RA – Royal Academy of Arts, London
The Royal Academy of Arts in London, often shortened to RA, is an art museum and an institution, among the most prestigious in the world, devoted to the promotion of the arts.
History and building complex
The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 by King George III, after a petition by 36 artists asking the permission to establish a society aimed to promote “the Arts of Design”. The academy is housed since 1868 in Burlington House, an imposing early-18th century Palladian Style building on Piccadilly (the road not the Circus), in the City of Westminster, designed by Scottish architects James Gibbs and Colen Campbell.
In 2001, the Royal Academy of Arts acquired 6 Burlington Gardens, a 19th-century building adjacent to Burlington House designed by Sir James Pennethorne and renovated in 1991 after a design by Foster + Partners, with a view to expanding its gallery space.
In 2008 the Royal Academy started an ambitious expansion and renovation project, entitled RA250, whose master plan was developed by David Chipperfield Architects.
The project envisaged a complete redesign of the museum’s complex involving the connection of the Burlington House and Burlington Gardens through a new pedestrian bridge and the creation of new permanent exhibition galleries, a 250-seat semicircular auditorium, a cafe, and a sculpture garden, as well as the renovation and refurbishment of a number of existing rooms and circulation spaces in the two buildings. The renovated campus of the Royal Academy of Arts was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II on May 19, 2018.
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens building, the Wohl Entrance Hall. Photo © Rory Mulvey
Cross-section of the Royal Academy’s site redevelopment project by David Chipperfield Architects, © Hayes Davidson
Collection and permanent exhibition
The collection of the Royal Academy of Arts comprises about 32,000 works of art, including 935 paintings and 350 sculptures.
Since every elected member, known as Royal Academician, has to donate a work of art to the Institution, most part of the RA collection consists of works by British artists; yet, it also includes works by international artists, such as the famous Taddei Tondo marble relief by Michelangelo.
Artists and architects represented in the collection include Thomas Gainsborough, John Russell, John Soane, John Constable, William Turner, George Gilbert Scott, Alfred Waterhouse, John Singer Sargent, John Nash, Eduardo Paolozzi, David Hockney, Zaha Hadid, Sean Scully, David Chipperfield, Anish Kapoor, and Phyllida Barlow, to name a few.
Following the 2018 redevelopment, pieces from the collection are now exhibited on a rotational basis in a number of permanent exhibition galleries throughout the museum.
Royal Academy of Arts, The Last Supper, ca. 1515-1520, oil on canvas, after Leonardo da Vinci, attributed to Pupils of Leonardo and to Giampietrino (Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli), among others; photo © James Harris
Program of activities and events
Yet, the primary activity of the RA is to organize special exhibitions and educational activities, related to visual and applied arts.
The RA’s temporary exhibition subjects are very diverse and range from ancient sculpture to contemporary art to architecture; some of the most successful exhibitions in Britain in the last years have been held here.
The Royal Academy of Arts is also renowned for its Summer Exhibition, the oldest and largest open entry exhibition of art in the world, running every year since 1769.
The Royal Academy organizes guided tours, workshops and special events for adults, children, and families. The RA complex, which is wheelchair-accessible, also contains an auditorium, two restaurants, a cafe, and two shops.
Royal Academy of Arts, 2018 redevelopment, Weston Bridge and The Lovelace Courtyard. Photo © Simon Menges
Burlington Gardens building, the Sackler Wing of Galleries in 2018. Photo © Dennis Gilbert, courtesy of Foster + Partners
The new Benjamin West Lecture Theater. Photo © Simon Menges
A gallery presenting sculptures and plaster casts. Photo © Simon Menges
Cover image, the facade of the Royal Academy of Arts on Burlington Gardens, London © Hayes Davidson
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