1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Academy, Royal
ACADEMY, ROYAL. The Royal Academy of Arts in London, to give it the original title in full, was founded in 1768, “for the purpose of cultivating and improving the arts of painting, sculpture and architecture.” Many attempts had previously been made in England to form a society which should have for its object the advancement of the fine arts. Sir James Thornhill, his son-in-law Hogarth, the Dilettanti Society, made efforts in this direction, but their schemes were wrecked by want of means. Accident solved the problem. The crowds that attended an exhibition of pictures held in 1758 at the Foundling Hospital for the benefit of charity, suggested a way of making money hitherto unsuspected. Two societies were quickly formed, one calling itself the “Society of Artists” and the other the “Free Society of Artists.” The latter ceased to exist in 1774. The former flourished, and in 1765 was granted a royal charter under the title of the “Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain.” But though prosperous it was not united. A number of the members, including the most eminent artists of the day, resigned in 1768, and headed by William Chambers the architect, and Benjamin West, presented on 28th November in that year to George III., who had already shown his interest in the fine arts, a memorial soliciting his “gracious assistance, patronage and protection,” in “establishing a society for promoting the arts of design.”, The memorialists stated that the two principal objects they had in view were the establishing of “a well-regulated school or academy of design for the use of students in the arts, and an annual exhibition open to all artists of distinguished merit; the profit arising from the last of these institutions” would, they thought, “fully answer all the expenses of the first,” and, indeed, leave something over to be distributed “in useful charities.” The king expressed his agreement with the proposal, but asked for further particulars. These were furnished to him on the 7th of December and approved, and on the 10th of December they were submitted in form, and the document embodying them received his signature, with the words, “I approve of this plan; let it be put into execution.” This document, known as the “Instrument,” defined under twenty-seven heads the constitution and government of the Royal Academy, and contained the names of the thirty-six original members nominated by the king. Changes and modifications in the laws and regulations laid down in it have of course been made, but none of them without the sanction of the sovereign, and the “Instrument” remains to this day in all essential particulars the Magna Charta of the society. Four days after the signing of this document—on the 14th of December—twenty-eight of the first nominated members met and drew up the Form of Obligation which is still signed by every academician on receiving his diploma, and also elected a president, keeper, secretary, council and visitors in the schools; the professors being chosen at a further meeting held on the 17th. No time was lost in establishing the schools, and on the 2nd of January 1769 they were opened at some rooms in Pall Mall, a little eastward of the site now occupied by the Junior United Service Club, the president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, delivering on that occasion the first of his famous “discourses.” The opening of the first exhibition at the same place followed on the 26th of April.
The king when founding the Academy undertook to supply out of his own privy purse any deficiencies between the receipts derived from the exhibitions and the expenditure incurred on the schools, charitable donations for artists, &c. For twelve years he was called upon to do so, and contributed in all something over £5000, but in 1781 there was a surplus, and no further call has ever been made on the royal purse. George III. also gave the Academy rooms in what was then his own palace of Somerset House, and the schools and offices were removed there in 1771, but the exhibition continued to be held in Pall Mall, till the completion in 1780 of the new Somerset House. Then the Academy took possession of the apartments in it which the king, on giving up the palace for government offices, had expressly stipulated should be provided. Here it remained till 1837, when the government, requiring the use of these rooms, offered in exchange a portion of the National Gallery, then just erected in Trafalgar Square. The offer, which contained no conditions, was accepted. But it was not long before the necessity for a further removal became imminent. Already in 1850 notice was given by the government that the rooms occupied by the Academy would be required for the purposes of the National Gallery, and that they proposed to give the academy £40,000 to provide themselves with a building elsewhere. The matter slumbered, however, till 1858, when the question was raised in the house of Commons as to whether it would not be justifiable to turn the Academy out of the National Gallery without making any provision for it elsewhere. Much discussion followed, and a royal commission was appointed in 1863 “to inquire into the present position of the Royal Academy in relation to the fine arts, and into the circumstances and conditions under which it occupies a portion of the National Gallery, &c.” In their report, which contained a large number of proposals and suggestions, some of them since carried out, the commissioners stated that they had “come to the clear conclusion that the Royal Academy have no legal, but that they have a moral claim to apartments at the public expense.” Negotiations had been already going on between the government and the Academy for the appropriation to the latter of a portion of the site occupied by the recently purchased Burlington House, on which the Academy offered to erect suitable buildings at its own expense. The negotiations were renewed in 1866, and in March in the following year a lease of old Burlington House, and a portion of the garden behind it, was granted to the Academy for 999 years at a peppercorn rent, subject to the condition that “the premises shall be at all times exclusively devoted to the purpose of the cultivation of the fine arts.” The Academy immediately proceeded to erect, on the garden portion of the site thus acquired, exhibition galleries and schools, which were opened in 1869, further additions being made in 1884. An upper storey was also added to old Burlington House, in which to place the diploma works, the Gibson statuary and other works of art. Altogether the Academy, out of its accumulated savings, has spent on these buildings more than £160,000. They are its own property, and are maintained entirely at its expense.
The government of the Academy was by the “Instrument” vested in “a president and eight other persons, who shall form a council.” Four of these were to retire every year, and the seats were to go by rotation to every academician. The number was increased in 1870 to twelve, and reduced to ten in 1875. The rules as to retirement and rotation are still in force. Newly elected academicians begin their two years' service as soon as they have received their diploma. The council has, to quote the “Instrument”, “the entire direction and management of the business” of the Academy in all its branches; and also the framing of new laws and regulations, but the latter, before coming into force, must be sanctioned by the general assembly and approved by the sovereign. The general assembly consists of the whole body of academicians, and meets on certain fixed dates and at such other times as the business may require; also at the request to the president of any five members. The principal executive officers of the Academy are the president, the keeper, the treasurer, the librarian and the secretary, all now elected by the general assembly, subject to the approval of the sovereign. The president is elected annually on the foundation day, 10th December, but the appointment is virtually for life. No change has ever been made in the conditions attached to this office, with the exception of its being now a salaried instead of an unsalaried post. The treasurership and librarianship, both offices originally held not by election but by direct appointment from the sovereign, are now elective, the holders being subject to re-election every five years, and the keepership is also held upon the same terms; while the secretaryship, which up to 1873 had always been filled like the other offices by an academician, has since then been held by a layman. Other officers elected by the general assembly are the auditors (three academicians, one of whom retires every year), the visitors in the schools (academicians and associates), and the professors of painting, sculpture and architecture—who must be members—and of anatomy and chemistry. There are also a registrar, and curators and teachers in the schools, who are appointed by the council.
The thirty-six original academicians were named by George III. Their successors have been elected, up to 1867, by academicians only—since that date by academicians and associates together. The original number was fixed in the “Instrument” at forty, and has so remained. Each academician on his election has to present an approved specimen of his work—called his diploma work—before his diploma is submitted to the sovereign for signature. On receiving his diploma he signs the Roll of Institution as an academician, and takes his seat in the general assembly. The class of associates, out of whom alone the academicians can be elected, was founded in 1769—they were “to be elected from amongst the exhibitors, and be entitled to every advantage enjoyed by the royal academicians, excepting that of having a voice in the deliberations or any share in the government of the Academy.” Those exhibitors who wished to become candidates had to give in their names at the close of the exhibition. This condition no longer exists, candidates having since 1867 merely to be proposed and seconded by members of the Academy. On election, they attend at a council meeting to sign the Roll of Institution as an associate, and receive a diploma signed by the president and secretary. In 1867 also associates were admitted to vote at all elections of members; in 1868 they were made eligible to serve as visitors in the schools, and in 1886 to become candidates for the professorships of painting, sculpture and architecture. At first the number of associates was limited to twenty; in 1866 the number was made indefinite with a minimum of twenty, and in 1876 the minimum was raised to thirty. Vacancies in the lists of academicians and associates caused by death or resignation can be filled up at any time within five weeks of the event, except in the months of August, September and October, but a vacancy in the associate list caused by election only dates from the day on which the new academician receives his diploma. The mode of election is the same in both cases, first by marked lists and afterwards by ballot. All who at the first marking have four or more votes are marked for again, and the two highest then go to the ballot. Engravers have always constituted a separate class, and up to 1855 they were admitted to the associateship only, the number, six, being in addition to the other associates; now the maximum is four, of whom not more than two may be academicians. A class of honorary retired academicians was established in 1862, and of honorary retired associates in 1884. The first honorary foreign academicians were elected in 1869. The honorary members consist of a chaplain, an antiquary, a secretary for foreign correspondence, and professors of ancient history and ancient literature. These posts, which date from the foundation of the Academy, have always been held by distinguished men.
Charities.—Another of the principal objects to which the profits of the Royal Academy have been devoted has been the relief of distressed artists and their families. From the commencement of the institution a fund was set apart for this purpose, and subsequently a further sum was allotted to provide pensions for necessitous members of the Academy and their widows. Both these funds were afterwards merged in the general fund, and various changes have from time to time been made in the conditions under which pensions and donations have been granted and in their amount. At the present time pensions not exceeding a certain fixed amount may be given to academicians and associates, sixty years of age, who have retired and whose circumstances show them to be in need, provided the sum given does not make their total annual income exceed a certain limit, and the same amounts can be given to their widows subject to the same conditions. No pensions are granted without very strict inquiry into the circumstances of the applicant, who is obliged to make a yearly declaration as to his or her income. The average annual amount of these pensions has been latterly about £2000. Pensions are also given according to the civil service scale to certain officers on retirement. lt may be stated here that with the exception of these pensions and of salaries and fees for official services, no member of the Academy derives any pecuniary benefit from the funds of the institution. Donations to distressed artists who are or have been exhibitors at the Royal Academy, their widows and children under twenty-one years of age, are made twice a year in February and August. The maximum amount that can be granted to any one applicant in one donation is £100, and no one can receive a grant more than once a year. The average yearly amount thus expended is from £1200 to £1500. In addition to these charities from its general funds, the Academy administers for the benefit of artists, not members of the Academy, certain other funds which have been bequeathed to it for charitable purposes, viz. the Turner fund, the Cousins fund, the Cooke fund, the Newton bequest and the Edwards fund (see below).
Exhibitions.—The source from which have been derived the funds for carrying on the varied work of the Royal Academy, its schools, its charities and general cost of administration, and which has enabled it to spend large sums on building, and provided it with the means of maintaining the buildings, has been the annual exhibitions. With the exception of the money left by John Gibson, R.A., some of which was spent in building the gallery containing the statues and bas-reliefs bequeathed by him, these exhibitions have provided the sole source of revenue, all other moneys that have come to the Academy having been either left in trust, or been constituted trusts, for certain specific purposes. The first exhibition in 1769 contained 136 works, of which more than one-half were contributed by members, and brought in £699: 17: 6. In 1780, the first year in which the receipts exceeded the expenditure, the number of works was 489, of which nearly one-third were by members, and the sum received was £3069: 1s. This increase continued gradually with fluctuations, and in 1836, the last year at Somerset House, the number of works was 1154, and the receipts were £5179: 19s. No great addition to the number of works exhibited took place at Trafalgar Square, but the receipts steadily grew, and their careful management enabled the Academy, when the time came for moving, to erect its own buildings and become no longer dependent on the government for a home. The greater space afforded by the galleries at Burlington House rendered it possible to increase the number of works exhibited, which of late years has reached a total of over 2000, while the receipts have also been such as to provide the means for further building, and for a largely increased expenditure of all kinds. It may be noted that the number of works sent for exhibition soon began to exceed the space available. In 1868, the last year at Trafalgar Square, the number sent was 3011. This went on increasing, with occasional fluctuations, at Burlington House, and in the year 1900 it reached the number of 13,462. The annual winter exhibition of works by old masters and deceased British artists was begun in 1870. It was never intended to be a source of revenue, but appreciation by the public has so far prevented it from being a cause of loss. The summer exhibition of works by living artists opens on the first Monday in May, and closes on the first Monday in August. The winter exhibition of works by deceased artists opens on the first Monday in January. and closes on the second Saturday in March. The galleries containing the diploma works, the Gibson statuary and other works of art are open daily, free.
Presidents of the Royal Academy.—Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1768–1792; Benjamin West (resigned), 1792–1805; James Wyatt (president-elect), 1805; Benjamin West (re-elected), 1806–1820; Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1820–1830; Sir Martin Archer Shee, 1830–1850; Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, 1850–1865; Sir Francis Grant, 1866–1878; Frederick, Lord Leighton of Stretton, 1878–1896; Sir John Everett Millais, 1896; Sir Edward John Poynter, 1896.
The library contains about 7000 volumes, dealing with the history, the theory and the practice of the various branches of the fine arts, some of them of great rarity and value. It is open daily to the students and members, and to other persons on a proper introduction.
The trust funds administered by the Royal Academy are—
The Turner fund (J. M. W. Turner, R.A.), which provides sixteen annuities of £50 each, for artists of repute not members of the Academy, also a biennial scholarship of £50 and a gold medal for a landscape painting.
The Chantrey fund (Sir Francis Chantrey, R.A.), the income of which, paid over by the Chantrey trustees, is spent on pictures and sculpture. (See Chantrey.)
The Cooke fund (E.W. Cooke, R.A.), which provides two annuities of £35 each for painters not members of the Academy, over sixty years of age and in need.
The Landseer fund (Charles Landseer, R.A.), which provides four scholarships of £40 each, two in painting and two in sculpture, tenable for two years, open to students at the end of the first two years of studentship, and given for the best work done during the second year.
The Armitage fund (E. Armitage, R.A.), which provides two annual prizes of £30 and £10, for a design in monochrome for a figure picture.
The Cousins fund (S. Cousins, R.A.), which provides seven annuities of £80 each for deserving artists, not members of the Academy, in need of assistance.
The Newton bequest (H. C. Newton), which provides an annual sum of £60 for the indigent widow of a painter.
The Bizo fund (John Bizo), to be used in the scientific investigation into the nature of pigments and varnishes, &c.
The Edwards fund (W. J. Edwards), producing £40 a year for the benefit of poor artists or artistic engravers.
The Leighton bequest (Lord Leighton, P.R.A.), received from Mrs Orr and Mrs Matthews in memory of their brother, the income from which, about £300, is expended on the decoration of public places and buildings.The literature concerning the Royal Academy consists chiefly of pamphlets and articles of more or less ephemeral value. More serious works are: William Sandby, The History of the Royal Academy of Arts (London, 1862) (withdrawn from circulation on a question of copyright); Report from the Select Committee on Arts and their Connexion with Manufactures, with the Minutes of Evidence and Appendix (London, 1836 ); Report of the Royal Commission on the Royal Academy, with Minutes of Evidence and Appendix (London, 1863); Martin
(F. A. E.)