Royal West of England Academy (RWA)

Price £8

The Royal West of England Academy (RWA) is the oldest art gallery in Bristol and one of the country’s most established regional galleries.

The Academy was founded by Ellen Sharples with early benefactors that include Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Prince Albert.

The galleries at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol are bathed in natural light from large skylights. The RWA also features a replica of the Parthenon Frieze. (Photo: RebeccaRWA [CC BY-SA 4.0])
The galleries at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol are bathed in natural light from large skylights. The RWA also features a replica of the Parthenon Frieze. (Photo: RebeccaRWA [CC BY-SA 4.0])

What to see at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA)

The RWA is housed inside a Grade II*-listed building that was opened in 1858. Its interior is lit by natural light from large skylights and it is noted for a replica of the Parthenon Frieze.

It has five galleries with a permanent collection that is comprised of over 1,700 works of art including works by prominent British artists including artists from the Bloomsbury, Newlyn and St Ives schools. The gallery focuses on both traditional and contemporary British art.

Temporary exhibitions at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA)

The Academy also hosts a programme of temporary exhibitions. Current and planned exhibitions include:

These Mad Hybrids: John Hoyland and Contemporary Sculpture
This exhibition (until 12 May 2024) is inspired by abstract painter John Hoyland RA’s unique ceramic sculptures, known as his ‘mad little hybrids’. This is the first public exhibition of the ceramics since 1994, presented alongside Hoyland’s abstract paintings from the 1960s to 2010s. £9.90.

New Black Narrative
The New Black Narrative exhibition (1 May–24 June 2024), curated by Bristol Black Creatives at The Trinity Centre, explores themes of Black intimacy, vulnerability and joy. Collaborating across disciplines, members showcase collective talent. Featured in the Link Space on the lower ground floor, it is part of the DIASPORA! Festival, celebrating cultural diversity through the arts.

Windrush: Portraits of a Pioneering Generation
This exhibition (25 May–11 August 2024) arrives in Bristol for the first time this summer at the RWA, following showings in Edinburgh and London. It celebrates the accomplishments and legacy of the Windrush Generation, featuring ten portraits of notable Caribbean-British individuals by prominent artists like Sonia Boyce MBE and Amy Sherald. Commissioned by His Majesty King Charles III to mark the 75th anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush’s arrival, it highlights personal resilience and the impact of diversity in Britain. £32.

Rasheed Araeen: Conscious Forms
As part of a series of exhibitions featuring immigrant artists, the RWA introduces the pioneering work of Rasheed Araeen to Bristol for the first time. Araeen’s vibrant, abstract sculptures will be showcased in the RWA’s naturally lit galleries, inviting visitors to engage with and rearrange colourful cubes around a central Reading Room installation. Complementing these sculptures are figurative paintings and collages spanning from the 1950s to the present, reflecting Araeen’s bold perspectives on British identity, belonging and migration. £32.

Valda Jackson: Miss Polly
This exhibition (25 May–11 August 2024) presents an installation by writer and artist Valda Jackson MBE RWA, exploring neurological research and the concept of the unfinished brain. Through spoken word, text, sculpture and painting, Jackson delves into the idea of humans being born incomplete, developing critical neural circuitry post-birth. Influenced by the experiences of Generation Windrush, her work reflects on the complexities of this historical context, coinciding with the Windrush 75 celebrations and James Baldwin’s centenary. £32.

Visiting the Royal West of England Academy (RWA)

The Royal West of England Academy (RWA) is located around midway between Clifton and the city centre. It is close to the University of Bristol and there are several interesting sights nearby interest including the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which is only a four-minute walk away.

Admission to the permanent gallery is free of charge, however, there is a fee to visit many of the temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are half price with the National Art Pass.

The RWA has its own on-site cafe, however, the gallery’s location near the university ensures that there are plenty of other places to eat and drink nearby. The gallery also has an excellent gift shop.

Amenities
  • Cafe/restaurant

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