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 planned temporary exhibitions include:
Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul
This exhibition (until 1 August 2021) juxtaposes over 25 of Emin’s paintings alongside works from Edvard Munch. £17.
Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict
The Michael Armitage exhibition (until 19 September 2021) explores East African culture drawing on inspiration from Gaugin, Goya, Manet and Titian. The exhibition features 15 of the Kenyan-born artist’s large-scale paintings exhibited alongside works by East African contemporary artists including Meek Gichugu, Jak Katarikawe, Theresa Musoke, Asaph Ng’ethe Macua, Elimo Njau and Sane Wadu. £13–15.
David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020
This exhibition (until 26 September 2021) showcases 116 new works that were completed in the artist’s home in Normandy during the Spring of 2020. These works were created on the artist’s iPad and have been printed at a large scale that allows the visitor to see each one of the artist’s strokes. £19–21.
Summer Exhibition 2021
The annual RA Summer Exhibition (22 September 2021–2 January 2022) has run every year since the Royal Academy was established in 1768 and it is one of the more eclectic exhibitions showcasing recent work of an outstanding calibre. The exhibition features work from both well-known artists and relatively unknown amateurs. £20–22.
Francis Bacon: Man and Beast
This exhibition (29 January–17 April 2022) focuses on Francis Bacon’s fascination with animals and it showcases works from Bacon’s 50-year-long career including his very earliest works and his last-ever painting. £20.
This exhibition (16 July–16 October 2022) is Milton Avery’s first comprehensive European exhibition, featuring 70 paintings from the 1930s to the 1960s covering many of the artist’s most celebrated works, which include portraits and scenes from his visits to Main and Cape Cod.
The Marina Abramović exhibition (dates to be announced) includes live re-performances of the performance artist’s most iconic works and it also includes brand new work developed specifically for this exhibition.
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 between £15 and £20. Tickets for the Summer Exhibition cost £20–22. Most exhibitions are £1 cheaper 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.