Royal Academy of Arts


Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD


020-7300 8000



Opening times:

Daily 10:00–18:00 (until 22:00 on Fri)

How to get there:

Tube: Green Park/Piccadilly Circus

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Restaurant and shop

Founded in 1768 under the patronage of George III, with the distinguished portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first President, the Royal Academy’s aim was and still is the promotion of art and design through its teaching Schools; its Summer Exhibition of contemporary British work, an annual event since 1769; and the staging of international loan exhibitions. It is for the latter that the Royal Academy (RA) is perhaps best known today, being one of the main venues in London for major national and international shows. The RA has always been a self-governing institution, its President elected from its body of Academicians (RAs) composed, since the 18th century, of leading painters, sculptors and architects and, from the 19th century, engravers. As well as Reynolds, past Presidents include great figures such as Benjamin West, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Lord Leighton, Sir Edwin Lutyens and, more recently, Sir Hugh Casson.


Burlington House

In 1837 the RA moved from its elegant purpose-built premises in Somerset House to the new National Gallery building in Trafalgar Square and from there, in 1868, to Burlington House where it has been ever since. The present building, largely the work of Sydney Smirke (1866–76), encases a much older one. Smirke’s alterations for the RA included the construction of large exhibition galleries to the rear, and heightening and altering the existing building. The house, begun c. 1664 by Sir John Denham, then bought and completed in 1668 by the 1st Earl of Burlington, was one of London’s foremost private mansions. In the early 18th century it underwent radical alterations, first by James Gibbs for Juliana, Duchess of Burlington; and in 1717–20 by Colen Campbell for the Duchess’ son, the famous architect and promoter of Palladianism, the 3rd Earl of Burlington. The current façade, the block directly facing you as you pass through the central archway from Piccadilly, has Campbell’s Palladian ground and first storeys and Smirke’s third, a heavy addition with niches containing statues of British and Italian Renaissance painters and sculptors. The wings creating the courtyard, by Banks & Barry 1868–73 in Italian Renaissance style, house learned societies: to the left, the Linnaean Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Society of Antiquaries; to the right, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Geological Society. The pleasant fountain jets in the centre of the courtyard are placed, apparently, according to Reynolds’ horoscope.

Internally Burlington House has been extensively altered by a succession of architects. The low-ceilinged entrance hall, remodelled in 1899, contains ceiling paintings by West (The Graces Unveiling Nature, with the Four Elements) and Angelica Kauffmann (Composition, Design, Painting and Invention) removed from the RA’s old meeting room in Somerset House. The central grand staircase by Samuel Ware (1815–18) leads to the Exhibition Galleries. Further up, past Sebastiano Ricci’s grand Baroque paintings The Triumph of Galatea and Diana and her Nymphs, part of a decorative scheme from Gibbs’ old staircase (c. 1712–15), and Kent’s ceiling painting of Architecture with the portrait of Inigo Jones (c. 1720), are the RA’s Fine Rooms.


The Exhibitions

Smirke’s Exhibition Galleries, a succession of large, grand spaces with a central octagonal hall, are where the Summer Exhibitions took place from 1769 and the Winter Old Master Exhibitions from 1870, from which the RA’s current but more elaborate exhibition programme has evolved. The galleries witnessed spectacular crowds, especially in the 1880s and 90s during Leighton’s successful Presidency when 350–400,000 visitors flocked to see popular masterpieces such as Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, Logsdail’s St Martin-in-the-Fields and Anna Lea Merritt’s Love Locked Out (all now owned by the Tate). In was also here, in the octagonal hall in 1896, that Leighton’s body lay in state. The Summer Exhibition (working hard to shake off its reputation as a bastion of conservatism) still takes place here as do the RA’s excellent major loan exhibitions.

Norman Foster’s Sackler Galleries (1985–91) on the third floor have created additional exhibition space, dramatically approached via a glass lift (or staircase) in the narrow space, now glazed, between the back of Burlington House and Smirke’s Exhibition Galleries, affording an extraordinary close-up view of the architecture. Displayed outside the galleries is the Academy’s greatest treasure, Michelangelo’s carved marble Madonna and Child with the Infant St John, the so-called ‘Taddei Tondo’, a work of great beauty and spirituality, bequeathed to the RA in 1830. A further space behind the RA, approached from Burlington Gardens, has occasional loan exhibitions and art fairs while its future development is considered. A rich, Italianate building designed by Sir James Pennethorne for the University of London in 1867–70, until 1997 it was the Museum of Mankind and housed the British Museum’s Ethnographic collection.


Fine Rooms and Permanent Collection

Overlooking the courtyard on the first floor are the recently restored John Madesjki Fine Rooms, splendid historic interiors which now display the RA’s permanent collection. The rooms were the principal apartments of old Burlington House, which over the years have been altered by several architects on behalf of various owners and which from 1868 were the RA’s administration and meeting rooms. Originally decorated, and perhaps designed, by William Kent for the 3rd Earl of Burlington, some were altered by John Carr for the 3rd Duke of Portland in 1771–75 and then remodelled again by Samuel Ware in 1815–18 for Lord George Cavendish. The Saloon, with its pedimented doorcases with large putti, rich gilding and ceiling by Kent, The Marriage Feast of Cupid and Psyche, is the most intact of the Burlington interiors. The Secretary’s Room has another Kent ceiling but others are by Ricci, taken from the old staircase decorated for Juliana, Duchess of Burlington. The Council Room has Ricci’s old staircase ceiling; The General Assembly Room his Triumph of Bacchus, originally on the staircase wall; and the Riccis either side of the current staircase are also from the dismantled scheme.

Throughout the rooms are paintings, sculpture and architectural drawings from the RA’s significant permanent collection which includes Diploma Works presented by RAs on their election as members (a requirement since 1768); plaster casts after the antique (used for teaching in the RA Schools); portraits of RAs; and other works either collected or bequeathed. Among the paintings by Fuseli, Turner, Gainsborough and Millais; sculpture by Flaxman and Chantrey; and architectural drawings by Soane and Waterhouse, is Reynolds’ Self-portrait with a bust of Michelangelo; Constable’s famous Leaping Horse (exhibited at the RA in 1825); Sargent’s An Interior in Venice (his Diploma work); Stubbs’ anatomical drawings for his Anatomy of the Horse; and many more works by other and more modern members. Not all works can be shown: the selection changes approximately every 18 months (five months for works on paper).

Further works are displayed on the Norman Shaw staircase, which leads to the restaurant in the basement, a handsome space also designed by Shaw with murals by Harold Speed (Autumn, 1898), Fred Appleyard (Spring Driving away Winter, 1902) and most recently a large scene by Leonard Rosoman (1984–85).



The Baroque in England

The dramatic art and architecture of the Baroque, with all its theatricality and direct appeal to the senses and emotions, took hold in Britain following the triumphant restoration to the throne of Charles II in 1660, when ‘all arts seemed to return from their exile’. An international court language which bolstered the absolutist regimes of much of Europe, it flourished in Britain until the early 18th century. The period witnessed the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh, the vast illusionistic mural paintings of Antonio Verrio, Louis Laguerre and Sir James Thornhill, and the virtuoso limewood carving of Grinling Gibbons. In 1660 Charles II and his courtiers set about equipping the Stuart monarchy with a magnificent setting suitable for the restored regime, inspired by the visual splendour witnessed at the courts of Europe. Baroque culture, with its emphasis on vastness of size, immense cost and grandeur, as well as the theatrical etiquette and ceremony which accompanied it, was used by the Stuart court to underline the power of the monarch and reinforce it in the minds of the people. Outside London, Verrio decorated the ceilings of the remodelled Windsor Castle with vast allegorical scenes celebrating the might of the crown. In London, following the Great Fire of 1666, Sir Christopher Wren’s new St Paul’s Cathedral rose glorious from the ashes, a magnificent symbol of the Anglican nation, its great dome decorated by Thornhill. William and Mary created their great Baroque palace, Hampton Court, in conscious competition with Louis XIV’s Versailles, its painted ceilings and sculpture symbolic of William as the Protestant victor of Europe. Greenwich Hospital, with Thornhill’s supreme masterpiece, the Painted Hall, reflected the magnificence, munificence and charity of the crown.

In an age which, following the 1688 Glorious Revolution, saw the curbing of the absolute authority of the crown and the championing of civil liberty, Whig adherents increasingly associated the reigns of the old Stuart monarchs as periods of aggressive Roman Catholicism, tyrannical government and extravagant ostentation. The Baroque, inextricably bound up with the Stuarts, fell from favour. In its stead came Palladianism, rooted in the ideals of ancient Rome, and hailed as a purer and more restrained form of art. Symptomatic of this change was the renewed interest in the unsullied Classicism of the architecture of Inigo Jones, particularly championed by Lord Burlington and his circle, who saw in its ‘still unravished’ lines a style and culture which better reflected the decorum and gravitas of the new Augustan age.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
Carlyle’s House (National Trust)
Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
Brunel Engine House
Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
Ben Uri Gallery - The London Jewish Museum of Art
Barbican Art Gallery
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Bankside Gallery
Bank of England Museum
All Hallows Undercroft Museum
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