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Sir Walter Westley Russell RA, Sir Walter Lamb K.C.V.O. and John Coy in the Secretary's Room of the Royal Academy

Sir Walter Lamb K.C.V.O. and John Coy in the Secretary's Room of the Royal Academy, ?early 1940s

Sir Walter Westley Russell RA (1867 - 1949)

RA Collection: Art

This painting shows the cluttered interior of the Secretary’s Office at the Royal Academy. Sir Walter Lamb is seated at his desk, covered with stacks of books, letters and documents. The figure entering the room at the left is John Coy, Head Porter at the Royal Academy. He wears the traditional ‘Red Collar’ uniform, which is still worn by the team of Red Collar staff at the Academy today.

The role of Secretary of the Royal Academy has been integral to the Academy’s since its foundation in 1768. By the time of Lamb’s appointment as Secretary in 1913, the role involved leadership and management of the Academy’s affairs. Lamb was not an Academician nor was he an artist, instead a classical scholar and translator. He served as Secretary for almost 40 years, seeing the Academy through two World Wars and playing an instrumental part in introducing large-scale loan exhibitions to the programme. Lamb also authored the book, The Royal Academy: A Short History of its Foundation and Development (1951). Depicted here among his piles of papers, he appears diligent and thorough, alluding to his long service to the Royal Academy.

Yet this is not simply a portrait of a leading figure in the Academy. The artist Walter Westley Russell RA has chosen to include the figure of Coy, reflecting the respect and importance give to the Porters within the Academy. Like the Secretary, the position of Porter dates from the foundation of the Academy. At the time of this painting, Porters were responsible for almost all operations relating to the functioning of the building, including maintaining security, ensuring safety of visitors and transporting works of art. They also played a ceremonial role, welcoming high-profile guests at dinners and exhibitions and carrying out traditional duties, such as serving beef tea and dry biscuits to Royal Academicians at the Summer Exhibition Selection Committee.

Today, the role of Porter has evolved into that of the Red Collar. Many aspects of the role stay the same and Red Collars now also act as front-of-house duty managers and are a constant presence at the Academy, manning the buildings night and day, all year round. Together, their experience and expertise form one of the cornerstones of the modern Academy; with their knowledge of the people and processes of the organisation, the Red Collars ensure the smooth daily operation of the Academy.

Russell, the painter of this work, was an artist who ranged across genres, known for his landscapes of the English countryside and portraits of fashionable ladies and prominent public figures. He was elected an Academician in 1926 and was appointed Keeper (head) of the Royal Academy Schools in 1927, a position he retained until 1942. This painting was likely made near the end of his tenure as Keeper, as testament to his working relationship with Lamb. It was given to the Royal Academy by Lamb’s widow, Margaret, in 1967. That the Lambs had this in their possession implies that Russell had either gifted or bequeathed the work to Lamb, a further indication of their strong friendship and the admiration Russell felt towards the Secretary.

Object details

Sir Walter Lamb K.C.V.O. and John Coy in the Secretary's Room of the Royal Academy
?early 1940s
Object type
Copyright owner
Oil on canvas

635 mm x 765 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Lady Lamb 1967
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