December 10: the architect, the king and the academy
2012/12/10 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1768 King George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts.
While George was amenable to the arts in general, as is seen in his willingness to be “tutored,” so to speak, by architect William Chambers, it was Chambers who provided the spark of inspiration to get the Academy off the ground. Chambers (1723-96) was something of a globe-trotter, having started life sweeping around the world as an agent of the Swedish East India Company. Perhaps it was this exposure to art traditions–not just the art itself, but also the training of artists and the role that art might hold in one place or another–that encouraged him to encourage the king to jumpstart artsiness in the British capital.
The Academy opened with the purpose of providing a training ground for painters and sculptors (primarily, but institution-less architects also made use of it as well, even after they got their own club, finally, well into in the nineteenth century). It also provided proper venues for exhibitions that would not only elevate the position of artists in society but also educate the public in a proper taste–the one articulated by the academicians, of course, first led by Sir Joshua Reynolds the Marvelous (the Academy’s first president and author of its first course of lectures). The Academy keeps growing and has moved several times, now residing in Burlington House, where it continues to still be pretty fabulous at what it does.
Image: “The Royal Family viewing the exhibition of the Royal Academy,” etching by P.A. Martini after J.H. Ramberg, 1789 (from this source)