Royal Academy

Royal Academy

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The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 by a group of leading artists and under the patronage of George III. However, the Academy did not receive any state subsidies and was very much under the control of the artists in the form of forty Academicians and twenty Associates (later increased to thirty). The Academy's first president, Joshua Reynolds, established it as a school to train artists in drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture.

Artists who trained at the Royal Academy include: William Blake, Thomas Lawrence and J. M. W. Turner. The first Academy was housed in Pall Mall (1768-1771) but moved to Somerset House (1771-1837) until the British government took over the rooms for office space. It shared premises with the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square until it moved to Burlington House in 1868.

The Royal Academy also gave an opportunity for artists to exhibit and sell their work at an annual Summer Exhibition. The work displayed is chosen by the Royal Academy Selection Committee. The Summer Exhibition held from May to August, became an important feature of the national and international art world.

In 1936 Laura Knight became the first woman to be elected to the academy since the original women members, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser.

Royal Spanish Academy

The Royal Spanish Academy (Spanish: Real Academia Española, generally abbreviated as RAE) is Spain's official royal institution with a mission to ensure the stability of the Spanish language. It is based in Madrid, Spain, and is affiliated with national language academies in 22 other hispanophone nations through the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language. [1] The RAE's emblem is a fiery crucible, and its motto is Limpia, fija y da esplendor ("It purifies, it fixes, and it dignifies"). [2] .

The RAE dedicates itself to language planning by applying linguistic prescription aimed at promoting linguistic unity within and between various territories, to ensure a common standard. The proposed language guidelines are shown in a number of works.

Royal Academy - History

On 2 January 1769, under the patronage of King George III, the Royal Academy met for its first session. The official title of this elite institution is "Royal Academy in London for the Purpose of Cultivating and Improving the Arts of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture," but artists, then and now, simply call it "The R.A." The painters among the R.A.'s founding members were its first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds the portraitist Thomas Gainsborough the landscapist Richard Wilson and Benjamin West, a colonial American who became president upon Reynolds' death in 1792.

The functions of the academy were many. It acted as a school to train young artists as well as a guild to govern the conduct and pricing of established masters. It mounted exhibitions to display recent work to fellow artists, critics, and collectors. And it presented lectures and published catalogues to elevate public taste. For more than a century, London's Royal Academy established the highest cultural standards in the English-speaking world.

The Royal Academy's Summer Exhibitions

Opening in London in early May, the Royal Academy's summer exhibitions have been held annually since 1769. Admission fees and catalogue sales for these popular events made the R.A. self-sustaining. Its financial success even allowed it to grant pensions to needy artists.

Each year, a screening committee would cull several hundred works of art for display from thousands of submitted entries. A hanging committee then arranged the exhibition. Much politicking was involved in the placement of paintings, especially for the best positions at eye level, or "on the line."

To save wall space, pictures were hung frame-by-frame from chair rail to ceiling. The higher canvases, sometimes more than five tiers overhead, were tilted forward to enhance visibility and reduce glare. The huge, sky-lit galleries reverberated with the noise of the thronging crowds who, as usual at social occasions in Georgian England, brought their hunting hounds and lap dogs.

Until the late 1800s, almost every important artist in Britain was elected to the Royal Academy or, at least, occasionally displayed work at its annual exhibitions. (William Blake and Gilbert Stuart are among the many who exhibited but never became members.) There are only two major exceptions. The fashionable portraitist George Romney refused to resign from another artistic society, which violated the R.A.'s exclusive membership laws. And the bitter envy of other architects barred entry to Scotland's neoclassical designer Robert Adam.

Benjamin West, American, 1738 - 1820, Elizabeth, Countess of Effingham, c. 1797, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1947.17.101

Crome, from Norwich in east central England, learned to paint by copying pictures in local private collections. Landscapes by his countrymen Gainsborough and Wilson intrigued him, as did the Dutch old masters such as Hobbema and Van Goyen. Significantly, Rembrandt van Rijn's famous The Mill, of around 1645, then belonged to a Norwich collector and was displayed twice in London during Crome's life.

Moonlight on the Yare, which Crome probably exhibited at the Norwich Society of Artists in 1817, pays homage to Rembrandt's Mill in both its rustic subject and its bold contrast of light and shadow. The eerie nocturnal radiance, however, owes more to Aert van der Neer. In composing his romantic view of a cloudy night over England's River Yare, Crome followed his own advice: "Trifles in nature must be overlooked . your composition forming one grand plan of light and shade."

A lively wit with a good business sense, Crome augmented his successful career as a landscape painter by giving drawing lessons and acting as a picture restorer and art dealer. Crome was instrumental in founding the Norwich Society in 1803 and, after 1806, sometimes also sent paintings for exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

John Crome, British, 1768 - 1821, Moonlight on the Yare, c. 1816/1817, oil on canvas, Paul Mellon Collection, 1983.1.39

Born in rural Suffolk, the largely self-taught Gainsborough established his reputation as a society portraitist at Bath, a popular resort, before moving to London in 1774. Despite his urban success, he never lost his love of the countryside and coastline, lamenting, "I'm sick of portraits and wish very much to . walk off to some sweet village, where I can paint Landskips."

Gainsborough's landscapes, however, are seldom if ever of actual scenery. In accordance with much eighteenth-century art theory, he believed that nature itself was an unsuitable subject. Only after an artist had refined a scene through his sensibilities could he begin to paint it.

In the 1780s, Gainsborough experimented with a "peep-show box." Using translucent paints, he created landscapes on sheets of glass that were then inserted into a shadow box. Backlit with candles, the miniature theatre permitted endless lighting schemes by means of changeable screens of colored silk. Depicting an imaginary seacoast, this canvas reveals the influence of Gainsborough's viewing box. Framed by the dark beach and pale cliff, the sky and surf seem phosphorescent.

As usual, Gainsborough improvised as he worked. The boulder in the lower-right corner conceals two fishermen and an anchor that he later painted out.

Thomas Gainsborough, British, 1727 - 1788, Seashore with Fishermen, c. 1781/1782, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.121

Gainsborough increasingly strove to depict idyllic scenery and extraordinary colors. This picturesque vista of butter-yellow clouds floating in a mauve sky is far too perfect to exist in the real world. Gainsborough, however, required a tangible subject so that he could study and capture the shimmering effects of light upon surfaces.

Writing about some of Gainsborough's landscapes, his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds revealed, "He even framed a kind of model of landskips, on his table composed of broken stones, dried herbs, and pieces of looking glass, which he magnified and improved into rocks, trees, and water." Here, shiny hard coal may have served for the wet banks of the brook, a crushed mirror for the glistening ripples, and broccoli and brussels sprouts for the forest. Thus, from a scale model, Gainsborough did indeed "magnify and improve" upon nature.

Liked and respected by his colleagues, Gainsborough developed a painting technique so personal that he had virtually no followers. He, in fact, embodies the notion of eccentric genius. In an age when a Grand Tour was considered a necessary part of one's education, he never went abroad. Though a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1769, he ignored its business meetings and, following a quarrel over the hanging of his pictures, refused to exhibit there after 1783.

Thomas Gainsborough, British, 1727 - 1788, Mountain Landscape with Bridge, c. 1783/1784, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.107

In 1786, at the age of eighteen, Catherine Tatton married James Drake-Brockman, who became High Sheriff of County Kent. This wedding portrait was commissioned by the Rev. John Lynch, Archdeacon of Canterbury, her uncle and the executor of her father's estate. Miss Tatton is fashionably attired with a wide-brimmed sun hat silhouetting the loose ringlets of her hair.

Gainsborough held his posing sessions during business hours, but Sir Joshua Reynolds also noted "his custom of painting by night" with candles under which "the flesh seems to take a higher and richer tone of colour." In addition to imitating the flattering glow of candlelight, Gainsborough is known to have used exceptionally long brushes that he wielded like fencers' foils, vivaciously touching in "odd scratches and marks." Such extreme sketchiness is apparent even in this bust-length portrait. Reynolds reluctantly admitted that "this chaos, this uncouth and shapeless appearance, by a kind of magick, at a certain distance assumes form, and all the parts seem to drop into their proper place."

Rather than working from extensive preliminary drawings—the academic practice advised by Reynolds—Gainsborough dashed off his portraits directly on the canvas. Here, the puff of the blue sash and the hand elegantly toying with it were afterthoughts.

Thomas Gainsborough, British, 1727 - 1788, Miss Catherine Tatton, 1786, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.99

The Scottish portraitist Henry Raeburn favored warm, dramatic illumination. Here the subject is bathed in twilight, his face half-lit, half-shaded. David Anderson stands proudly, holding an empty glove nonchalantly against his hip, while his bare hand holds his upturned hat. The portrait reveals no strain on Anderson's character even though it was created during a crisis in his career.

Anderson had served under the first governor-general of British India, Warren Hastings. Upon their return to Britain in 1785, Hastings agreed to commission his portrait from Sir Joshua Reynolds, London's court painter, as a gift to Anderson. In turn, Anderson sent this likeness by Raeburn, Edinburgh's leading artist, to Hastings in 1790. Therefore, in creating this portrait, Raeburn pitted his emerging reputation against that of Reynolds, under whom he had recently studied.

The exchanged tokens of friendship may have bolstered the sitters' spirits during one of the most infamous political scandals in British history—the Warren Hastings' Trial. A cabal of Englishmen, wishing to exploit India, had sullied Hastings' reputation by turning him into a scapegoat for their own greed. Although Hastings was exonerated in 1795, his impeachment proceedings had lasted seven years, during which time Raeburn portrayed Hastings' beleaguered associate.

Sir Henry Raeburn, Scottish, 1756 - 1823, David Anderson, 1790, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.56

This lovely Scottish woman was the eldest daughter of William Urquhart, 2d Laird of Craigston, Aberdeenshire. Her portrait and companion likenesses of her parents were paid for on 10 January 1794 the artist's receipt was preserved among Urquhart family papers.

It is unfortunate that nothing more is known of the sitter's life, because Miss Eleanor Urquhart is deemed by some connoisseurs to be Raeburn's masterpiece. The canvas resonates with cool grays and warm tans, the pale figure being set against the slightly darker tones of the background. Broad, loose strokes of the brush are applied with virtuoso flair. The soft sketchiness of the muslin dress and craggy mountains complements the fresh spontaneity of her face.

That this painting can be documented to just before 1794 is important because Raeburn did not keep studio account books and never dated any of his pictures. His style matured early, without much modification, after a few months in London and a year or two in Rome during the mid-1780s. So, it is difficult to establish a chronology for the more than one thousand portraits he made during a fifty-year career as Scotland's foremost painter. Although dedicated to his art, Raeburn need not have worked at all. At twenty-four, he had married a wealthy widow and become a member of Edinburgh society.

Sir Henry Raeburn, Scottish, 1756 - 1823, Miss Eleanor Urquhart, c. 1793, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.101

Reynolds' charming portrait of this seven-year-old aristocrat plucking a rosebud was commissioned by her father, the 5th Earl of Carlisle, who wrote that she was "always a great favourite" in spite of her headstrong character. Lady Caroline wears a cape and mittens to protect her peaches-and-cream complexion from the sunlight.

Whether the artist or the family chose the child's pose is unknown, but the act of sitting or kneeling upon the ground would have been immediately recognized by their contemporaries as a sign of unaffected simplicity. One newspaper critic, however, entirely missed the point, stating that "she seems to be curtseying to the Rose-Bush." As emblems of Venus, the goddess of love, the roses may allude to the promise of Lady Caroline's beauty and grace as an adult. Moreover, in reference to her youth, the flowers in this classical urn are in bud.

Lady Caroline wed at eighteen, and after her husband became the 1st Earl of Cawdor, this canvas was inscribed at bottom right with her maiden and married titles. (She, incidentally, was the niece of the mother depicted in Reynolds' Lady Elizabeth Delmé and Her Children.) Following its exhibition at London's Royal Academy in 1779, Lady Caroline Howard hung in Yorkshire's Castle Howard, one of the largest country houses in England.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, British, 1723 - 1792, Lady Caroline Howard, 1778, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.106

A configuration of linked ovals, this composition rises from the full skirt through a flounced bodice to a wide-brimmed bonnet that frames the sitter's face like a halo. The oval back of the chair and the pose of the raised wrist echo the flowing curves.

The equally masterful color scheme of variations on black, white, and red is now hard to appreciate because Romney used bitumen. A pigment derived from coal tar, bitumen gives lush depth to shadows, but rapidly decays, causing cracks to appear in the dark areas.

The sheet music and the books provide clues to Mary Johnson Blair's personality. She was a prominent London hostess with acquaintances in musical, literary, and aristocratic circles. The crimson drapery and fluted column are Grand Manner attributes of classical culture. Romney's studio appointment books indicate that Mrs. Blair sat seven times between 13 April 1787 and 4 May 1789.

Ironically, Romney's lifelong ambition to create monumental scenes from history and literature was thwarted by his own rejection of London's Royal Academy, England's only major avenue for exhibiting or selling such narrative pictures. Instead, he achieved fame and fortune for doing what he liked least—creating likenesses. Romney muttered about "this cursed portrait-painting! How I am shackled with it!"

George Romney, British, 1734 - 1802, Mrs. Alexander Blair, 1787-1789, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.77

Later Developments

By the nineteenth century, many artists began to challenge the idea of a centralized authority. Modern artists, whose preference was for naturalism, began painting en plein air. While nature was, for groups such as the rural Barbizon School, a source of great inspiration, the Romantics were emphasizing the power of color to conjure scenes of drawn from an impassioned imagination. As Delacroix noted, "Draughtsman may be made, but colorists are born". The case against the academy became so compelling that by the mid-nineteenth century even academic artists such as Bouguereau and Cabanel aspired to combine the classical elements of the academy with Romanticism's passion and color (though such concessions were dismissed by avant-gardists as stale and sentimental and only served the interests of the bourgeoisie).

It wouldn't be long before many artists were rejecting authority entirely indeed, it is arguable that in its early stages modern art came to be defined exclusively by its opposition to academy art. Today, with the state having withdrawn from large-scale patronage, and official exhibition venues having ceded ground to a variety of public museums and commercial galleries, art schools have also modernized. For example, many academies have reduced their emphasis on life drawing classes, and others remain sceptical of the value of dogmatic training programs.

What is the Summer Exhibition?

Reynolds, Turner and Constable

At one time the show was known simply as ‘The Exhibition’, where the likes of Gainsborough and Reynolds, Turner and Constable sharpened their skills against each other.

Nowadays, although there’s a plethora of art fairs, commercial galleries and contemporary exhibitions to choose from, the galleries at Burlington House make an unrivalled setting for artists to display and sell their artworks.

The RA Schools

For all of the works displayed, the artist is the seller of the work and the Academy takes a 30% commission on all ‘Offers to Purchase’, the proceeds going towards the RA Schools and our diverse programme of exhibitions. The array of works and the celebratory atmosphere of the exhibition make for an unique experience where visitors can browse, buy and discuss the works on show.

The 18th century

In the 18th century all the exhibits were figurative. Hung from dado to cornice, pictures were abutted, tipped towards the viewer and arranged symmetrically. History painting and swagger portraits by the celebrated artists of the day sat on the line (the bottom edge of the exhibit being eight foot from the ground), with smaller pieces below and others by lesser-known artists skied above.

The Formation of a French School: the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture

In a room filled to the brim with painting and sculpture, well-dressed men in powdered wigs assemble around a desk while stragglers chat with their neighbors. Jean-Baptiste Martin’s small painting depicts a meeting of the distinguished French art academy without an artist’s tool in sight—only the ornate room situates the scene in the Louvre palace. The choice to not show the artists at work, but rather as fashionable gentlemen engaged in sociable intellectual exchange speaks directly to the early history of the French Royal Academy.

The Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture) was established in 1648. It oversaw—and held a monopoly over—the arts in France until 1793. The institution provided indispensable training for artists through both hands-on instruction and lectures, access to prestigious commissions, and the opportunity to exhibit their work. Significantly, it also controlled the arts by privileging certain subjects and by establishing a hierarchy among its members. This hierarchical structure ultimately led to the Académie’s dissolution during the French Revolution. However, the Académie in Paris became the model for many art academies across Europe and in the colonial Americas.


This preeminent training organization for painters and sculptors was founded in response to two related concerns: a nationalistic desire to establish a decidedly French artistic tradition, and the need for a large number of well-trained artists to fulfill important commissions for the royal circle. Previous monarchs had imported artists (primarily from Flanders and Italy), to execute major projects. In contrast, King Louis XIV sought to cultivate and support French artists as part of his grander project of self-fashioning, with art playing a vital role in the construction of the royal image.

The Académie quickly rose to prominence, in conjunction with the Ministry of Arts (responsible for construction, decoration, and upkeep of the king’s buildings) and the First Painter to the King—the most prestigious title an artist could achieve. Two men were integral to the institution’s early history: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, an increasingly influential statesman who acted as the institution’s protector, and the artist Charles Le Brun, who would go on to be both First Painter and the Académie’s Director. Both men sought to elevate the status of artists by emphasizing their intellectual and creative capacities, and both sought to differentiate members of the Académie—academicians— from guild members (guilds were a medieval system that strictly regulated artisans). The Académie, whose members were financially supported by the King, moved into its permanent location at the Louvre Palace in 1692, further reinforcing the institution’s status. Given such institutional preoccupations, Martin’s decision to show artists as gentlemen socializing rather than as artisans laboring takes on new significance.


From its inception, the Académie was structured around hierarchy. There were distinct levels of membership that an artist could advance through over time. In art, too, there was a hierarchy: painting was prioritized over sculpture, and certain subjects were considered more noble than others. To become a member, artists submitted work for evaluation by academicians, who accepted them at a certain level, based on the kind of subjects they aspired to paint. If they passed this first phase, applicants would execute a “reception piece” depicting a subject chosen by the academicians.

The Académie divided paintings into five categories, or genres, ranked in terms of difficulty and prestige:

  1. History Painting—encompassing highbrow subjects taken from the classical tradition, the bible, or allegories, this type of painting was considered the highest genre because it required proficiency in depicting the human body, as well as imagination and intellect to depict what could not be seen. These were often large-scale multi-figure paintings.
  2. Portraiture —focusing on capturing likeness, this genre was prestigious, and certainly lucrative, but less so than history painting. Portraitists were derided for “merely” copying nature rather than inventing (an oversimplification as few portraits were executed entirely from life).
  3. Genre Painting —depicting scenes of everyday life, this genre included the human figure but ostensibly did not represent grand ideas, although many genre paintings had moralizing undertones. Genre paintings were smaller in size than history paintings, further detracting from their prestige.
  4. Landscapes —consisting of all representations of rural or urban topography, real or imagined, this genre became especially popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  5. Still Life Painting —often indulging in the juxtaposition of colors and textures, these paintings represented inanimate (often luxury) objects and drew heavily on the seventeenth-century Dutch tradition of such subjects. While at times other moralizing symbols such as memento mori (reminders of human mortality) were included, these were not an intrinsic part of the genre, which was considered to require no invention on the part of the artist (since, they were painting what they could see).


Benoît-Louis Prévost, after Charles-Nicolas Cochin, “The School of Art” (“Ecole de dessein”), planche I. Recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts mécaniques, avec leur explications, volume 3 (Paris, 1763)

Nicolas Bernard Lépicié, Seated Male Nude Facing Right, mid-18th century, charcoal, stumped, black chalk heightened with white on gray-green paper, 50.7 x 34 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Academic instruction was centered on drawing (following the precedent of Italian drawing schools established in the sixteenth century). The Académie maintained a rigid curriculum to instruct artists, as recorded in contemporary accounts and depictions. An etching illustrating a 1763 description of the “school of art” shows how students first learned to draw by copying drawings and engravings (seen on the left) before moving on to drawing plaster casts to learn how to translate the three-dimensional form into two dimensions (seen at center). Students would then copy large-scale sculpture (as seen at the right-most edge) before being allowed to draw the live nude model (as seen in the middle-right portion, slightly set back from the foreground). Drawing the male nude form was the bedrock of the Académie’s curriculum, an essential building block for painters, particularly those destined to produce history paintings. Students produced many single-figure nude studies, known as académies, such as this example from Nicolas Bernard Lépicié. Props could be added subsequently to transform the posed bodies into identifiable figures, as Bernard Picart has done with the drawing Male Nude with a Lamp, where the figure, with the addition of a lamp, becomes the philosopher Diogenes.

Bernard Picart, Male Nude with a Lamp (Diogenes), 1724, red chalk on laid paper,30.9 x 45.7 cm (National Gallery of Art)

In a lively drawing, Charles Natoire depicts himself in a red cape in the left foreground, providing feedback on students’ drawings. The majority of students work independently, focused on the two nude models in an intertwined pose selected by the supervising professor. The opportunity to study two interacting male bodies was a rarer and more challenging exercise.

Charles Joseph Natoire, Life Class at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, 1746, pen, black & brown ink, grey wash & watercolour & traces of pencil over black chalk on laid paper, 45.3 x 32.2 cm (The Courtauld Gallery)

Outside of the Académie’s official spaces, academicians would provide advanced students opportunities to draw nude female models. In addition to supervising drawing education, each professor selected students to be part of his studio. This is where artists actually learned to paint or sculpt by emulating their teacher, often contributing to his large-scale commissions. Studio practices varied, and not all studio members were necessarily enrolled Académie students.

Both academicians and students attended lectures addressing theoretical and practical aspects of artistic practice, such as the importance of expressions or how to apply paint to ensure longevity. These were offered by professors and so-called amateurs. These honorary Académie members were not professional artists but art lovers and “friends of artists”—often from the nobility—who advised artists on questions of composition, aesthetics, and iconography and often championed certain artists, sometimes as patrons or collectors.

The draw of Rome

The classical tradition was central to the Académie’s curriculum. In 1666, the Académie opened a satellite in Rome to facilitate students’ study of antiquity. In 1674, the Académie established the Prix de Rome (Rome Prize), a prestigious award that allowed its most promising artists to study in Rome for three to five years. While the focus of the French Academy in Rome was facilitating the study of classical antiquity, students also drew after important Renaissance and Baroque artworks, as seen in Hubert Robert’s red chalk drawing depicting an artist copying Domenichino’s fresco in a Roman church.

Hubert Robert, Draftsman in the Oratory of S. Andrea, S. Gregorio al Celio, 1763, red chalk, 32.9 x 44.8 cm (Morgan Library & Museum)

While in Rome, these Académie students—called pensionnaires—studied canonical artworks and regularly sent their drawings and copies after important works back to Paris to demonstrate their progress. Although not part of the formal curriculum, most artists explored the Roman environs, taking inspiration from the rich landscape, diverse topography, and colorful scenes of peasant life. Important connections were forged in Rome with other artists, patrons, and supporters.

Salons and the rise of public opinion

Beginning in 1667, the Académie established exhibitions to provide members with the crucial opportunity to display their work to a wider audience, thereby cultivating potential patrons and critical attention. Held annually and, later, biannually, these exhibitions came to be known as Salons, after the Louvre’s salon carré where they took place after 1725. The Salon became a significant space of artistic exchange and an important opportunity to view art prior to the formation of the public art museum.

Pietro Antonio Martini, View of the Salon of 1785, 1785, etching, 27.6 x 48.6 cm (image), 36.2 x 52.7 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Artworks in the Salon were selected by a jury of academicians. Paintings were displayed according to size and genre, with larger works (history painting and portraiture) occupying the more prestigious higher levels, as can be seen in an engraving of the Salon of 1785 where Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii features prominently in the center. With the 1737 introduction of a broader public to the Salon came the advent of public opinion and the emergence of art criticism. The Académie published a booklet that listed the displayed works, organized by the artist’s rank, called the livret. Art collectors and learned Salon-goers penned opinions analyzing the artistic and intellectual merit of the exhibited artworks some of these, like those written by philosopher Denis Diderot, were meant for a small community of like-minded individuals both in France and beyond, but increasingly art criticism was printed in newspapers for access by a broader public.

Genders and genres

The Académie was a male space, for the most part some painters accepted female students in their studios, particularly in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Women artists were barred by propriety from studying the male nude figure, a core aspect of Academic training. This rendered them unable to become officially recognized history painters, and they were therefore restricted to genres considered to be less intellectually rigorous. During its 150-year long history, the Académie only welcomed four women as full members: Marie-Thérèse Reboul was admitted in 1757 Anne Vallayer-Coster was admitted in 1770 Adélaïde Labille-Guiard and Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun were both admitted in 1783.

This was the artist’s reception piece for the Académie. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le-Brun, Peace Bringing Back Abundance, 1780, oil on canvas, 103 x 133 cm (Louvre)

Despite their acceptance to the Académie, these women had limited options. Painting primarily still-lifes (like Reboul), Vallayer-Coster elevated that genre with large-scale ornate compositions. Labille-Guiard led a large studio of female students and was well-known as a prominent portraitist. So too did Vigée-LeBrun, who pushed the boundaries of genre and her gender by occasionally painting allegories, including her reception piece for the Académie. Familial connections (in the case of Reboul, Labille-Guiard, and Vigée-LeBrun) or royal protectors (in the case of Vallayer-Coster, Labille-Guiard, and Vigée-LeBrun) played vital roles in their success. Without such champions, female artists were unable to penetrate the patriarchal institution of the Académie. Still, their work and personal lives were subjected to undue public scrutiny and their achievements were often maligned.

Abolition and afterlives

In the 1780s, the Académie came under attack by members and outsiders for politicizing the distribution of prizes and honors. Its rigid hierarchies, inequitable structures, and rampant nepotism were incompatible with the Revolution’s core values of Liberty and Equality. Major artists who had benefited from the institution lobbied for its dissolution. With the overthrow of the monarchy and Louis XVI’s execution, institutions with indelible royal connections were scrutinized and deemed irrelevant. The Académie was abolished on August 8, 1793 by order of the National Convention.

After several years of hardship for artists brought about by the erosion of royal, noble, and ecclesiastical patronage during the Revolution, the Directory government revived many of the structures of the Académie in establishing a National Institute of Sciences and Arts (Institut nationale des sciences et des arts, subsequently Institut de France) in 1795. The new organization’s membership included many former academicians, who reinstated certain aspects of the now-defunct Académie, such as the Rome Prize in 1797. The hierarchy of genres, inculcated in the Académie’s members and audiences, remained central to understanding the arts throughout the nineteenth century.

Additional resources
Institut de France

Laura Auricchio, Melissa Lee Hyde, Mary Sheriff, and Jordana Pomeroy, Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections (Scala Arts Publishers, Inc., 2012).

Colin B Bailey, “‘Artists Drawing Everywhere’: The Rococo and Enlightenment in France,” in Jennifer Tonkovich et al., Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection (New York: Morgan Library & Museum, 2017).

Albert Boime, “Cultural Politics of the Art Academy,” The Eighteenth Century vol. 35, no 3 (1994), pp. 203–22.

Thomas E. Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth Century Paris (Yale University Press, 1985).

Christian Michel, The Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture: The Birth of the French School, 1648–1793, translation by Chris Miller (The Getty Research Institute, 2018).

Richard Wrigley, The Origins of French Art Criticism: from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration (Oxford University Press, 1993).

The first academies to promote science and the arts were founded in Italy in the late fifteenth century. About two centuries later, France and Britain followed. A Swedish academy was first planned in the mid seventeenth century, when Queen Kristina hoped for something like the Académie Française, which would advance the language and culture of the new Swedish Empire. However, it was not until the eighteenth century the academies still extant today were founded.

The Royal Society of Sciences at Uppsala, which dates to 1710, ranks among the first, though if we only count the national academies then the oldest are the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts (founded in 1735) and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (founded in 1739 and granted a royal charter in 1741). The Academy of Sciences, which has always concentrated on science and mathematics, was followed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters in 1753. The majority of Sweden’s royal academies were founded in the eighteenth century: the Swedish Academy (royal in everything but name, was founded by Gustav III in 1786 to advance the Swedish language and Swedish literature), the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, the Royal Swedish Society of Naval Sciences, and the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences. The Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry joined them in the early nineteenth century the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy for Swedish Folk Culture were founded in the twentieth century.

In 2019 it was announced the ten royal academies were the responsible national authorities in their various fields of interest.

What’s on

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020

It’s here at last – David Hockney’s rejuvenating iPad paintings are the tonic to lift your spirits.

Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict

22 May – 19 September 2021

Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul

Free displays

Summer Exhibition 2021

22 September 2021 – 2 January 2022

Young Artists’ Summer Show 2021

RA Schools Show 2021

Royal Academicians

All of the Royal Academicians (RAs) are practising artists who help steer our vision, support our activities and plan for the future. Each Academician is elected by their peers in one of four categories: Painter, Sculptor, Architect and Printmaker.

At any one time there are no more than 80 RAs. They are all practicing professional artists who work in the UK. Of these 80, there must always be at least 14 Sculptors, 12 Architects and 8 Printmakers the rest are all Painters. When an Academician reaches the age of 75, they become a Senior Academician. In addition are the Honorary RAs – artists from outside the UK – and Honorary Fellows and Honorary Members, eminent individuals from beyond the art world. All are elected by existing RAs.

We have 11 committees which make important decisions about our activities, from Learning to Finance. Academicians sit on all of these committees, meaning practising artists and architects are deeply involved in our day-to-day running and strategy.

All RAs are entitled to exhibit up to six works in the annual Summer Exhibition, and they also have the opportunity to show their work in small solo exhibitions in our other galleries. Many of the RAs are also involved in teaching at the RA Schools and giving lectures as part of the RA Learning Programme.

The Royal Academy: a history of sulks and squabbles

V isit the Royal Academy in London and you pass the 20th-century statue of its first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, standing in the courtyard in front of its entrance. Palette in hand, the bewigged and frock-coated artist is a knight of the realm as well as a portraitist in action. He is the representative of a confident age. The Discourses that he wrote in his office of president are often treated by art historians as the artistic code of a ruling class that knew its aesthetic values. Yet, as Charles Saumarez Smith's new book shows, the Academy he headed was born of rivalry and resentment, amid some confusion and much bickering.

Saumarez Smith, the present chief executive of the Royal Academy, has raked through his institution's archives for the story of those squabbles. A Society of Artists, founded one heady evening at the Turk's Head tavern in Soho, had been set up by ambitious artists to promote an annual exhibition of their wares. The first of these, in 1760, was a huge success, revealing the lively interest of a genteel public in new art. A rival Free Society of Artists was set up by artists with a radical bent, with Hogarth their secular saint. Meanwhile a faction with grander ambitions, whose prime mover was the leading architect William Chambers, split off from the society and turned to the young George III for support. They wanted something altogether more elite.

As the nascent Academy struggles into being, Saumarez Smith follows the bureaucratic manoeuvres almost day by day (the dates are marked in the book's margins). "Much of what was discussed consisted of boring, but necessary, attention to due process," and the author replicates the many clauses and subclauses by which these enthusiastic would-be bureaucrats regulated their artistic activities. From the first they anticipated conflicts, specifying elaborate procedures for penalising every form of inappropriate behaviour. The fight over the founding of the institution is entertaining enough, with leading players such as Reynolds and Chambers professing grand ideals while driven by vanity and pique. They were right to suppose that the king would take an interest and supply funding: the fledgling institution appealed strongly to his sense of national self-importance. Academies existed in Italy, the Netherlands and France – why not in London, thriving capital of a nation that, since a series of triumphs in imperial wars, now considered itself Europe's top dog? The capital's wealth was bringing accomplished artists from all over Europe, and the consumption of culture was becoming the best way to display your gentility.

The sketches of the 36 founding members are tantalising, revealing not just the conventional Georgian portraitists you might expect, but a high proportion of immigrants, especially from Italy, who had arrived to live off Europe's most dynamic artistic marketplace. Their collective energy is preserved in Johan Zoffany's group portrait of the academicians completed in 1772 and exhibited at the annual exhibition that year. Gathered in a semi-circle around two naked male models, these Enlightenment gentlemen (the two female founding members of the Academy are not depicted [see footnote]) fancy themselves arbiters of taste, but Zoffany has slyly made them an assembly of posers and eccentrics. Recognisable artists, you might say.

A couple of years after the Academy was founded, George III gave it Somerset House, a then dilapidated royal palace (it would be a century before it moved into its present premises at Burlington House in Piccadilly). The king loathed Reynolds, but duly knighted him for giving gravitas to his pet project. Reynolds, meanwhile, had hoped that his Academy would become a repository for old masters, from which its members would drink in the proper visual principles of art. This was not to be, but it did become a school of drawing both from life and from plaster casts of the antique. One of the attractions was the provision of life models of both sexes, now a respectable feature of a royal institution. The Royal Schools (as the founding members styled their training college) took in not students so much as up-and-coming painters, some in their 30s. Saumarez Smith's capsule sketches of these ambitious young men lets us glimpse aspirant artists who were not born to ease – the sons of a brewer, a Hungarian trumpeter and a sausage maker – and were jostling for advancement in the mart of Georgian London.

One dark oil by Elias Martin shows students appropriately dwarfed by classical torsos in the Cast Room. "My thoughts day and night run on nothing but the antique," wrote James Barry. The highest status was given to so-called "history painting". Painters such as Barry, or another founding academician Benjamin West, commanded admiration for huge, morally elevating canvases depicting clinching episodes of classical or biblical narrative. Their work showed that painting was not merely a manual skill, but one of the liberal arts. The Royal Academy's first annual exhibition opened in April 1769, with entry charged at one shilling (just enough to keep out the riff-raff). It soon became an important event in London's social calendar. As Saumarez Smith observes, it marked the birth of a public interest in contemporary art, as opposed to the old masters that men and women of taste were supposed to revere. At the King's command, the starring work at the first exhibition was West's The Departure of Regulus, a huge history painting depicting, in a frigidly grand manner, the self-sacrifice of a noble Roman. Destined for a longer life were the Reynolds portraits of actors and aristocrats that accompanied this inert artifact. In his annual lectures, Reynolds espoused his culture's official faith in history painting. As a practitioner, he deployed his formidable skills to become the most accomplished portraitist of the age.

Saumarez Smith claims that he well recognises the squabbles and sulks when artists found that their paintings had not been hung in the positions they would wish. Sadly without illustrative anecdotes, he tells us that academicians still "mind passionately where their works are hung, because this is a visible manifestation of their standing among their peers". Indeed, he concludes by celebrating the "deeply disputatious" tendencies of present-day members of the Royal Academy, prone to the "brutal" (his word) working-out of their disagreements. This is the proper inheritance of the Age of Enlightenment. With his own evident belief in civilised sociability, and the salving power of the annual dinner of academicians, Saumarez Smith writes as something of an 18th-century gent himself.

John Mullan is professor of English at University College London.

This footnote was appended on 16 January 2013:
The two female founding members of the Academy are indeed depicted. They do not appear in person in the painting, since the occasion is presented as a life class with two naked male models, to which women were not allowed. Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser do, however, appear in portraits within Zoffany's Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, on the right hand wall.

Watch the video: - Ο πρώτος χορός Πετρούνια - Μιλλούση στο γαμήλιο πάρτι (August 2022).