The Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts was founded through a personal act of King George III on 10th 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 XVIII 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 XVIII and XIX 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 34 founding Members were a group of prominent artists and architects 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 first Royal Academy exhibition of contemporary art, open to all artists, was held on 25th April 1769 and ran through until 27th 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 Academy today continues to aspire, in the words of its XVIII 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, Joseph Wiliam 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.
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