Behind the scenes at the RA Schools

A visit to the degree show at the Royal Academy Schools got me thinking about the history of art education for women, and the Royal Academy and the position of women within it.

A working environment

A working environment

The Schools are tucked in behind the grandeur of the main RA building – the studio skylights look like a series of sheds that have been tacked on.

Schools corridor (via)

Inside, the corridor is dark, cluttered and a few centuries old. Most of the statues have bits missing (not always just the naughty bits). This place has seen heavy use since the RA moved to Burlington House in 1868.

The life drawing studio in 2010

The life drawing studio in 2010

The bare bones of the life drawing studio, and the collection of casts, look pretty much as it always has, and tucked in along the hallways are other necessities.

A library is housed in locked bookcases

A library is housed in locked bookcases

Other cases house skeletons

Other cases house skeletons

The Schools were founded in 1768 as part of an institution with a mission: “to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition.” The Royal Academy went on to dominate the art scene of the 18th and 19th centuries, but along the way it somehow lost its women members… first by attrition, and then, says the RA website, “In 1879, the Council of the day came to the conclusion that our original Instrument of Foundation did not allow for women RAs. Eventually, they relented and passed a resolution to make women eligible, but only on the condition of restricted privileges.”

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

The Summer Exhibition in 1800 (via)

For a long time the RA Schools  was the only established art school in Britain. (Why “Schools”? – because when the RA was first founded, students were required to master a number of different artistic elements in a particular order – eg, drawing from casts before moving on to life drawing. Each element was known as a separate ‘School’.)

1808, drawing by gaslight

1808, drawing by gaslight (via)

Other art education was through private schools and tutelage, which is how any women in Britain who aspired to be an artist got training, unless she went abroad to study. In 1860 the RA started admitting women students – almost by mistake. Selection was by submitted drawings, and when L. Herford turned up, what was assumed to be a Lawrence turned out to be a Laura.

By 1862 there were seven women among an intake of about 25 students a year, and before long they outnumbered the male students – who had migrated to Paris, where the drawing instruction was superior (says Stuart Macdonald in The History and Philosophy of Art Education, 1969) . All students at the RA Schools “spent five or more years in tedious imitation” – and women were banned from life drawing until 1893.

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

Cast collection in the life drawing room, 2010

By the beginning of the 20th century the RA Schools had further competition in the form of the Slade and the Royal College of Art, and the quality of its students declined. Attempts to widen the curriculum to include decorative art got nowhere – it was confined to life-sized painting from the head, and painting and drawing from the nude figure.

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

Lecture to art and architecture students, 1953 (via)

The course lasted up to 10 years before 1853; it runs for three years now, and there are about 60 students in the Schools at a time, doing this postgraduate course. In 1769, 70 students were admitted; then as now, they do not pay fees.

 

Angelika Kauffmann's paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Angelika Kauffmann’s paintings on the ceiling in the entrance of the RA are hardly noticed by visitors (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Spring by Mary Moser (via)

Two women, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser, were among the 36 founding members of the RA, but for a long time (until Annie Swynnerton became an associate in 1922, and Laura Knight a full member in 1936) there were no women academicians. Up to 80 practising artists are elected to be academicians ; these currently include 26 women.

 

Academicians are involved in teaching in the Schools and give lectures as part of the RA’s education programme. In 2011 Tracy Emin and Fiona Rae were the first women to be appointed professors, of drawing and painting respectively.

Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin (via)

fiona rae (via)

fiona rae (via)

And now, some work from the current graduates. They’ve had three years with free tuition … but first had to be chosen from some 1000 applicants!

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

Hold (hole and Plexiglas pole) by Ariane Schick … with a view through to the corridor

 

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater

Natalie Dray, part of Zone Heater (feel the warmth…) and of 6 Sheet

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

Hannah Perry, Feeling It, wall-based sound sculpture (it shakes, rattles, and rolls)

 

Work by Alex Clarke

Work by Alex Clarke

Up the stairs and you’re in the public part of the RA’s grand building … a different place.

ra-stairs

 

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2 Responses to “Behind the scenes at the RA Schools”


  1. 1 olganorris June 29, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I know that Sheila Girling and Sandra Blow studied at the RA Schools. Do you know of other recent female artists who continued with their careers after studying there?

    • 2 mcooter3 June 30, 2014 at 2:38 am

      No, I don’t know of any recent female artists who’d been there … but one of the painting tutors on my foundation course (five years ago) had spent time at the RA Schools – in his day (1980s?) you could be there for up to five years, if his case is typical. He said it was wonderful to be there, so no wonder he stayed as long as he could!

      Fascinating to see that Sheila Girling (http://www.sheilagirling.org/) exhibited in the RA Summer Exhibition, 1950-1 … and the next listing is for 1978.

      Blow (http://www.sandrablow.com/) was at the RA Schools right after WW2.


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