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4 August 1914: the declaration of war

The RA during the First World War

Published 4 August 2014

A snapshot of the Royal Academy on 4 August 1914, with the country poised on the brink of war.

  • Throughout the week of 4 August 2014, we’re publishing a series of blogs telling the story of the Royal Academy of Arts during the First World War. Follow the blog series here.

    When the United Kingdom sat down to breakfast on the morning of Tuesday, 4 August 1914 it did so in the knowledge that a British ultimatum was being picked over by the German authorities.

    To almost everyone it seemed that war was inevitable, even if the country remained for the moment at peace. The Royal Academy Schools had closed the previous Friday for the summer vacation and so were quiet. The Summer Exhibition was entering its last week and would usually have been packed with late visitors, but a clerical error involving badly worded advertisements had kept people away over the Bank Holiday weekend. By half past ten in the evening the galleries were almost empty as the Red Collars started to lock them one by one, ushering the few remaining art-­lovers into a cool August evening.

    Meanwhile, a meeting of the Council – the governing body of the RA, made up of artists and architects – was underway in the Academy’s Fine Rooms. Among the humdrum of Royal Academy administration was an item relating to staff: “It was agreed that the Schools Porter Collard and the Night Fireman Capper, who have been called out for service with the Naval Reserve, be paid their full wages for the present.”

    Britain, including the Academy staff, was already drawn-up in battle formation. By the time the Council broke for the evening, a state of war existed between Britain and Germany.

    At 10pm on Monday 4 August 2014 the RA is taking part in ‘Lights Out’, a national moment commemorating 100 years since the declaration of war. Read more here.

    Mark Pomeroy is the Royal Academy’s Archivist.