To mark two-hundred and fifty years of the Royal Academy, the Paul Mellon Centre and the RA have just launched a major online project, The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle 1769-2018. The website not only contains links to all the summer exhibition catalogues, but includes short essays exploring every single year of the show. This is obviously exciting news for anyone interested in art in Britain, and also for scholars of Edwardian culture. Explore the Edwardian Royal Academy here.
Arthur Wardle ‘An Idyll of Summer’
Although it has long been conventional art-historical wisdom that by the
early twentieth century, the Royal Academy (and academic practice more
generally) was irrelevant to serious art and artists, it remained, in fact,
extremely influential. The annual summer exhibitions continued to be
major events, attracting an average of 12,000 submissions (with about 2,000 of them accepted for hanging) and 280,000 visitors each year. And press coverage of the Academy actually increased during these years, as the
flood of ‘new-journalism’-style tabloid papers and lifestyle magazines
covered the Academy as both an artistic and a social event, providing
details of the crowd, conversation and atmosphere. (Pamela Fletcher, ‘Human Character and Character-Reading at the Edwardian Royal Academy’, Visual Culture in Britain, 14:1, p. 25)
The continuing influence of the Royal Academy throughout the Edwardian Era has, as Pamela Fletcher’s comment attests, received little attention from art historians, most of whom are happy to swallow the notion that their exhibitions were a worthless parade of sentimental narrative paintings, eccentric historical re-enactments, dull landscapes and pompous portraits; anathema to any forward-thinking individual. The relative invisibility of many popular Royal Academy paintings – now hiding in gallery storage, or in private collections – makes it hard to stage a recovery. The digitisation of documents such as the annual ‘Royal Academy Illustrated’ (copies of which can be found on archive.org, among other resources) does, however, gives us a generous glimpse into the weird, wonderful and engaging world of the Edwardian Royal Academy, as this series of posts hopes to show. See more highlights below!
Royal Academy Illustrated 1900 (link to catalogue)
J. T. Nettleship, ‘Into the Silent Sea’