The Cavendish London is only a short stroll away from the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens London W1J 0BD. It is a popular London attraction for art and design lovers from all over the world.
Founded in 1768 by a personal act of King George III, the Royal Academy (RA) is a privately funded charitable organisation that is led by prominent artists and architects elected by their peers to stimulate the appreciation and creation of visual art. These artists are known as Academicians.
During the 18th century, fashionable artwork was based on continental and traditional tastes leaving little opportunity for British artists to exhibit and sell their work. The Royal Academy was, therefore, a vehicle to promote interest in British art through education and the establishment of a national art school as well as exhibition space. This set the Royal Academy apart from other exhibiting societies of the time. Renowned painter Joshua Reynolds was the first President of the Royal Academy of Arts London which had 34 founding members with an allowance for a total of 40 Academicians. The Royal Academy School was the first to offer professional training to artists and its fine art library is the oldest in the UK. Although back in 1768, two of the founding members were women it took another 168 years before another woman, Laura Knight, was elected as a full academician. Fortunately, today sees many female artists’ work grace both the exhibition space and attend the RA schools.
In 1837 the Royal Academy occupied the east wing of the newly opened National Gallery having outgrown its original home in Somerset House. By Queen Victoria’s reign in 1868 however, it had moved again to its current home at Burlington House, Piccadilly. Burlington House is owned by HM Government but is occupied by the Royal Academy at a rent of £1 per year for the duration of its 999-year lease, thus supporting the wider benefits that British art and design offers to the general public.
Since its foundation, the Royal Academy has held an annual exhibition – the Summer Exhibition – which is open to all artists. The exhibition has taken place consecutively since 1769 despite two world wars, making the Royal Academy the leading arts institute in Britain. Loans of old masters, national portraits as well as the RA collection ensures that the Academy holds international importance within the fine art world. These exhibitions have seen the RA play host to many classic Italian artists such as Botticelli, Donatello and Raphael but the Italian art exhibition of 1930 courted the most controversy when Mussolini attended to further promote the cause of fascism!
The RA’s prized possession is Michelangelo’s ‘Taddei Tondo’ which is displayed in the Collection Gallery. Carved between 1504-06, it was gifted to the Royal Academy and is the only Michelangelo marble in the UK.
In 2018, following a £56m redevelopment to celebrate the Royal Academy of Arts’ 250th anniversary, this major London attraction re-opened to the public boasting new galleries, a lecture theatre and a bridge linking Burlington House to 6 Burlington Gardens. As part of the 250th-anniversary celebrations, 10,000 works from the Academy collection were digitised and made available to view online. Temporary loans make free exhibitions comparable to those at the National Portrait and Tate galleries.
As part of their three-year course, students at the Royal Academy schools are given the opportunity to display their work twice a year. Previous well-known students have included Lucian Freud (1922-2011) whose self-portraits were exhibited in January 2020 and David Hockney (b. 1937). Hockney is described as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and studied at the RA during the 1960s. It is due to him that the Royal Academy changed its graduation regulations. Recognising his talent, the rules were altered when he refused to write an essay and painted ‘Life Painting for a Diploma’ in protest for not just being judged on his work alone. The ‘Bigger Picture’ exhibition of 2012 featured 150 of Hockney’s works.
When staying with us at The Cavendish London, do take time to stroll over to the Royal Academy of Arts London to take in the impressive array of visual fine art, examples of architecture and modern art & design. It is well worth it, and you will not be disappointed. The nearest tube stations are Green Park or Piccadilly if you wish to visit the RA on your return to The Cavendish from elsewhere in the capital.
Opening times for The Royal Academy are 10am – 6pm daily and 10am – 10pm on Fridays. Last entry to the galleries is 30 minutes before closing time. Entrance is free but a charge is payable for some exhibitions.
Visit www.royalacademy.org.uk for full details of current exhibitions and other activities.
Other free London galleries you may wish to visit include:
Tate Modern, Bankside London SE1 9TG
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, Charing Cross, London WC2H 0HE