Collectively, our Academicians make up some of the greatest names in contemporary art and architecture.
About the Academicians
All of the Royal Academicians (RAs) are practising artists who help steer our vision, support our activities and plan for the future. Each Academician is elected by their peers in one of four categories:
At any one time there are no more than 80 RAs. They are all practicing professional artists who work in the UK. Of these 80, there must always be at least 14 Sculptors, 12 Architects and 8 Printmakers; the rest are all Painters. When an Academician reaches the age of 75, they become a Senior Academician. In addition are the Honorary RAs – artists from outside the UK – and Honorary Fellows and Honorary Members, eminent individuals from beyond the art world. All are elected by existing RAs.
We have 11 committees which make important decisions about our activities, from Learning to Finance. Academicians sit on all of these committees, meaning practising artists and architects are deeply involved in our day-to-day running and strategy.
All RAs are entitled to exhibit up to six works in the annual Summer Exhibition, and they also have the opportunity to show their work in small solo exhibitions in our other galleries. Many of the RAs are also involved in teaching at the RA Schools and giving lectures as part of the RA Learning Programme.
See a full list of Academicians, Honorary RAs, Honorary Fellows and Honorary Members.
I love the Royal Academy. It's like a trade union for artists - both anachronistic and extremely relevant.
Our Presidents are always elected by their fellow Academicians. It is rare for a President’s election to be opposed, although John Everett Millais’ election in the 19th century was opposed by one vote – his own! Our rules dictate that the President must be under 75 and cannot be in office for more than 10 consecutive years. Generally impartial, the President can summon the Council and General Assemblies, but only vote on matters when votes are tied. The President is our formal representative and takes the lead on our fundraising efforts to secure the future of the RA.
A role totally unique to the Royal Academy, the Keeper is responsible for our art school, the RA Schools. Elected from among our RAs, the Keeper makes sure we continue to deliver the highest standards of teaching and academic performance. We give every Keeper their own studio space here at the RA so they can continue creating their own work. They can serve up to five consecutive three-year terms and our current Keeper Eileen Cooper has been in the post since 2011.
The Secretary is appointed to direct and oversee the work and output of the RA, safeguarding its cultural significance and operations, including all aspects of our administration. The Secretary is also the only Officer who is not a Royal Academician. Our Secretary Charles Saumarez Smith joined us in 2007, was awarded a CBE in 2008 and has written a book on the origins of the Royal Academy.
The Treasurer of the Royal Academy is elected by ballot for a five-year term, from RAs who have served a minimum of five years. The Treasurer acts as the formal representative of the Academicians on all matters concerning finance. Chris Orr has been our Treasurer since 2014.
In theory, anyone is eligible to become an RA, as long as they are under 75 and professionally active as an artist or architect in the UK. Potential new RAs are first nominated by an existing Academician, who writes their name in the weighty Nominations Book [pictured open above]. Signatures must then be elicited from eight other RAs in support of the nomination. At this stage the nominee becomes a Candidate.
The ballot box
In March, May and December each year, all the Academicians meet at a General Assembly to vote in new Members from the list of Candidates. There is no postal voting, so this is done entirely in person. Previously, RAs would place marble or wooden balls into a ballot box [pictured above]. It is still used as table decoration. Vacancies are only created when an RA reaches the age of 75 and becomes a Senior Academician or on the death of an RA. The Academy Laws specify that there can be up to a maximum of eighty Royal Academicians at any one time, so there are usually only one or two new Members voted in each year.
Conrad Shawcross RA Elect; Christopher Le Brun PRA; Chantal Joffe RA Elect
Photo: Benedict Johnson
The newly elected Royal Academician attends a meeting of Council to go through a short traditional ceremony, when the terms of obligation are read out. They then receive their medal and sign the Roll of Obligation, which includes the signatures of every Academician since our founding in 1768. Once they have donated a work, known as a Diploma Work, to our Collection, they receive their Diploma, signed by the sovereign.
Made up of thirteen RAs, Council is a committee that is responsible for the direction and management of every major aspect of the Royal Academy. The Four Officers also attend each meeting.
Various Committees report to Council on each area of the RA’s activities and recommend policy. The current committees cover Architecture, Collections & Library, Audit, Finance, Exhibitions, Learning, Schools and Works. An RA, appointed by the Council, presides over each committee. They are helped by a senior member of staff from that department, as well as other staff, a number of Academicians and up to four external members.
The RAs that sit on Council consist of four Members who are elected annually by the General Assembly to serve a two-year term, six members selected by rotation, and three newly elected Academicians, appointed to sit on the Council for their first year.
In addition, three External Members who are not RAs are approved by Council and General Assembly and appointed for a term of two years in order to provide expert professional advice.
The RAs who sit on Council each year delegate the direction and management of the Summer Exhibition to the Summer Exhibition Committee, which consists of thirteen Academicians, and is chaired by the President.