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Royal Academy Schools

The Royal Academy Schools form the oldest art school in Britain. They offer a three-year postgraduate art course to students.

The Royal Academy Schools was the first institution to provide professional training for artists in Britain. The Schools' programme of formal training was modelled on that of the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, founded by Louis XIV in 1648. It was shaped by the precepts laid down by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In his fifteen Discourses delivered to pupils in the Schools between 1769 and 1790, Reynolds stressed the importance of copying the Old Masters, and of drawing from casts after the Antique and from the life model. He argued that such a training would form artists capable of creating works of high moral and artistic worth. Professorial chairs were founded in Chemistry, Anatomy, Ancient History and Ancient Literature, the latter two being held initially by Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith.

In 1769, the first year of operation, the Schools enrolled 77 students. By 1830 over 1,500 students had enrolled in the Schools, giving an average intake of 25 students each year. They included men such as John Flaxman, J. M. W. Turner, John Soane, Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake, Thomas Lawrence, Decimus Burton,[13] John Constable, George Hayter, David Wilkie, William Etty, Edwin Landseer. and Charles Lucy in 1838.[14] The term of studentship was at first six years. This was increased to seven years in 1792 and to ten in 1800; it remained at ten till 1853. These figures must be regarded, however, only as years of eligibility. Likely many of the students did not complete their full term, but there are no records of attendance and termination of studentships from the early years.

Professors and Royal Academician "Visitors" taught through a series of lectures. Royal Academicians, practising artists, were elected as Visitors, and served in rotation for nine months of the year. Each Visitor attended for a month, setting the models and examining and instructing the performances of the students. This system lasted into the late 1920s, when Visitors were replaced with permanent teachers.

The first woman to enrol as a student of the Schools was Laura Herford[15] in 1860. Three more women enrolled in 1861, with an additional three in 1862.

Today some 60 students study in the Schools on a three-year postgraduate course. The programme is focused on studio-based practice across all fine art media. The studios accommodate a wide variety of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, print, installation, and time-based and digital media. Selection of candidates is based on evidence of individual ability and commitment, with an emphasis on potential for further development across the three-year course. Students are given the opportunity twice each year to show their work in the Royal Academy.

In 2011 Tracey Emin was appointed Professor of Drawing,[16] and Fiona Rae was appointed Professor of Painting – the first women professors to be appointed in the history of the Academy.[17] Emin was succeeded by Michael Landy,[18] and then David Remfry in 2016 while Rae was succeeded by Chantal Joffe in January 2016.[19]

The Academy has received many gifts and bequests of objects and money. Many of these gifts were used to establish Trust Funds to support the work of the Royal Academy Schools by providing "Premiums" to students displaying excellence in various artistic genre. The rapid changes in 20th-century art left some of the classifications of the older prize funds as somewhat anachronistic. But efforts are made to award each prize to a student producing work that bears a relation to the intentions of the original benefactor.

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