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The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition

The Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts

Dates to be announced

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: This display has been closed until further notice. When we open on 9 July you’ll be able to see Picasso and Paper (pre-booking essential). Sign up for emails or follow us on social media for further updates.

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.

Dates to be announced

Free, no booking required.

The Collection Gallery, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts