Royal Scottish Academy

Submitted by Bulmer Hobson on Tue, 2009-06-16

Royal Scottish Academy (RSA), the home of contemporary art in Scotland. Since 1826, the Academy has occupied William Henry Playfair’s magnificent landmark building on the Mound, Edinburgh.

Following a period of relocation due to the major restoration of the RSA building by the National Galleries of Scotland, the RSA returned to its home in spring, 2003.

Using exhibition space which has been restored and refurbished to premier international standard, the RSA will continue in its aim of promoting and cultivating the visual arts in Scotland.

The Royal Scottish Academy of Art maintains a unique position in Scotland as an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose sole purpose is to promote and support the creation, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts through exhibitions and related educational events.

The Scottish Academy was founded in 1826 at a meeting of 11 artists in Edinburgh. Its aims were :

  1. To have an Annual Exhibition open to all artists of merit
  2. To open an Academy of Fine Arts to instruct students free of expense
  3. To open a Library devoted to the Fine Arts
  4. To provide charitable funds for the benefit of less fortunate artists
  5. To admit Honorary Members eminent by their talents.

The membership included Academicians (RSA), Associates (ARSA) and Honorary Members (HRSA). The first President was George Watson RSA (1767-1837). The first Annual Exhibition was held in 1827, and as the Academy developed in stature its membership increased in the disciplines of painting, sculpture and architecture. By 1830 the Academy had begun to acquire books and prints for its library and in 1840 opened its Life School which aimed to improve the training of artists in Scotland. The Academy was granted a royal charter in 1838 and from thenceforth has been known as the Royal Scottish Academy. (RSA)

In 1850 Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of a new building on The Mound in Edinburgh, which was to house the newly formed National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy. The RSA first held its Annual Exhibition in its new galleries on the eastern side of the building in 1855 and these continued here until 1910. The RSA also had its Council room, Library and Life School in this building.

During the late 19th Century it became clear that art exhibition and art education provision in Edinburgh had become overly complex and muddled. A Government Report of 1903 was followed by a Parliamentary Order of 1910 which transferred the Academy to new premises in an adjacent building, previously called the Royal Institution. (In return for being given a new home the Academy gifted 96 paintings and sculptures and about 2,000 drawings to the National Gallery of Scotland.) Renamed the Royal Scottish Academy this building has been the venue for the Academy’s Annual Exhibitions since 1911. Art teaching was transferred to the newly established Edinburgh College of Art, and from this period onwards the Academy became less active in this role. Instead, the RSA assisted young artists through a programme of scholarships, awards and exhibition opportunities.

In 1948 the Academy began to mount a series of special exhibitions for the Edinburgh International Festival. During the 1950’s and 1960’s memorable exhibitions included Degas (1952), Braque (1956) and Rouault (1965). From 19xx to 2007 the RSA presented the RSA Annual Student Exhibition, which allowed all graduating and postgraduate students at the Scottish schools and colleges of art to exhibit one work of art. This changed its historical format in 2008 to become the RSA New Contemporaries, a curated show that selects around 60 of the finest graduates in Scotland.

The Royal Scottish Academy building was fully refurbished as a world class exhibiting space and re-opened its doors in 2003. Sharing the exhibition galleries with the National Galleries of Scotland, the RSA offices continue to be housed here, presenting a year round programme of exhibitions and invigorating scholarship & award initiatives.

In 2007, the RSA Charter was revised with a number of significant amendments. The Academy widened the traditional remit of painting, sculpture, printmaking and architecture to accept artists working in all media, reflecting the diversity of contemporary artistic practice today. Associate Membership (ARSA) was also abolished introducing only one level of membership of the Academy. Full status of Royal Scottish Academician (RSA) was gained on deposition of a Diploma work into the RSA Collection and this did not affect the Honorary Membership.

The Royal Scottish Academy has a proud tradition of promoting excellence in contemporary art in Scotland. Led by eminent artists and architects it supports the creation, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts through exhibitions, artist opportunities and related educational talks and events. Re-establishing itself as a leading organisation for the visual arts in Scotland, it has successfully garnered a reputation for the strength of its engaging and diverse exhibitions and the fantastic opportunities it offers both established and emerging artists.

Revised aims of the Royal Scottish Academy:

  1. To encourage and support emerging Artists and Architects.
  2. To uphold the best practice in contemporary Scottish Art and Architecture.
  3. To maintain a Collection, Archive and Library relevant to the history and activities of the Academy and to make these accessible to the public.
  4. To inform national debates on a range of visual, cultural and educational issues.

Royal Scottish Academy Collection:

The Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture has a wide-ranging collection of art and associated objects, archives and published material that have been acquired since the academy’s foundation in 1826. The accumulated material reflects both the life and work of the academy as an institution and its individual members as well as providing a broader view of Scottish art from c.1780 to the present day. The core element of the collections is the Diploma Collection, which comprises a single work by each full member of the academy which he or she must deposit as a representation of his or her Å“uvre. Coming directly from the artist, and requiring the approval of the rest of the full membership, the Diploma Collection maintains a direct link between artist and collection.

From modest beginnings the RSA collections have expanded to become an institution that is now recognised as being of National Significance for its presentation of a deep and intricate network of visual creativity in Scotland over the past two hundred years.

The collections are maintained by the RSA Collections Department, based at The Dean Gallery, 73 Belford Road, Edinburgh, this is a storage and research facility. Public exhibitions of the collections are mounted in the Royal Scottish Academy on The Mound, Edinburgh.

Telephone: 0131 225 6671
Fax: 0131 220 6016


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