The History of Exhibition Establishments 

Royal Academy of Arts

Often abbreviated to ‘Royal Academy’ or ‘RA’, the Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 as a charity and to this day, is still led by the artists themselves. The great artists leading the charity are known as Royal Academicians and some of the naïve animal painters within our collection were amongst the first to contribute to these exhibitions.

RA is proud to be different from other exhibition establishments and have quoted on their website:
“We are an Academy. We have much in common with museums and other galleries, but we have a broader role – to promote not just the appreciation and understanding of art, but also its practice.”

In order to promote the practice of art, the RoyalAcademy launched Britain’s very first art school in 1769 which a number of our naïve artists attended including John Alexander Harington Bird, John Boultbee and Edwin Frederick Holt who was awarded a silver medal for his work at the Academy the age of 24. Since the attendance of our 19th Century artists, the Academy has gone on to train some of the UK’s best talents including Turner Prize Nominee, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and, today, the RA Schools are one of the most competitive courses in the country – accepting only 17 students per year.


British Institution

Also known as the ‘British Gallery’ and ‘Pall Mall Picture Galleries’ the formal name for the institution is the ‘British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom’. Founded in 1805 as a “private, 19th Century society” which celebrated the work of both living and dead artists, the institution exhibited a range of different painting styles including formal portraits or Royal subjects, naïve paintings of prize winning cattle and picturesque landscapes.

To encourage study into the arts, the British Institution opened a school after its initial exhibition which ran as a free service to its learners. As the school developed, monetary prizes were awarded to students who created the best “companion pieces” for works originally created by the finest 19th Century artists.

In 1867, the Institution was unfortunately disbanded. Although works by the ‘Old Masters’ were still drawing in visitors, interest in the more modern pieces were dwindling and so the founders decided not to renew the lease.


Royal Society of Arts

A London-based organisation, formerly known as ‘Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’ was founded in 1754. The organisation was granted a Royal Charter in 1847 and in 1908 King Edward VII allowed the Society to use the word ‘Royal’ in its title. From then on, the organisation was renamed ‘The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’ although it is often abbreviated to ‘The Royal Society of Arts’ or simply the ‘RSA’.

The RSA is still very much in operation today as it was when it was first established as has developed a prize scheme which awards individuals with medals and occasionally money to reward their success in the Society’s published challenges.