The Collection began with the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768, works of art often being given by the artists themselves. They were intended to show the talents of the British School and provide inspiration for new generations of British artists.
It now contains about 935 paintings, 350 sculptures, 700 plaster casts, 25,000 prints and drawings and 5,000 historic photographs. The Collection’s central focus is on British art and artists from the 18th century to the present day.
You will find some of these works on display around the building; ranging from the Michelangelo Tondo to the most recent additions to the Collection by Royal Academicians. In addition a programme of exhibitions in the Tennant Gallery, the Fine Rooms & the Print Room focuses on the rich history of the RA, our Collection and the work of Academicians past and present.
The Collection, Library and Archives of the Royal Academy have been awarded Designation status, identifying them as pre-eminent in their field and recognising their international importance. Designation is a mark of excellence, not only for the collection but also for the institution since, it must demonstrate its ability to care for a collection of national importance. The award places the RA’s collections on a par with other non-national museums, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Courtauld Institute.
Diploma Works are works of art presented by artists upon their election as Member of the Royal Academy. This significant collection of works dates from the 18th century to the present day and includes paintings by Fuseli, Turner, Constable, Raeburn, Millais, Sargent, Spencer and Hockney; sculptures by Flaxman, Gibson, Thorneycroft, Paolozzi, Frink and Flanagan; and architectural drawings by Soane, Barry, Scott, Waterhouse, Lutyens, Rogers and St. John Wilson.
Highlights from the collection can be seen on free tours of the John Madejski Fine Rooms.
This collection brings together a wide range of materials for teaching artists and include: anatomical drawings for Cheselden’s Osteographia, George Stubbs’ Anatomy of the Horse and numerous studies by B.R. Haydon; life drawings by William Mulready, Lord Leighton and G.F. Watts; engravings by and after Old Masters such as Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya and Tiepolo; plaster casts after the Antique and écorché casts from dissected bodies; photographs from Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion 1872-1885; and copies after Old Masters including 16th-century copies of Leonardo’s Last Supper and Michelangelo’s Leda and the Swan.
Learn more about works of art in the Collection
Gilbert Spencer RA,Activity at Tree Cottage No. 2,1967.
The collection of portraits of Members of the Royal Academy include many iconic images of British artists including self-portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough, as well as significant representations of artists such as Constable, Millais, Alma Tadema, Sickert, Bellany and Nolan. There is also an important collection of photographs of Victorian artists by David Wilkie Wynfield.
John Constable RA,Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows,1837.
Significant collections of drawings and sketchbooks by British artists working from the mid-18th century to the present day are held in the Library Print Room. It also contains a large collection of engravings after the Old Masters, reproductive prints after all the leading British artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, and a growing collection of original prints by current Members of the Academy including Eduardo Paolozzi, Tom Phillips, Jennifer Dickson and Norman Ackroyd.
John Yenn RA,Design for a Palladian bridge: elevation,1775.
An important element of the collection is its wide range of architectural drawings made by leading British architects. These include important drawings by John Yenn, Thomas Graham Jackson and Richard Norman Shaw as well a large collection of drawings relating to Burlington House, the first neo-Palladian town house in Britain.
Established at the time of the Academy’s foundation in 1768 to serve the needs of the Members of the Royal Academy and students in its Schools, the Royal Academy of Arts Library is the oldest institutional fine arts library in the United Kingdom. It has built up significant collections of books and other material relating to British art and the history of the Royal Academy, its Members, Schools, exhibitions and collections since the mid-18th century. The Research Library and Archive is open to the public by appointment.
Unknown artist,A standing man reading a book, viewed in profile,c.1779 – 1780.
At the core of the Library is the British Art Reference Collection comprising around 30,000 monographs, exhibition catalogues and standard reference books on British art and artists, with particular concentration on the life and work of Members of the Royal Academy. The library holds a complete set of the Academy’s annual (summer) exhibition catalogues from its inception in 1769 and of the loan exhibition catalogues which began in 1870.
The Historic Book Collection contains some 12,000 volumes published before 1920, which reflect the teaching philosophy of the Academy Schools from their foundation to the end of the 19th century. It includes many rare titles reproducing the masterpieces of medieval and post-Renaissance European art and architecture; detailed archaeological surveys of the civilisations of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt; volumes of engravings recording civil, military and religious festivals, ceremonies and costume; and original editions of virtually all the early treatises on painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, anatomy, perspective, colour theory, art collecting and connoisseurship.
The Queer Camelopard.
An illustration by L Leslie Brooke (1864 – 1940) for “The Truth about Old King Cole” by G.F. Hill, published London: Frederick Warne and Co., 
A great many British artists, including numerous Members of the Royal Academy, have worked at some point in their careers as book illustrators and/or designers. To highlight their contribution to this genre, a special collection of illustrated books is currently being formed which presently numbers around 1,500 volumes.
The Archive forms one of the world’s most significant resources for the historical study of British art since 1760. It documents the activities of an institution that became a national arbiter of taste throughout the 19th century, acting as the primary venue for the exhibition of contemporary art and continuing to this day to run the oldest school of fine art in the country. The archive forms the recorded memory of the Academy’s membership and activities. In addition to the official archive it includes the personal papers of deceased artists and the institutional archives of other organisations such as the Society of Artists.
Archivist Mark Pomeroy displays an item from the archive
Photo @ Benedict Johnson
Eadweard Muybridge,Jumping a hurdle; saddle; bay horse Daisy,1872-1885.
This collection consists of 19th & 20th century photographs of Academicians, landscapes, architecture and works of art. Holdings include early portraits by William Lake Price dating from the 1850s, portraits by David Wilkie Wynfield and Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion: An Electrophotographic investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement 1872-1885.
High-quality prints of images from the Royal Academy’s Collections are available to order online, framed or unframed, on a choice of papers or canvas. Go to www.royalacademyprints.com
Highlights include Frederick Gore’s vivid Spanish landscapes, John William Waterhouse’s famous Mermaid and John Constable’s lively seascape oil sketches, as well as charming illustrations from the Library’s book collections.
Thomas Rowlandson,Doctor Syntax & bookseller,1812.
The Library Information Service can answer enquiries over the telephone, by post or email relating to the RA and its Collections. We have also provided a guide (below) to other organisations that might be able to help with your enquiry where we cannot.
Library Information Service
Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
Online collection database
The Royal Academy Collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, historic books, archives, historic photographs and plaster casts can be searched online. Currently, only works of art which have been digitised are available on the website. More images are added each month, and in due course all records will be made available.