knowing that many of the great british artists i admire were associated with the royal academy in one way or another, and given that their website has records of all kinds of interesting artworks in their collection, it seemed worthwhile to make a trip out to see it. it’s fairly centrally located, anyway.
there were two temporary exhibitions going on, including a van ruisdael landscape show which is all well and good, though not what i was after. i was hoping to catch a bit of what would be the permanent collection. after some delay we joined up with a free tour that went through those rooms. when we saw on the map what portion of the showing space was dedicated to the permanent gallery, we were disheartened. yet i remained optimistic, since even a small handful of great pieces would be satisfying.
ends up the tour is mainly about those rooms, themselves, and the manor that eventually grew, tetsuo-style, into what is now the r.a.. that was very disappointing. to go with the landscape exhibition, the pieces that were up were mainly other landscapes. sigh. a couple of decent reynolds portraits were around, and a large leighton bronze, but nothing else that i had hoped to see. an absolute bust.
questions were asked of the guide, including the state of the r.a. as an actual academy these days. apparently they still have about 20 students at a time, who once chosen get free education (and a stipend!). this was an academy whose first 4 presidents were reynolds, leighton, millais, and poynter, and which once turned out fantastically talented artists with a rigorous education. so certainly the drawing and painting instruction of the current students is also keeping standards high?
the actual answer, “oh i don’t think so. does anyone even know how to draw anymore?”
so i left the royal academy not only disappointed with the showing, but completely disillusioned with it as an institution, as well.