The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition
Does great art begin with studying nature, or studying the great art of the past? Decide for yourself in this new 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 showcases 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 leaves in the breeze, rotting timbers and fluffy clouds.
From 19 May 2018
10am – 6pm Sunday – Thursday
10am – 10pm Friday
The Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts
Try Smartify in the galleries
Learn more about each work, or take a tour
During your visit, you can use the Smartify app app with your smartphone or tablet camera to “scan” the artworks in The Great Tradition and discover the stories behind them.
Look out for Mary Beard’s mythology trail in Smartify too: the historian tells the stories behind key classical works around the RA. Works included in the trail are marked on labels on the walls.
Michelangelo as Muse
19 May – 16 September 2018
This small display of works on paper in the Cabinet looks at the influence of Michelangelo on the artists that came after him, including John Constable, who declared his Tondo to be “one of the most beautiful works of art in existence”.
It includes Constable’s own tiny sketch of the work, an early copy of Leda and the Swan and several other drawings after Michelangelo.