The Royal Academy of Arts is an art museum that is housed in the magnificent Burlington House (and accessible from either Old Bond Street or the Burlington Arcade).
It is an independent institution that was founded by King George III in 1768 to promote British art, primarily through the Royal Academy’s training programmes which constitute the oldest art school in Britain. Past students include JMW Turner, Sir John Soane, William Blake, John Constable and Edwin Landseer.
It is privately funded, although the British government lets it use Burlington House rent-free.
What to see at Royal Academy of Arts
The gallery features a programme of art exhibitions that range from obscure artists to famous British and European artists including Michelangelo, Constable and Gainsborough.
To celebrate its 250th anniversary, a newly expanded campus was opened in May 2018, dubbed the New RA. A highlight is the RA Collection Gallery, a new exhibition space with highlights from the Academy’s permanent collection, which include Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and Giampetrino’s 16th-century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
The RA’s Architecture Studio is a permanent space for the Academy’s architecture, which includes both exhibitions and talks from prominent architects.
Temporary exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts
Most of the Royal Academy’s exhibition space is used for a vibrant programme of temporary exhibitions with several exhibitions running concurrently. Although some of these exhibitions are free, many of them, including the annual Summer Exhibition, incur an admission charge.
Current and upcoming temporary exhibitions include:
Phyllida Barlow RA: cul-de-sac (until 23 June 2019)
This exhibition features Phyllida Barlow’s unique colourful modern sculpture. £12.
Summer Exhibition 2019 (until 12 August 2019)
In addition to its permanent art collection and an excellent programme of temporary exhibitions, the highlight of the Academy’s annual calendar is the annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The Summer Exhibition (the next exhibition takes place 10 June–12 August 2019) has been held every year since the Royal Academy was established in 1768. Anyone can submit work to be exhibited in the exhibition, which sees around 5,000 artists submitting 10,000 entries each year with the best of these works being selected to appear in the exhibition. Unlike temporary exhibitions in other comparable art museums, almost all the works in the summer exhibition are for sale. £16.
Sarah Pickstone: An Allegory of Painting (until 18 August 2019)
Sarah Pickstone has created a two-part homage to Angelica Kauffmann (1741–1807), who was one of only two women among the founding members of the Royal Academy. One of the paintings, the 6m (20 ft)-wide The Rainbow is a reinterpretation of Kauffmann’s Colour and the other, Belvedere, is inspired by Kauffmann’s Design. The Rainbow hangs outside the RA Cafe and Belvedere is currently in the Collections gallery. Free.
Félix Vallotton (30 June–29 September 2019)
The Félix Vallotton exhibition highlights the work of the Swiss artist who captured the spirit of Paris at the turn of the 20th century. £14.
Helene Schjerfbeck (20 July–27 October 2019)
This exhibition focuses on the work of Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck who is noted as a key proponent of figurative modernism. £14.
Antony Gormley (21 September–3 December 2019)
Antony Gormley is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable sculptors and is best-known for his 200-tonne (196¾ ton) Angel of the North in Gateshead near Newcastle upon Tyne. This exhibition is his most ambitious exhibition in over 10 years and includes some of his early works from the 1970s and 1980s as well as a series of experimental installations. £18–22.
Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits (27 October 2019–26 January 2020)
Lucian Freud was one of Britain’s leading portrait artists of the 20th century and this exhibition calls attention to his self-portraits, which span a period of 64 years and highlight both the development of the artist and the process of ageing.
Visiting Royal Academy of Arts
Royal Academy of Arts is located in Burlington House off Piccadilly. The closest tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly Circus, both a five-minute walk from the Royal Academy.
There is a wide range of exhibitions at the Royal Academy, both free and paid. The admission charge varies although most major temporary exhibitions cost £14 (£13 with a National Art Pass). Tickets for the Summer Exhibition cost £16 (£15 with a National Art Pass).
With the exception of the upper garden area in the Keeper’s House, all areas of the Royal Academy are wheelchair accessible. Audio guides (and transcripts of audio guides) are free for disabled visitors, tours are available in British Sign Language (BSL) for deaf visitors and audio described tours are available for blind and visually-impaired visitors. There is also a programme of events put on specifically for disabled visitors.
There are several bars, cafes and restaurants in the Royal Academy of Arts complex, although the restaurant and bars inside the Keeper’s House are restricted to Friends of the RA before 4pm.
Nearby attractions include Burlington Arcade, Clarence House and well-known West End shopping streets including Jermyn Street, Savile Row, New Bond Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street.