The Royal Academy of Arts
Published on February 1, 2016 by L.A. Hilden | Views: 776

As a lover of the arts I thought to do an article about The Royal Academy, which was a teaching school in London for the visual arts in Regency England.  This school aimed to teach the student to draw, paint, and sculpt.  Originally located in Pall Mall, the school was founded on December 10, 1768 by 40 prominent artists during a time when there were almost no art schools or galleries.  The group was headed by portrait painter, Joshua Reynolds, who was regarded as one of the most successful painters in Britain, and thus considered the obvious choice to lead the Academy.  The Royal Academy was officially under the patronage of King George III, which is why the word “royal” is in the title, but no funding aside from the initial grant was given to the Academy.  In 1771, the Academy moved to Somerset House, a dilapidated royal palace, but when those premises were eventually required for use by the government, The Royal Academy moved to Trafalgar Square, sharing a space with the National Gallery.  In 1868, The Royal Academy set up at Burlington House on Piccadilly in London, where it has remained.  Burlington House is owned by the British Government and is used rent-free by the Academy.  It is said the king loathed Reynolds, but knighted him for giving gravitas to his aims toward the visual arts.  Sir Reynolds was commissioned to paint portraits of the king and Queen Charlotte.

The classes at The Royal Academy were offered for free and scholarships helped the needy students with opportunities to travel abroad.  The Academy made money by charging attendance fees for public exhibitions.  It was at the exhibitions where artists would try to get their name out in the public.  The annual Summer Exhibition was first held in 1769, beginning April 25 and ending May 27.  This initial exhibit held over 130 works of art.  The Summer Exhibition continues today and is held every summer.  The Royal Academy makes its income through the exhibitions, trusts and endowment funds, loaning art to other exhibitions, subscriptions of its Friends and corporate members, and sponsorships from commercial and industrial companies.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was considered a highlight of the London Season.  Sir Joshua Reynolds first introduced the invitations to The Royal Academy dinner in April 1771, which included a private viewing of the exhibition.  The dinner was a very sought after invitation.  Every year the number of paintings on display increased as paintings were hung from floor to ceiling.  Artists competed for the best placement for their pieces.  The most sought after placement was along a molding that ran around the room at eye level.

The purpose of The Royal Academy was to gain an appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education, and debate.  In the courtyard of The Royal Academy stands a 20th century statue of the founding member and president of the Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds.  The school was shaped by Sir Reynolds who gave fifteen lectures to students known as the Discourses.  In his lectures he stressed the importance of copying the Old Masters. (I happen to love the old Renaissance artists, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, then later in history, Caravaggio and Titian, and Dutch painters like Rubens and Vermeer.  My art history classes in college were definitely my favorites.)  In 1769, the first year of The Royal Academy being opened, they enrolled 77 students.  By 1830, the enrollment reached 1500 students.  The Royal Academy was a six-year term, which increased to seven years in 1792, and to ten years in 1800, where it remained until 1853.  It is likely that many students did not complete their full terms as attendance and termination records were not kept.  The first female student enrolled in 1860.  Today, around sixty students study at the school for a three-year postgraduate course.

I am currently working on book two in the Wintergale Orchard series Love With Purpose. In this Regency Historical, the hero’s friend visits The Royal Academy to call upon the president at the time, Henry Perronet Briggs, who was a well-known portrait painter.  The hero in this story, Giles Vanhorn is embroiled in a scandal with a known courtesan, and yet he finds love in the form of the heroine, Lady Avis Dabney.  Lady Avis has no interest in courting scandal or marrying anyone who associates with lightskirts.  But Giles sets himself on course with the great Greek mythical hero Hercules and sets out to win the heart of his ladylove.

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