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The Royal Academy of Arts


The Royal Academy's home since 1867 is Burlington House, a magnificent listed building at the heart of London's West End.

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 Academy was founded by George III in 1768. The 34 founding Members were a group of prominent artists and architects including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir William Chambers who were determined to achieve professional standing for British art and architecture. They also wanted to provide a venue for exhibitions that would be open to the public; and to establish a school of art through which their skills and knowledge could be passed to future generations of practitioners.

The Academy today continues to aspire, in the words of its eighteenth-century founders, 'to promote the arts of design', that is: to present a broad range of visual art to the widest possible audience; to stimulate debate, understanding and creation through education; and to provide a focus for the interests of artists and art-lovers. The Academy has held an annual Summer Exhibition of works for sale since its formation and its first loan exhibition was held in 1870. The Academy now enjoys an unrivalled reputation as a venue for exhibitions of international importance.

The Academy is an independent institution. The Academicians are all practising painters, sculptors, engravers, printmakers, draughtsmen and architects and are elected by their peers. There are up to 80 Academicians and a number of Senior Academicians who are over 75. The current President of the Academy is Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, an architect. He is the 25th President in a period of 241 years. Past Royal Academicians include John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner, Lord Leighton and Stanley Spencer, while current Members include Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, David Hockney, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor.

The Academy is governed by a Council selected by rotation from the Academicians, and includes the four principal Officers of the Royal Academy - the President, Keeper, Treasurer and the Secretary and Chief Executive, all of whom attend Council ex officio. In addition, following a review of governance in 2007, there can now be three co-opted outside members of Council, currently including John Coombe, the former Finance Director of GSK and Lord Justice Moses. Alongside Council, the Royal Academy Trust, chaired by The Hon Richard S Sharp, looks after the endowment and assists with fund-raising.

The Royal Academy is a charity and raises funds through exhibition ticketing, the Academy Shop and RA Restaurant. It is also supported by private sponsorship, corporate support, individual donations, the Patrons and by its Friends organisation which numbers more than 90,000 Friends.

Summer Exhibition
One of the founding principles of the RA was to 'mount an annual exhibition open to all artists of distinguished merit' to finance the training of young artists in the RA Schools. Now known as the Summer Exhibition and held every year without interruption since 1769, the exhibition attracts around 10,000 works, the selection being carried out by Academicians chaired by the President.

The RA continues to fulfil its founders' aims by mounting a continuous programme of internationally-acclaimed loan exhibitions, supported by extensive education programmes, seminars and debates. The Main Galleries and The Sackler Wing of Galleries host a variety of major exhibitions from all periods and art forms. Recent exhibitions have been Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600 - 1600; Monet in the 20th Century; Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760-1830; China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795; From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg; Byzantium 330-1453 and The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters.

Collections and Library
The RA owns a major collection of works by Royal Academicians past and present together with the oldest and one of the best fine-art libraries in Britain. The Collection has received outstanding bequests such as the Michelangelo Tondo on display in the Sackler Wing of Galleries. Highlights from the Collection can be seen on free guided tours of the John Madejski Fine Rooms.

RA Schools
The Academy's art school (it is known as 'The Schools' because each 'School' originally corresponded to a different element in the training of the artists that had to be mastered in a particular order) is the oldest in Britain. Past students include many famous British artists such as William Blake, JMW Turner, Edwin Landseer, JE Millais and, more recently, John Hoyland, Sir Anthony Caro and Sandra Blow. Today, 60 students study drawing, painting and printmaking on a three-year postgraduate course - the only such course currently available in Britain.

Article By: Dave Roberts

First Published: 13 April 2011

The Royal Academy of Arts


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