Victoria Hinshaw, here.
After two hundred fifty years, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is celebrating its anniversary by adding an adjacent building to increase its exhibition space. The new look, not quite completed, opened May 19, 2018. I visited on May 24 and was delighted with newly added facilities. The annual Summer Exhibition will open June 12, 2018.
The newly added building once held the Museum of Mankind, located “behind” the Piccadilly site of Burlington House, home of the RA since 1868. The Museum of Mankind, an adjunct of the British Museum, moved out of the building in 2004. The RA subsequently bought it and held a competition for a design to merge the two structures. After a complicated series of setbacks, the eventual winner, architect David Chipperfield succeeded admirably. More building pictures are below, after the story of one of the opening exhibitions I enjoyed so much.
The exhibition The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition intrigued me. As a researcher into the art and architecture of the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian periods, I was familiar with many of the early RA fellows, but had never seen the works shown, drawn from the vaults of the RA.
The huge, almost monumental painting leads the visitor into a selection of works by some of the earliest members. Lawrence, largely self-taught, studied briefly at the RA before earning fame as a portraitist and becoming a full member. He was the fourth president of the RA.
At the beginning of the exhibition, a text panel explains The Royal Academy Foundations: In 1768 a group of painters, sculptors and architects convinced King George III to support the creation of the Royal Academy of Arts. Their aim was to improve the quality of art in Britain and to raise the status of British artists and architects. The new Academy had three key functions that continue today:
Run an art school, training the next generation of artists
Hold an exhibition, selling contemporary art annually, now the Summer Exhibition
Elect as Royal Academicians a small number of leading painters, sculptors and architects (and eventually printmakers)
The full title is The Royal Academicians Assembled in their Council Chamber to Adjudge the Medals to the Successful Students in Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Drawing. In the back row are the two female founding members, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser. They were not allowed to participate in the life drawing classes.
The esteemed portraitist Joshua Reynolds was elected the first RA President.
Angelika Kauffmann, among the founding members of the Royal Academy
Kauffmann is shown sketching the torso, one if many sculptures or copies used as models by RA members and students to hone their drawing skills. The torso, like others of its ilk, has been in the possession of the RA for 250 years. It stands nearby, seen below in two views.
Note how the light changes the hue of the photograph, according to the angle.
In the painting of the RA members above, you will see a model of the Laocoon, an ancient Greek statue used for the same purpose as the torso. The exhibition asks the question: “Does great art begin with studying nature, or studying great art of the past?” One must decide for oneself! But Reynolds considered the study of great art essential for artists.
Part Two, further adventures at the RA, coming soon.