Research Library and Archive
Instrument of Foundation, 10th December 1768
XX. There shall be a Library of Books of Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, and all the Sciences relating thereto; also prints of bas-reliefs, vases, trophies, ornaments, dresses, ancient and modern customs and ceremonies, instruments of war and arts, utensils of sacrifice, and all other things useful to Students in the Arts…
Lynn Chadwick RA (1914-2003), Teddy Boy and Girl, 1955. Patinated bronze, 1900 X 700 mm British Art Reference Collection
At the core of the Library is the British Art Reference Collection comprising around 30,000 monographs, exhibition catalogues and standard reference books on British art and artists, with particular concentration on the life and work of Members of the Royal Academy. The library holds a complete set of the Academy’s annual (summer) exhibition catalogues from its inception in 1769 and of the loan exhibition catalogues which began in 1870.
Historic Book Collection
The Historic Book Collection contains some 12,000 volumes published before 1920, which reflect the teaching philosophy of the Academy Schools from their foundation to the end of the 19th century. It includes many rare titles reproducing the masterpieces of medieval and post-Renaissance European art and architecture; detailed archaeological surveys of the civilisations of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt; volumes of engravings recording civil, military and religious festivals, ceremonies and costume; and original editions of virtually all the early treatises on painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, anatomy, perspective, colour theory, art collecting and connoisseurship.
Illustrated Book Collection
A great many British artists, including numerous Members of the Academy, have worked at some point in their careers as book illustrators and/or designers. To highlight their contribution to this genre, a special collection of illustrated books is currently being formed which presently numbers around 1,500 volumes.
Prints and Drawings
Significant collections of drawings and sketchbooks by British artists working from the mid-18th century to the present day are held in the Library Print Room. It also contains a large collection of engravings after the Old Masters, reproductive prints after all the leading British artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, and a growing collection of original prints by current Members of the Academy including Eduardo Paolozzi, Tom Phillips, Jennifer Dickson and Norman Ackroyd. Thematic displays drawn from these collections are mounted periodically in the Library Print Room.
The archive forms one of the world’s most significant resources for the historical study of British art since 1760. It documents the activities of an institution that became a national arbiter of taste throughout the 19th century, acting as the primary venue for the exhibition of contemporary art and continuing to this day to run the oldest school of fine art in the country. The archive forms the recorded memory of the Academy’s membership and activities. In addition to the official archive it includes the personal papers of deceased artists and the institutional archives of other organisations such as the Society of Artists.
Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Jumping a hurdle; saddle; bay horse Daisy Collotype on white wove paper 254 X 310 mm
The Photographic Collection consists of 19th & 20th century photographs of Academicians, landscapes, architecture and works of art. Holdings include early portraits by William Lake Price dating from the 1850’s, portraits by David Wilkie Wynfield and Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion: An Electrophotographic investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement 1872-1885.
The library exists primarily to serve the needs of the Members, students and staff of the institution, but is open to the public by appointment. Access to the library is free to certain categories of reader, such as RA Friends, registered students, etc. Otherwise there is a charge of £3 per day. For further information about access and charges see the Library information service
For those unable to visit the library in person, the Library Information Service is able to answer written, telephone, fax and email enquiries relating to the subject areas described above.
Contact details for inquiries
Telephone 020 7300 5737 (line open Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm).