The Royal Academy of Arts: A History of Excellence and Beauty

The Royal Academy of Arts is a highly esteemed institution that has been at the forefront of promoting art and culture in the United Kingdom and beyond since its founding in 1768. This article will provide an overview of the institution’s history, its founding members, exhibitions and art schools, notable works on display, and recent developments.

Foundation and First Members

The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 with the aim of promoting and disseminating the arts. The signing of the Instrument of Foundation was celebrated with the participation of notable personalities from the art world, such as Thomas Gainsborough, Paul Sandby, Angelica Kauffman, Benjamin West, and Richard Wilson. Furthermore, George III claimed to be the patron, protector, and supporter of the Academy.

The first president was Sir Joshua Reynolds, an artist of great fame who helped make the Academy one of the most important institutions for the promotion of art. The first treasurer was the architect William Chambers, who designed the first locals of the Academy.

Exhibitions and Art Schools

In addition to exhibitions, the Academy was dedicated to the training of artists through its art schools. Among the students who attended these schools were some of the biggest names in British art, such as Lawrence, Constable, and Turner.

The first exhibitions were held in a house in Pall Mall, but the Academy soon moved to apartments in Somerset House, where the library was also located. When Chambers designed the new Academy building, which was built starting in 1776, the Academy was finally able to host large-format exhibits.

The Move to Burlington House

After moving to Trafalgar Square in a building shared with the National Gallery, the Academy moved to Burlington House in 1868. After the building’s renovation, 17 main galleries and two studio rows were provided for the art schools. Recent improvements to Burlington House include HT Cadbury-Brown’s new library and Sir Norman Foster’s Sackler Galleries (1991).

The Importance of Exhibited Works

Since the Academy has elected its founding members, each new Academician is required to present to the Academy “a painting, a bas-relief, or other sample of his skills”. This has led to the Academy acquiring a wide range of highly valuable works of art, chosen by their creators. Other works have been acquired over the years through purchases and donations.

Among the most notable works donated to the Academy are those by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, and Stubbs. Furthermore, the Academy owns the famous Carrara tondo, Madonna con Bambino and the Child with St. John, by Michelangelo, one of the sculptor’s four important works outside Italy.

Recent Developments

The Royal Academy of Arts continues to play an important role in promoting art and culture in the United Kingdom and beyond. In recent years, the institution has undergone several changes to better serve the needs of its members and the public.

One of the most significant developments in recent years is the renovation of Burlington Gardens, a project that aims to create more exhibition space and improve facilities for visitors. The project, which began in 2016, is expected to be completed in 2021.

The Royal Academy of Arts is a national institution that has played a crucial role in promoting and disseminating the arts in the United Kingdom and beyond since its founding in 1768. With a rich history, a vast collection of notable works, and a commitment to education and innovation, the Academy remains a cornerstone of the UK’s cultural landscape.


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