The Royal Academy of Arts’ gallery is on Piccadilly, it is directly across the road from Fortnum & Mason.
The Academy was founded in 1768 by King George III. They have many varied exhibitions throughout the year. These include single artist exhibitions, for example, Hockney and Ai Wei Wei have been on so far this year. There are also themed shows containing many different artists. “Painting the Modern Garden” included works by Kandinsky, Monet and Matisse. Next years “Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932” will have Chagall, Rodchenko and Eisenstein among others.
The highlight of their year is the Summer Exhibition, on open submission exhibition, to showcase the talent of emerging and established artists. The first one was in 1769 and it has run every one of the 248 years since. This is a huge and wide ranging exhibition usually holding over 1000 pieces, of every shape, size and medium. Most of the works are for sale differing in price from a hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands.
The gallery is nominally free, but most of the exhibitions are charged, so choose what you wish to see.
The Summer Exhibition is good value, although I take off the voluntary donation and only buy one list of works for the whole party, the cost of these is automatically added unless you ask for them to be removed.
The Royal Academy is self funded so do as your conscience sees fit! Personally, I don’t feel too guilty as they charge 30% commission on any work sold.
This exhibition is like a scientific experiment into the nature of portrait painting.
All the portraits are exactly the same size and shape. They are all full body portraits of a subject sitting in the same, yellow cushioned, wooden chair. They all have roughly the same, green and blue, background and each one was painted over the course of 3 days. They are all very recent – some only painted in February and March this year. There are 83 paintings crammed together in 3 small rooms, the walls painted in a matt magenta. A couple of people are pictured twice and one person three times over the course of the exhibition.
The individual portraits themselves are very good; Hockney is a fine portrait artist, but this is a single piece of work and it is seeing the whole exhibition as a unit that transforms this into an exceptional show. The uniformity of the portraits in terms of size, colour, and time, makes one notice the differences between them; the pose, the clothes, the gaze.
I don’t think of it as 83 individual pictures, I see it as one portrait of 83 individual sittings.
This is David Hockney at his best; confident, relaxed, colourful, witty and experimental.
I left very happy.