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The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition - Royal Academy of Arts

Exhibition preview

THE Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition will be on display in the John Madejski Fine Rooms, Weston Rooms, and Galleries I and II of the Royal Academy of Arts from June 12 to August 19, 2018.

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is the world’s longest running annual exhibition of contemporary art and has been held each year without interruption since 1769.

Staged to coincide with the 2018 Summer Exhibition, The Great Spectacle will tell the story of the annual show by featuring highlights from the past 250 years.

The exhibition will include over 80 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints from the first Summer Exhibition through to the present day by artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Angelica Kauffman, Elizabeth Butler, Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, J.M.W. Turner, John Everett Millais, Sir Frederic Leighton, John Singer Sargent, Peter Blake, Tracey Emin, Zaha Hadid, Sir Michael Craig-Martin, David Hockney and Wolfgang Tillmans, amongst others.

Since 1769, the Summer Exhibition has played a central role within London’s art world. This great spectacle, dominated by the famously crowded and collage-like arrangement of pictures across the RA’s walls, has captured the interest of millions of visitors.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the exhibition provided the main forum within which artists and architects could showcase their individual practice and compete with their rivals for popular and critical acclaim. Today, the exhibition continues to feature works by distinguished painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and architects as well as up-and-coming artists.

The Great Spectacle will offer a unique view into the history of the RA. It will focus on moments in which the Summer Exhibition made an especially significant impact within the British and European art world, and on pictures that experienced particular success or failure within the exhibition space.

The exhibition will be arranged in chronological sections: A Georgian Parade; The Rise of Genre Painting; The Triumph of Landscape; The Pre-Raphaelites Arrive; Victorian Acclaim; Dealing with the Modern; Exhibiting Architecture; Post-War Visions and New Sensations. Each section will give a sense of the variety and richness of the Summer Exhibition, offering visitors a fascinating, ever-changing journey through British art.

Highlights will include Angelica Kauffman’s Hector Taking Leave of Andromache (National Trust), shown in the first exhibition of 1769; Joshua Reynolds’ Joanna Leigh, Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd Inscribing a Tree (Rothschild Family), exhibited in 1776; Joseph Wright of Derby’s The Dead Soldier (University of Michigan Museum of Fine Art) exhibited in 1789; John Constable’s The Leaping Horse (Royal Academy of Arts, London), exhibited in 1825; John Everett Millais’ Isabella (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), exhibited in 1849; John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the author Henry James (National Portrait Gallery, London), which was famously slashed by the suffragette, Mary Wood in the Summer Exhibition of 1914…

…Sir Winston Churchill’s Winter Sunshine, Chartwell (National Trust), submitted in 1947 under the pseudonym David Winter; Pietro Annigoni’s Queen Elizabeth II (Fishmonger’s Hall, London), which commanded huge crowds when exhibited in 1955; Tracey Emin’s iconic There’s a Lot of Money in Chairs (Private collection), exhibited in 2001; Michael Craig-Martin’s Reconstructing Seurat (Orange) (Private collection), exhibited in 2007; and Wolfgang Tillmans’ Greifbar 1 (Courtesy of the Artist), which was awarded the Wollaston Award in 2014.

The exhibition will also feature William Powell Frith’s, A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 (a Pope Family Trust, c/o Martin Beisly), exhibited in 1883, depicting the characteristic hang of the Summer Exhibition.

Among the architectural drawings on display will be Joseph Michael Gandy’s, Public and Private Buildings Executed by Sir John Soane between 1780 and 1815 (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London). In addition, letters, catalogues and photographs will provide a fascinating insight into the historical context of the Summer Exhibition.

The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition is curated by Mark Hallett, Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, in collaboration with Per Rumberg, Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts.

The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive book by Mark Hallett and Sarah Victoria Turner. Softback: £21.95 (published in June 2018).

Image: John Everett Millais, Isabella, 1849. Oil on canvas, 103 × 142.8 cm, Courtesy National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery.

Admission: £16 full price (£14 without Gift Aid donation); concessions available; children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.

Times: Daily from 10am – 6pm (last admission 5.30pm). Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Tel: 020 7300 8090