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The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition

The Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts

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Does great art begin with studying nature, or studying the great art of the past? Decide for yourself in this gallery, bringing together highlights from the RA Collection.

What makes great art? Our first President, Sir Joshua Reynolds, believed that the art of the past was the most important source of inspiration, but this was challenged by later Academicians like JMW Turner and John Constable. Although both still included references to historic art in their work, they also drew inspiration from nature, spending long hours capturing the world they saw around them. The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition presents the people who founded the RA, their ideas about art, and how those ideas changed over the next 50 years.

The gallery includes many of the RA’s exemplars of earlier art, including an almost full-size 16th-century copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper, casts of key classical sculptures – most notably the Belvedere Torso – and Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo, the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in Great Britain. It also shows the results of Constable’s determination to work from nature, including several of his cloud studies, and Turner’s Dolbadern Castle, given to the RA on his election as a Royal Academician.

The display is curated by the current President of the RA, painter Christopher Le Brun, who observes that when the RA was founded, the main carrier of ideas in art was the nude male figure, but in the hands of Constable, the main carrier of meaning became “the stuff of nature”, including the most transient effects such as clouds and passing rain showers.

From 19 May 2018

Daily 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 10pm

Please note, The Collection Gallery will be closed from 11 Dec 2018 to 12 Jan 2019

The Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts