Royal Academy of Arts

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Royal Academy of Arts, London, the national academy of art of England, founded in 1768 by George III at the instigation of Sir William Chambers and Benjamin West. Sir Joshua Reynolds was the Academy's first president, holding the office until his death in 1792. His Discourses defined the scope of the Academy. The king himself chose the original 36 Academicians and fixed the number at 40. Until 1867 their successors were elected by the Academicians only and since that date by the Academicians and associates, whose number was increased from 20 to 30 in 1876, together. Since its inception the Academy, a notably conservative body, has maintained biennial exhibitions—one being of the works of masters of the past and one of contemporary art; has maintained a free school (women students have been admitted only since 1861); and has administered funds (partly derived from its exhibitions) for the relief of distressed artists and their families and for prizes and scholarships. In 1867 the academy was given a lease of 999 years on Burlington House and the adjoining gardens, where its galleries and school have since been erected.

See W. R. M. Lamb, The Royal Academy (2d ed. 1952).

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Royal Academy of Arts (London). In 1768 the artist Benjamin West, with the architect William Chambers, approached George III for his approval of a national academy to foster a school of art, set standards of good taste, and provide for the free exhibition of works of excellence. The first president was Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose famous Discourses, delivered over a period of 20 years, laid down the basic concepts of the academy which was to form ‘a repository for the great examples of the Art’, an important function before the establishment of the National Gallery in 1824. During the 19th cent. the academy was slow to accept innovation and its reputation declined. Since the mid-20th cent., policy has been more liberal and the annual summer exhibition a popular event, although whether it fulfils the function of exhibiting the best contemporary work is open to question.

June Cochrane

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Royal Academy of Arts (RA) British national academy of the arts, founded by George III in 1768, and based in London. Members aim to raise the status of the arts by establishing high standards of training and organizing annual summer exhibitions. The first president was Sir Joshua Reynolds.