portraits by David Wilkie Wynfield and Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion (1872–85). In addition, there are over 55,000 photographs relating to the history of the Academy, from views of exhibition installations to images of the Academy's homes and its staff.

Wall and ceiling paintings

Among the paintings decorating the walls and ceilings of the building are those of Benjamin West and Angelica Kauffman, in the entrance hall (Hutchison 1968, p. 153), moved from the previous building at Somerset House. In the centre is West's roundel The Graces unveiling Nature c. 1779, surrounded by panels depicting the elements, Fire, Water, Air and Earth. At each end are mounted two of Kauffman's circular paintings, Composition and Design at the West end, and Painting or Colour and Genius or Invention at the East end.

Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo

The most prized possession of the Academy's collection is Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo, left to the Academy by Sir George Beaumont. The Tondo is on display in a purpose-built area on the Sackler Wing gallery level. Carved in Florence in 1504–06, it is the only marble by Michelangelo in the United Kingdom and represents the Virgin Mary and Child with the infant St John the Baptist.

War memorials

In the entrance portico are two war memorials. One is in memory of the students of the Royal Academy Schools who fell in World War I and the second commemorates the 2,003 men of the Artists Rifles who gave their lives in that war with a further plaque to those who died in World War II.

The Artists Rifles, founded in 1860, had its first headquarters at Burlington House. Four members of the Artists Rifles were elected president of the Royal Academy.


Membership of the Royal Academy is composed of up to 80 practising artists, each elected by ballot of the General Assembly of the Royal Academy, and known individually as Royal Academicians (RA, or more traditionally as R.A.). The Royal Academy is governed by these Royal Academicians. The 1768 Instrument of Foundation allowed total membership of the Royal Academy to be 40 artists. The category of Associate Member of the Royal Academy (ARA, traditionally as A.R.A.) was introduced in 1769 to provide a means of preselecting suitable candidates to fill future vacancies among Academicians. Originally engravers were completely excluded from the academy, but at the beginning of 1769 the category of Associate-Engraver was created. Their number was limited to six, and unlike other associates, they could not be promoted to full academicians, In 1853 membership of the Academy was increased to 42, and opened to engravers. In 1922, 154 years after the founding of the Royal Academy, Annie Swynnerton became the first woman ARA.

The number of Royal Academicians was increased once again in 1972 to 50, and in 1991 the maximum was set at 80. All Academicians must be professionally active, either wholly or partly, in the United Kingdom. Of the 80 Academicians, there must always be at least 14 sculptors, 12 architects and 8 printmakers with the balance being painters. Associate membership was abolished in 1991.

In 1918, it was decided that all Academicians and Associates on reaching the age of 75 would become members of a Senior Order of Academicians, thereby creating a vacancy in the other categories of membership. A senior member is effectively retired from the day-to-day government of the Academy but retains all other membership privileges. All RAs are entitled to exhibit up to six works in the annual Summer Exhibition. They also have the opportunity to exhibit their work in small exhibitions held in the Friends' Room and are occasionally invited to hold major exhibitions in the Sackler Galleries. Many Academicians are involved in teaching in the schools and giving lectures as part of the Royal Academy Education Programme.


Royal Academy of Arts Wikipedia

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