An introduction to Britain's longest-running art school

The RA's former President, Christopher Le Brun, briefly tells the story of the RA Schools.

The Antique School at New Somerset House (ca.1780) by Edward Francis BurneyRoyal Academy of Arts

In the mid-18th century, the arts were not seen as central in this country; it was Reynolds and the Academy who made them so by establishing Britain’s first art school.

Taddeo in the House of Giovanni Piero Calabrese (about 1595) by Federico ZuccaroThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Before the RA Schools was established, young artists were trained by working as apprentices, developing in the style of their master. They therefore received a body of knowledge that was partial.

Westmacott lecturing at Somerset House in 1830; Lecture on Sculpture by Sir Richard Westmacott at the Royal Academy (1850) by George Johann Scharf, Charles Joseph HullmandelRoyal Academy of Arts

At the RA Schools, in contrast, teaching was varied. Reynolds had theories about the priorities for art, but his vision did not dominate. A variety of independently minded Royal Academicians taught the students as visiting artists. This was different to academies in European countries such as Germany, where an atelier system persisted, with each group studying under a single professor.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

The Academy’s approach has endured in British art schools today, where the calibre of visiting teachers remains very high and various. As a student, you enter a situation of open discussion and open potential, where your imagination is king, rather than learning by rote or achieving standards set by one artist.

A student works on a sculpture at the RA Schools, 2019. (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

Not all students are prepared for the concentration and determination this involves – the burdens of innovation that the fine artist has an ethical responsibility to uphold.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2017)Royal Academy of Arts

These processes that take place at the RA Schools are vital to our institution. To risk a cliché, our art school is our research and development department.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

Artists are making things new on the premises whenever you visit us and that informs everything we do.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

Imagine if you took away the RA Schools: the Royal Academy’s spirit would change – the vital spark would no longer be there.

Behind the scenes at the RA Schools (2019)Royal Academy of Arts

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