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The Royal Academy of Arts

Johan Zoffany, The Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1772, RCIN 400747 ©

In 1768, King George III approved the Instrument of Foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts, the principal aims of which were to teach students ‘the Arts of Design’ and to mount annual exhibitions. Through the first Treasurer of the RA, the architect William Chambers, the King supported the fledgling organisation financially and made rooms available for the Academy in old Somerset House on the Strand. It was there that Johan Zoffany set his group portrait of the Academicians attending a life class, painted for George III and displayed alongside.

Thus began an association between the Royal Academy and the Sovereign that has now lasted almost a quarter of a millennium. To mark the Coronation in 1953 and then the Silver Jubilee in 1977, the Royal Academy presented The Queen with portfolios of works on paper by the Academicians. The most recent gift of over a hundred works on paper, to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, has been one of the most important, even transformative additions to the Royal Collection in modern times.

The Diamond Jubilee gift bears witness to the vitality of the Royal Academy. Once a bastion of artistic conservatism, it is now one of the powerhouses of the British art scene. The gift embraces every possible style, from the robustly figurative to the coolest abstraction, and every medium of graphic art, from traditional drawing, watercolour and etching, to acrylics, screenprints, collages, and now, in the twenty-first century, inkjet prints and an iPad drawing.