Royal Academy of Arts, official archive

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 1 of 73 in this group

Reference code



Royal Academy of Arts, official archive





Extent & medium


Historical Background

The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768, when a group of leading painters, sculptors and architects presented a memorial to King George III in order to obtain his interest in the founding of an academy of fine arts in London. They had two objects: to encourage art by establishing a well-regulated school and to hold an annual exhibition of contemporary work. By the Instrument of Foundation of 10 December 1768, the King declared his patronage, protection and support for the new body.

Sir William Chambers was named by the Instrument as first Treasurer of the Royal Academy, a direct appointment made in view of the possibility of calls upon the Privy Purse. At the first General Assembly of 14 December 1768, Sir Joshua Reynolds was formally elected as President, George Michael Moser became first Keeper, with responsibility for the Schools and servants, and Francis Milner Newton was appointed Secretary, with responsibility for minutes, correspondence and related matters.

The Royal Academy began in small temporary quarters in Pall Mall, in premises previously used by an auctioneer named Aaron Lamb. The first exhibition was held there from 26 April to 27 May 1769. The first students had been admitted in January of that year. In 1771 the Schools and the administration of the Royal Academy were given accommodation by King George III in his palace of Old Somerset House in the Strand. In 1775 the Government had assumed control of the Somerset House site following an agreement to assign Buckingham House to the use of Queen Charlotte. The agreement had stipulated, however, that the Royal Academy be allowed to continue its tenure there. Sir William Chambers was selected as the architect of the new Somerset House, with a brief to provide accommodation for the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries and various Government departments, as well as the Academy. The Royal Academy was based at Somerset House from 1780-1837. From 1837, the Academy occupied the east wing of the newly completed building on the north side of Trafalgar Square, formerly the site of the King's Mews built by William Kent in 1732. The Academy shared the building with the National Gallery. In 1866, the Government decided to appropriate the whole of the Trafalgar Square building for the expanding collections of the National Gallery, and the Royal Academy was offered part of the Burlington House site in Piccadilly. Originally a two storey mansion sold before completion to the 1st Earl of Burlington in 1664, Burlington House had been purchased by the Government in 1854. A lease for 999 years at a rent of £1 per annum was executed in March 1867, and the Academy moved into its new accommodation in 1868, where it remains. The building was extensively remodelled in the 1870s, including the addition of a third storey and the construction of new Burlington House (the buildings on the east, south and west side of the courtyard, which house the learned societies). The Academy's Schools were located immediately at the rear of Burlington House. In 2001 the Royal Academy acquired 6 Burlington Gardens for use as additional exhibition space, and for other purposes.

The membership of Royal Academy of Arts has been made up since foundation of elected Royal Academicians, eminent in their various branches of art, and formerly of a class of Associate members. The Academy has always been autonomous and self-funding, and in addition to exhibition revenue, is today supported by private sponsorship and a Friends organisation.

Content Description

The fonds consists of the official records of the Royal Academy of Arts.


The fonds is divided into a number of sub-fonds: one containing the Instrument of Foundation, signed by King George III, establishing the Royal Academy in 1768, and others reflecting the major administrative and record-creating divisions of the organisation.


Hutchison, Sydney C. The History of the Royal Academy 1768-1986, London 1986.