Rosanna Mor­ris,

writer of ‘!"# Years of the Royal Acad­emy’,

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Rosanna has worked on life­style mag­a­zines for nearly 10 years, writ­ing on sub­jects as var­ied as travel, gar­dens, food, farm­ing and, of course, in­te­ri­ors and an­tiques. She par­tic­u­larly loves writ­ing about art his­tory.

If I could only have one item of vin­tage stor­age it would be

my gal­vanised bin that I picked up at a lo­cal flea mar­ket for around £5. I’m also pretty ob­sessed with bas­kets.

The Royal Acad­emy in­vented the block­buster ex­hi­bi­tion,’ says artist Christopher Le Brun. He should know. As the 26th Pres­i­dent of the ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tion, he is lead­ing the orig­i­nal home of the public art ex­hi­bi­tion as it cel­e­brates its 250th birth­day this year. Pre­ced­ing the Na­tional Gallery (1824) and the Tate (1897), when the Royal Acad­emy of Arts (RA) was founded in 1768, it pro­vided artists with an ex­hi­bi­tion space where they could show and sell their art for the ! rst time in Bri­tain.

In De­cem­ber of that year, ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Cham­bers vis­ited King George III and pre­sented a pe­ti­tion signed by 36 artists and ar­chi­tects, in­clud­ing him­self and por­trait painters Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gains­bor­ough, ask­ing to ‘es­tab­lish a so­ci­ety for pro­mot­ing the Arts of De­sign’ and propos­ing an an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion and free art school. With royal back­ing, they set up home in Pall Mall, rent­ing a 30-foot gallery so they could hold public ex­hi­bi­tions. ‘ They needed the King’s per­mis­sion to speak di­rectly to the public,’ says Le Brun. Un­til that mo­ment, art had been the pre­serve of aris­toc­racy and artists had been re­liant on com­mis­sions, mostly por­trai­ture, from no­ble­men. Now they could present it to a much broader au­di­ence. ‘ They wanted to raise the sta­tus of art and to paint land­scapes,’ Le Brun adds. Reynolds was voted the acad­emy’s ! rst Pres­i­dent.

From Joshua Reynolds to Grayson Perry

To­day, the RA holds true to its found­ing prin­ci­ples – it is still in­de­pen­dent, it is still run by artists and ar­chi­tects, it still has a free art school and still holds an ex­hi­bi­tion open to all artists ev­ery sum­mer. Its home to­day is Pic­cadilly’s Burling­ton House and Burling­ton Gar­dens. Past Pres­i­dents have in­cluded Fred­eric, Lord Leighton, John Evere" Mil­lais, Al­fred Mun­nings and Hugh Cas­son. John Con­sta­ble and JMW Turner both played a big part at the RA in their day. In re­cent years it has been the turn of David Hock­ney, Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry. In two and a half cen­turies, the RA has swelled its col­lec­tion to 46,000 items and held countless block­buster

shows. Head­line-grab­bing events in­clude Ex­hi­bi­tion of Ital­ian Art 1200-1900, a$ended by Mus­solini in 1930, Charles Saatchi’s con­tro­ver­sial Bri­tart show Sen­sa­tion in 1997, the magni !cent Monet ex­hi­bi­tion in 1999 and David Hock­ney’s land­scapes in 2012. From Anselm Kiefer to An­thony van Dyck, the RA’s di­verse pro­gramme cov­ers cu$ingedge mod­ern as well as mon­u­men­tal his­tor­i­cal art. The RA has just wrapped up an ex­hi­bi­tion on the in­cred­i­ble art col­lec­tion of Charles I. Next it will be focusing on its Sum­mer Ex­hi­bi­tion, which has been held ev­ery year since 1769 and is one of the long­est run­ning ex­hi­bi­tions in the

world. When Christopher Le Brun ! rst en­coun­tered the RA as a young artist in the 1970s, he was not im­pressed. It was ‘rather sleepy’ and shunned by artists in­clud­ing Henry Moore and Fran­cis Ba­con. ‘Com­mer­cial art gal­leries and the Tate were where all the ex­cite­ment was,’ he says.

A New Spirit

But in 1981, when one of his art­works was shown in A New Spirit in Paint­ing, which show­cased mod­ern works in a bold move by the RA and Ex­hi­bi­tions Sec­re­tary Nor­man Rosen­thal, his in­ter­est was piqued. ‘I saw a won­der­ful space mak­ing a real di "er­ence to art of its time,’ says Le Brun. ‘I could see the RA had the po­ten­tial to have a huge in #uence on the art world.’ When Le Brun was elected an Aca­demi­cian in 1996 he en­cour­aged his peers, Antony Gorm­ley, Anish Kapoor and Richard Dea­con to come on board. ‘ The qual­ity of the Aca­demi­cians be­came be$er as

Next the RA will be focusing on its Sum­mer Ex­hi­bi­tion, which has been held ev­ery year since 1769.

more mem­bers joined,’ says Le Brun. Sen­sa­tion was held the fol­low­ing year and sev­eral of the Young British Artists in­volved went on to be­come Aca­demi­cians too, namely Gary Hume, Tracey Emin and Fiona Rae. ‘ To­day the RA is a very good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the British art world,’ says Le Brun, who be­came Pres­i­dent in 2011. Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­vamp And the RA is set to be­come even more ac­ces­si­ble and far-reach­ing. To cel­e­brate its an­niver­sary, a trans­formed cam­pus will shortly be un­veiled at Burling­ton House with new ex­hi­bi­tion gal­leries, a lec­ture theatre and a se­ries of free art and ar­chi­tec­ture dis­plays across the site. De­signed by English ar­chi­tect David Chip­per eld, the re­de­vel­op­ment links Burling­ton House and Burling­ton Gar­dens, cre­at­ing more space in which to hold ex­hi­bi­tions and to dis­play pieces from the col­lec­tion. Le Brun has over­seen the cu­ra­tion of the new Col­lec­tion Gallery, which will present The Mak­ing of an Artist: The Great Tra­di­tion,

focusing on the rst 60 years of the RA, with 30 works dat­ing from 1768 to 1828.

‘I thought it was im­por­tant to show the ori­gins of the RA to give the con­tem­po­rary work a proper context and show that the found­ing prin­ci­ples are still rel­e­vant and have mean­ing,’ says Le Brun. ‘ The pe­riod was an ex­cit­ing and im­por­tant time in British art as it de­vel­oped very quickly. It went from neo­clas­si­cal to a

love of na­ture. From the en­light­en­ment aes­thet­ics with paint­ings dom­i­nated by male !gures, to the English Romantics and paint­ings of clouds, light and colour.’

The Tad­dei Tondo by Michelangelo and the RA’s al­most full-size 16th- cen­tury copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s

The Last Sup­per that has lived at Mag­dalen Col­lege, Ox­ford for the last 25 years, both used for teach­ing, will be in there. So too will Con­sta­ble’s The

Leap­ing Horse and James Thorn­hill’s copies of the car­toons for Raphael’s Vat­i­can ta­pes­tries, which were du­pli­cated by stu­dents in the RA schools as part of their train­ing. Copy­ing Old Masters was ac­tively en­cour­aged by Reynolds. ‘ I’m par­tic­u­larly fond of Gains­bor­ough’s self-por­trait. It is very in­for­mal – as if he just took his brush and painted it one day. It isn’t grand but it is true,’ says Le Brun. ‘ Most pieces have been in stor­age or on long loan to other gal­leries – it’s an ex­cit­ing time.’

Many of the works in the new gallery will be per­ma­nent but other pieces from the col­lec­tion will be dis­played over time. The RA’s col­lec­tion is not all about art­works, ei­ther, as past Aca­demi­cians have le" per­sonal items to it over the cen­turies – Turner’s !shing rod, Reynolds’ shoe buck­les and a cast of Leighton’s hands.

‘ It feels like we are now reded­i­cat­ing the place to the next 250 years,’ says Le Brun. ‘The found­ing mem­bers would be as­ton­ished at how we’ve sur­vived and how we’ve kept our in­de­pen­dence, and also the ex­tent, reach and in #uence of the RA to­day.’

THIS PAGE Charles I in the Hunt­ing Field, c1636, by An­thony van Dyck, on dis­play as part of the Charles I: King and Col­lec­tor ex­hi­bi­tion. RIGHT, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Artist’s im­pres­sion of a cross-sec­tion of how the RA will be trans­formed; new 260-seat Lec­ture Theatre; Ar­chi­tec­ture Stu­dio ded­i­cated to ar­chi­tec­tural dis­plays.

ABOVE The Leap­ing Horse, 1825, by John Con­sta­ble, on dis­play at the Royal Acad­emy.

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