Exploring the Royal Academy’s Archives 

The foundation recently had the privilege of taking a group of our closest friends around the Royal Academy of Art’s Research Library and Archive (RA).

As the oldest institutional Fine Arts library in the UK, it holds a significant collection of books, letters and manuscripts about both British art and the history of the Royal Academy since the mid-18th century until today.

Adam Waterton, RA Librarian and Mark Pomeroy, RA Archivist described with infectious enthusiasm rarely-seen books and manuscripts, such as the Roll of Obligation belonging to the RA’s great 18th century rival, the Society of Artists, where you could see the names of the Academy’s original founders: Reynolds, Gainsborough and Chambers scratched out as traitors. Or the Royal decrees signed by George III, gradually showcasing his mental decline through his increasingly illegible signature.

We saw items right through the Academy’s history, including Academy rejection letters from artists such as Francis Bacon which said ‘I belong to nothing and feel I am too old to start now’ and the second edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects published in 1568 and belonging to artist, Benjamin Robert Haydon and Joshua Reynolds, the Academy’s first president.

Some further highlights of the tour pictured below were William Hogarth’s Frontispiece showing incorrect perspective (see below and on home page) from Dr. Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy, Both in Theory and Practice; Francisco Goya’s 1799 aquatint Mucho hay que chupar – There is plenty to suck; scientist Moses Harris’s Prismatic Colour Wheel, the first colour wheel classifying ‘Red, Yellow and Blue as the primary colours.’ 

To attend events like this, please consider joining as Friend or Supporter of the foundation.

Image credits:

Prismatic Colour Wheel [Painting]. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/prismatic-colour-wheel

Frontispiece showing incorrect perspective [Illustration]. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/frontispiece-showing-incorrect-perspective

Mucho hay que chupar [Painting]. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/mucho-hay-que-chupar