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We plan to reopen on Tuesday, 18 May! Find out more.

The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition

1 January 2021 — 31 December 2022

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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.

Please note:

We plan to reopen this free display on Tuesday 18 May.
You must book a free ticket to visit.
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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 Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and an almost full-size 16th-century copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper and casts of key classical sculptures, notably the Belvedere Torso. 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 Christopher Le Brun PPRA, 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.

1 January 2021 — 31 December 2022

Tues–Sun: 10am–6pm

Free but booking is required. Your free ticket gives you access to all our free displays, shops and cafés.

Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts