This edited article about the Royal Academy of Arts originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 224 published on 30 April 1966.
On April 26, 1769, scores of ladies and gentlemen of fashion crowded into a small room in Pall Mall, London. They were there to see the first exhibition of painting and sculpture to be held by the Royal Academy of Arts.
It all began on December 10, 1768, when King George III granted a charter establishing a society for promoting the Arts of Design and authorizing an annual exhibition of works by contemporary artists. It was decreed that there should be forty members called “Academicians,” and the king appointed Sir Joshua Reynolds as the Academy’s first president. Ever since then the reigning sovereign has had the right of approving the president, who is elected by his fellow Academicians.
Over ten thousand works of art are sent to the Academy each year. From these a body of Academicians called the “selection and hanging committee” choose about 1,500 entries to form the Summer Exhibition, which, since the end of the eighteenth century, has been held from the first Monday in May until after August Bank Holiday.
Every artist elected a member of the Royal Academy is presented with a diploma and has the right to put R.A. after his name. Before receiving the diploma the new Academician must present to the Academy a specimen of his or her art. In this way a valuable collection has been built up for exhibition in the Academy’s Diploma Gallery.
The Academy moved into its present home in Burlington House in 1869. Besides holding exhibitions, the Royal Academy maintains a school of art.