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This article is about an art institution in London. For other meanings of 'Royal Academy see Royal Academy .
For the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (Netherlands), see Royal Academy of Art .

Satiric drawing of Sir William Chambers, one of the founders, trying to slay the 8-headed hydra of the Incorporated Society of Artists
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington Housemarker on Piccadillymarker, Londonmarker, Englandmarker. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate.


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 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 judgment in the arts and to arrange the exhibition of contemporary works of art attaining an appropriate standard of excellence. Behind this concept was the desire 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 centered on continental and traditional art forms providing contemporary 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 to show their work in Britain. The success of this venture led to the formation of the Society of Artists and the Free Society of Artists. Both these groups were primarily exhibiting societies and their initial success was marred by internal fractions amongst 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 used his connections with King George III to gain royal patronage and financial support of the Academy and the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds was made its first President.

The Instrument of Foundation of the Royal Academy signed by King George III on 10 December 1768 named 34 Founder Members and allowed for a total membership of 40. The Founder Members were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, Thomas Sandby, Francis Cotes, John Baker, Mason Chamberlin, John Gwynn, Thomas Gainsborough, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, Jeremiah Meyer, Francis Milner Newton, Paul Sandby, Francesco Bartolozzi, Charles Catton, Nathaniel Hone the Elder, William Tyler, Nathaniel Dance, Richard Wilson , George Michael Moser, Samuel Wale, Peter Toms, Angelica Kauffman, Richard Yeo, Mary Moser, William Chambers, Joseph Wilton, George Barret, Edward Penny, Augustino Carlini, Francis Hayman, Dominic Serres, John Richards, Francesco Zuccarelli, George Dance. William Hoare and Johann Zoffany were added to this list later by the King and are known as Nominated Members. Amongst 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 Mallmarker although in 1771 it was accorded temporary accommodation for its Library and Schools in Old Somerset Housemarker, then a royal palace. In 1780 it was installed in purpose-built apartments on the Strandmarker front of New Somerset Housemarker, which had been designed by Sir William Chambers, the Academy's first treasurer. The Academy moved in 1837 to Trafalgar Squaremarker, where it occupied the east wing of the recently completed National Gallerymarker (designed by another Academician, William Wilkins). These premises soon proved too small to house both institutions and in 1868, 100 years after the Academy's foundation, it moved to Burlington Housemarker, Piccadilly, where it is to this day.

The first Royal Academy exhibition of contemporary art, open to all artists, was held on 25 April 1769 and ran through 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 Royal Academy expanded its exhibition program to include a temporary annual loan exhibition of Old Masters' following the cessation of a similar annual exhibition of Old Masters' held by the British Institution. The range and frequency of these loan exhibitions has grown enormously since that time making the Royal Academy a leading art exhibition institution of international importance.


The Royal Academy does not receive financial support from the state or crown. Its income is derived from exhibitions, trust and endowment funds, receipts from its trading activities and from the subscriptions of its Friends and Corporate Members. Much of the cost of its activities is met by sponsorship from commercial and industrial companies, in which the Academy was one of the pioneers. The Academy thus depends upon a wide range of support from the private sector for the accomplishment of its artistic aims.

One of its principal sources of revenue is hosting a programme of temporary loan exhibitions. These are of the highest quality, comparable to those at the National Gallerymarker, the Tate Gallerymarker and leading art galleries outside the United Kingdommarker. 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 Housemarker, which are now known as the "John Madejski Fine Rooms".

Under the Direction of the Exhibitions Secretary Norman Rosenthal the Academy has hosted ambitious exhibitions of contemporary art including in 1997 "Sensation" the collection of work by Young British Artists owned by Charles Saatchi. The show created controversy for including a painting of Myra Hindley that 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. It is not as fashionable as was the case in earlier centuries, and has been largely ignored by the trendy Brit Artists and their patrons; however Tracey Emin exhibited in the 2005 show. In March 2007 this relationship developed further when Tracey 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 and those which are selected are displayed alongside the works of the Academicians. Many of the works are available for purchase.

The Friends of the Royal Academy is a charity which was founded by Sir Hugh Casson in 1977 as a way of providing valuable financial support for the Royal Academy and to allow supporters unlimited access to our internationally acclaimed exhibition programme. Members of the public can join the Friends of the RA for as little as £70 a year and receive many benefits such as unlimited entry to exhibitions with a family adult guest and up to four family children, the use of the exclusive Friends Rooms and receive the quarterly RA Magazine. Over the years the Friends scheme has grown in size and importance and in 2007 celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with almost 90,000 Friends.

In 2004 the Academy attracted press and media attention for a series of financial scandals and reports of a feud between Rosenthal and other senior staff that resulted in the cancellation of what would have been profitable exhibitions. In 2006, it attracted further press by erroneously placing only the support for a sculpture on display in the belief that it was the sculpture, 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.

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 that pulsed through 20th century art have left some of the older prize funds looking somewhat anachronistic. But efforts are still made to award each prize to a student producing work that bears a relation to the intentions of the original benefactor.

Royal Academy Schools

The Royal Academy Schools is the oldest art school in the country and still offers the only 3 year postgraduate art course to its students.

The Royal Academy Schools was the first institution to provide professional training for artists in Britain. The Schools' programme of formal training was originally modeled upon that of the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, founded by Louis XIV in 1648, and 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 its existence, 77 students were enrolled into the Schools. 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, Sir John Soane, Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake, Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, David Wilkie, William Etty and Sir Edwin Landseer. The term of studentship was at first six years. This was increased to seven years in 1792 and to ten in 1800 and it remained at ten till 1853. These figures must be regarded, how¬ever, only as years of eligibility. Undoubtedly many of the students did not complete their full term but there are no details of attendances at this early date or any record of the termination of studentships.

Teaching in the Royal Academy Schools was undertaken by a system of lectures delivered by Professors and Royal Academician 'Visitors'. Royal Academicians 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 a further 3 in 1862.

The Royal Academy has always provided free tuition to all its student. Tuition is given by practising artists, many of the them Members of the Royal Academy, under the direction of the Keeper.

Today some 60 students study in the Schools on a three-year postgraduate course. The program 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 upon evidence of individual ability and commitment, with an emphasis on potential for further development across the three-year tenure of the course. Students are given the opportunity twice each year to show their work in the Royal Academy.

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. See External Links below.

The first president of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, laid the foundation of the Royal Academy collection with the gift of his famous Self-portrait. This was followed by gifts from other artists who founded the Academy, such as Gainsborough and Benjamin West. Subsequently each elected Member was required to donate what became known as a Diploma Work, and this practice continues today. These Diploma Works include sculpture by John Flaxman, Hamo Thornycroft and Phillip King and paintings by J. M. W. Turner, John Constable, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and David Hockney.

Works of art held also include significant collections of drawings and sketchbooks by British artists working from the mid-18th century, a large collection of engravings after the Old Masters, reproductive prints after all the leading British artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, and a growing collection of original prints by current Members of the Academy including Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, Tom Phillips, Jennifer Dickson and Norman Ackroyd.

The Library of the Royal Academy is the oldest institutional fine art library in Britain. For over 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 42,000 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 1760. It documents the activities of an institution that became a national arbiter of taste throughout the 19th century, acting as the primary venue for the exhibition of contemporary art and continuing to this day to run the oldest school of fine art in the country.

The Photographic Collection consists of 19th & 20th century photographs of Academicians, landscapes, architecture and works of art. Holdings include early portraits by William Lake Price dating from the 1850’s, portraits by David Wilkie Wynfield and Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion: An Electrophotographic investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement 1872-1885. 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.

Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo

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


Membership of the Royal Academy is made up of up to 80 practising artists, each elected by ballot of the General Assembly of the Royal Academy, and known individually as Royal Academicians (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. In 1853 membership was increased to 42 allowing Engravers to become members for the first time. The number of Royal Academicians was increased once again in 1972 to 50 and finally, in 1991, the maximum limit was set at 80 members. 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 drawn from the painter category.

The category of Associate Member of the Royal Academy (A.R.A.) was introduced in 1769 to provide a means of pre-selecting suitable candidates to fill future vacancies among Academicians. Associate membership was abolished in 1991.

In 1918 it was decided that all Academicians and Associates on reaching the age of 75 become members of a Senior Order of Academicians so 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.

List of RAs

(incomplete list)


President Served
Sir Joshua Reynolds 1768–1792
Benjamin West 1792–1805
James Wyatt 1805–1806
Benjamin West 1806–1820
Sir Thomas Lawrence 1820–1830
Sir Martin Archer Shee 1830–1850
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake 1850–1865
Sir Francis Grant 1866–1878
Lord Leighton 1878–1896
Sir John Everett Millais February–August 1896
Sir Edward Poynter 1896–1918
Sir Aston Webb 1919–1924
Sir Frank Dicksee 1924–1928
Sir William Llewellyn 1928–1938
Sir Edwin Lutyens 1938–1944
Sir Alfred Munnings 1944–1949
Sir Gerald Kelly 1949–1954
Sir Albert Richardson 1954–1956
Sir Charles Wheeler 1956–1966
Sir Thomas Monnington 1966–1976
Sir Hugh Casson 1976–1984
Sir Roger de Grey 1984–1993
Sir Philip Dowson 1993–1999
Phillip King 1999–2004
Sir Nicholas Grimshaw 2004–Present

Other posts

Keeper Served
Prof. Dr. Maurice Cockrill 2005–Present

Treasurer Served
Prof. Paul Huxley 2000–Present

Secretary and Chief Executive Served
Dr. Charles Saumarez Smith 2007–Present

See also


External links

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