The Scottish Academy is founded
The Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture is founded on 27 May 1826 in Stewart’s Rooms, Waterloo Bridge. The 13 founding Academicians consist of 11 painters, one architect and one sculptor. There are nine Associates (all painters) and three Associate Engravers. Our Founding Aims are:
- To present an annual exhibition open to all artists of merit
- To create an academy of fine arts instructing students at no charge
- To form library and collection devoted to the fine arts
- To support less fortunate artists through charitable funds
- To elect eminent honorary members
The Annual Exhibition commences
Our first Annual Exhibition is held in the rented Exhibition Rooms, 24 Waterloo Place.
The Academy grows
A major painting by William Etty RA HRSA and gifts from John Martin are the first works to enter our collections, now recognised as a Collection of National Significance to Scotland. Christina Robertson is the first woman elected as an Honorary Royal Scottish Academician. The first Honorary Members were elected in 1827.
David Octavius Hill
David Octavius Hill is elected Secretary on resignation of William Nicholson, and his older brother Alexander is appointed ‘Publisher and Artists’ Colourman to the Scottish Academy’.
The Diploma Collection
From this date, following their election, our Academicians gift an example of their work to our Diploma Collection. Diploma works are only accepted following approval by full Assembly of the membership.
The Royal Institution Building
Our Collections are relocated from rented rooms at 24 Waterloo Place to rented rooms in the Royal Institution Building on The Mound. The Annual Exhibition is held in the same premises for the first time in 1836.
Queen Victoria grants us our Royal Charter leading to the creation of the Royal Scottish Academy.
School of the Living Model
After a short trial in 1836, our School of the Living Model opens in rented premises at West Register Street.
Sir John Steell’s monumental statue of Queen Victoria above the north portico of the Royal Institution Building (now the Royal Scottish Academy) is unveiled.
An Academy of Art and a National Gallery
Inspired by Alexander Munro’s 1846 book, Scottish Art and National Encouragement, John Shaw Lefevre is asked by the government to review art provision in Edinburgh. His findings lead to the erection of a shared building to house the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery.
Construction begins at the Mound
In 1850 construction began on purpose-built premises designed by William Henry Playfair on The Mound. The Foundation stone of the shared Academy and National Gallery building is laid by HRH Prince Albert. The Academy initially shared the premises with the newly formed National Gallery of Scotland and held its first Annual Exhibition in these new galleries in 1855. The Academy also has its Council room, Library and Life School in the building, where it taught fine art until the formation of Edinburgh College of Art in 1907 (where the Life School continued to function until 1930).
The Keith Prize
The Keith Prize, to be awarded to the ‘most distinguished Student in the Schools of the Academy’ is established.
The Photographic Department
Following his calotype work with Dr Robert Adamson, D.O. Hill is instrumental in establishing a Photographic Department, an early recognition of the calotype’s artistic significance. The department is enhanced in the twenty-first century and expanded to include film and sound work.
The President’s Medal is designed by Sir Joseph Noel Paton. Struck in gold this becomes our official insignia and is worn by the President. The same die is used to strike silver medals which are awarded to Academicians on their election and in bronze for Associate and Honorary Members.
A Study Collection after the Old Masters is developed with our purchase of a collection of watercolours by J.F. Lewis RA, and the Academy School’s top student, Robert Herdman, is commissioned to copy early Italian frescoes.
We take occupancy in the new shared Academy and National Gallery building. The National Gallery of Scotland opens in 1859. Our Treasurer William B. Johnstone is appointed its first Chief Curator. That office is filled by an RSA Academician until Sir Stanley Cursiter’s retirement as Director in 1948.
D.O. Hill is unable to commit to his Secretary role fully due to ill health. The first members of staff, who are not Academicians, are taken on board to handle administrative activities.
Society of Scottish Artists
We successfully lobby for a Supplementary Charter, which sees increased involvement in the governance of the Academy from our Associate Members. Many of these remain loyal to us, but some form a new exhibiting body in Edinburgh, the Society of Scottish Artists, which is more open to their ‘modern’ experimental work.
The Glasgow Boys
Sir James Guthrie becomes our President. His election as an Academician a decade earlier had ushered the group of artists known as ‘the Glasgow Boys’ into our ranks. Guthrie was a major figure in the art world of the time and was instrumental in developing and negotiating our move into the refurbished Royal Institution Building in 1911.
The Carnegie Scholarship
The Carnegie Travelling Scholarship is established. Andrew Gamley is the first recipient; his painting L’Enfant de Sainte Genevieve (after Puvis de Chavannes, in the Pantheon, Paris) is purchased for our collections.
Edinburgh College of Art
We are heavily involved in government discussions which lead to the creation of the Edinburgh College of Art. This includes provision within the new complex for the RSA Life Class, renamed the RSA School of Painting.
The Academy moves premises
We hold our first Annual Exhibition in the refurbished Royal Institution Building which henceforth is titled the Royal Scottish Academy. In return for the government-funded refurbishment, we gift many important works from our collections to the National Galleries of Scotland, including Jacopo Bassano’s Adoration of the Magi, David Roberts’ Rome; Sunset from the Convent of Sant Onofrio, and William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini.
During the Annual Exhibition John Lavery's portrait of HM King George V is slashed with an axe by suffragette Maude Edwards. She is detained and following trial is sentenced to three-months in Perth Prison. Her sentence is remitted, and she is released after just 11 days.
First World War
We continue to operate throughout the First World War, including holding our Annual Exhibitions. No Academicians or staff are involved directly, however some lose family members and some of our former students are killed or wounded. Many who are subsequently elected have seen active service and some have suffered significant injuries.
George Washington Browne
Sir George Washington Browne becomes our first architect Member to be elected as President.
We celebrate our centenary with a special dinner and commemorative exhibition.
Our direct teaching finally ceases in 1932 after which time we re-align our resources to continue to support emerging students from all the Scottish Art Colleges and Schools of Art through a series of awards, exhibitions, and opportunities.
The President George Pirie is knighted in our Library, by the newly crowned King George VI. Every President from Sir William Allan (our second) to Sir H. Anthony Wheeler (our 17th) was knighted. Pirie remains the only one to have his knighthood conferred within our walls.
Second World War
We continue to function throughout the Second World War. We again escape with no Members lost. The Annual Exhibitions of 1941-44 include sections for the display of work by serving British and Allied service personnel. In 1941 a Special General Assembly approved a Polish section in that year’s exhibition, beginning a fruitful relationship with our Polish artist friends that continues today.
Phyllis Mary Bone is elected as our first woman Academician. Josephine Haswell Miller had been the first ever woman elected to Associate rank, in 1938. Anne Redpath became the first woman painter to be elected a Member in 1952.
Edinburgh International Festival
Our first Edinburgh International Festival Exhibition is held comprising works by Bonnard and Vuillard plus six paintings by Ker-Xavier Roussel. This establishes a trend of ambitious exhibitions that continue well into the century.
Moffat and Bellany
Alexander Moffat and John Bellany hold their protest exhibitions on the railings, rebelling against the restrictive artistic tastes and practices of the RSA and the National Gallery of Scotland. As the RSA became more open and diverse in the latter twentieth century, Moffat and Bellany joined our ranks to help direct changes from within.
Open access printmaking studios
Philip Reeves RSA is instrumental in setting up Edinburgh Printmakers and then Glasgow Print Studio in 1972. Academicians Ian Fleming, Frances Walker and Arthur Watson PPRSA led the founding of Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen in 1974.
The Gillies Bequest
Sir William George Gillies RSA bequeaths his entire estate to the Academy, including more than 900 artworks. Funds from the bequest are used to provide personal development opportunities for our Academicians (and until 2003 an outstanding student). Academicians George Donald, Michael Snowden and Frances Walker, and student Alistair Hall are the first recipients in 1978.
We celebrate our 150th Anniversary with a special Dinner and a commemorative exhibition. The publication of our history is written by then Secretary Esme Gordon.
The Kinross Fund
A generous endowment by John Blythe Kinross CBE HRSA creates the John Kinross Travel Scholarship, in memory of his father, the architect John Kinross RSA. The Kinross fund has supported over 450 recipients to live and study in Italy, centred in Florence. The Kinross Scholarship Collection is one of the most important collections of emerging artists work in Scotland. The 40th Anniversary of the Award was celebrated in a major exhibition, Andiamo!, and accompanying publication in 2021.
Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy
The Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy is established “To support the charitable work of the Royal Scottish Academy and co-operate with the Academy and other charitable organisations in the promotion of the Arts and, in particular, the Visual Arts and the creation and appreciation of the Arts.”
Art of our Time
We host and co-fund the ground-breaking Saatchi Art of our Time exhibition, which featured international artists including Anslem Kiefer, Susan Rothenburg, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. Richard Wilson’s 20:50 filled a gallery space with 500 gallons of sump oil.
A new discipline of Printmaker is established. We become the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Printmaking. Willie Rodger RSA is the first to be elected in the new discipline.
We temporarily vacate our building at the Mound to allow major structural works to be undertaken. The works also see the physical linking of the NGS Building and our own via the subterranean Weston Link. Our Collections are given a new permanent home in the NGS’s Dean Gallery (Modern Two) on Belford Road.
The Associate member rank which had been in existence since 1826 is abolished and all current ARSA’s are promoted to full Academician rank. We become the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, as disciplines are abolished. Photography enters the Diploma Collection for the first time.
The Morton Award
The RSA Morton Award for Lens-Based Media is established. A major award that brings photographic and film artworks into exhibitions and the collections. Alexander and Susan Maris are the recipients of the first award.
RSA New Contemporaries
The first New Contemporaries exhibition takes place. It replaces the former Student Exhibitions which began during Sir Robin Philipson’s Presidency in 1976. New Contemporaries presents the best work by graduating students from the main Scottish schools of art and architecture.
Residencies for Scotland
We launch RSA Residencies for Scotland, an artist-led scheme which provides valuable research and residency opportunities for artists. Open to visual artists at all stages of their careers, the emphasis is on enabling a period of research, development and production, as well as on the acquisition and exchange of new skills and experiences.
The RSA mounts the exhibition 10 Dialogues: Richard Demarco, Scotland & the European Avant-Garde, marking 40 years since the seminal Strategy Get Arts at Edinburgh College of Art. Richard Demarco had been elected HRSA in 2000.
We undertake a significant internal review as part of the Collections Towards Rationalisation Project. The principal outcome of which is the establishment of the RSA Foundation to oversee our financial security and sustainability. Some works are deaccessioned from the Permanent Collection and help create our first major dedicated acquisition budget in over a century.
Marion Smith becomes the first woman to hold senior office when she is elected Secretary.
The Metzstein Discourse
The Metzstein Discourse is established in memory of our former member, the renowned architect Isi Metzstein RSA. Alvaro Siza is invited to present the first discourse and major international architects have presented each year since.
David Octavius Hill’s painting, A View from the Bridge, becomes the first purchase with the new acquisition fund designed to help us fill gaps in our collections of work by past Academicians and Associates.
Granton Art Centre
After nearly 20 years based in the Dean Gallery, our collection is relocated, this time to the Granton Art Centre, improving storage and providing us with more space for our growing collections.
Ages of Wonder
Our largest ever collections exhibition, Ages of Wonder: Scotland’s Art 1540 to Now is mounted in partnership with NGS. Elements of the exhibition go on tour around Scotland until 2022.
Joyce W. Cairns
Joyce W. Cairns is elected as our first woman President.
Like everyone else, our programme is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our premises are closed for significant parts of 2020 and 2021. At very short notice we move our Annual Exhibition online in 2020; the first time in RSA history no physical exhibition is held. The 2021 exhibition, including the private view, is also held online. The business of the Academy continues with Committee and Assembly meetings being conducted online.