Every year since 1769, the Royal Academy has put on an open-submission art show, called ‘The Exhibition’ in earlier days but now known as the Summer Exhibition. The works on show are selected and arranged by Royal Academicians, who also enter their works into the exhibition, creating an eclectic mix of work by established artists alongside emerging talent and first-time exhibitors.
In the early years of the Summer Exhibition, all the artworks were figurative (meaning they depicted people). Pictures were hung floor to ceiling, very close together, tipped towards the viewer and arranged symmetrically. History painting and swagger portraits by the celebrated artists of the day sat pride of place “on the line”, so that the bottom edge of the artwork was eight foot from the ground. Smaller pieces sat below, and works by lesser-known artists were “skied” – hung near the ceiling where it was difficult to see them. This print depicts crowds of visitors at the RA’s third exhibition, which was held in a small gallery just 30 feet long.