Smartify X Royal Academy

Use Smartify to discover wonders at the “New RA”

With the whiff of wet, fresh paint mingling with the blossoms of Mayfair, walking into the new wing of the Royal Academy feels as if you were walking into a new masterpiece — a fresh canvas maybe. The sunlight streams through the large windows and illuminated the bright white interior.

The Royal Academy, a mainstay of Piccadilly with its imposing classical façade and looming courtyard, has been a part of British artistic and cultural life since its inception in 1768. It was created as an organisation to promote the visual arts to the British public. The founding members did this in two ways — firstly by establish a system of training for artists and secondly to arrange an annual exhibition of contemporary works of art which attained a true standard of excellent. And although its reach and scope has considerably increased over the last 250 years — these tenets remain core to the institution. There is still a prestigious art school on site and every year the RA summer exhibition is one of the most exciting events in the art world. Also, important is the fact that it has continued to be run and managed by the artists themselves and has not been given over to corporate control.

Until now, however, the Royal Academy has remained somewhat aloof — standing apart from the major museums in London. Although it has the clout and the history to equal any other of the capital’s museum, it’s small physical size has meant that it can only show temporary exhibitions, for which it has then charged. And this has of course limited the number of visitors.

But this week, the culmination of three years of building work and much more than a decade’s worth of planning, changes all that. The ‘old RA’ has been augmented and enhanced and thoroughly updated. The new building designed by world famous architect, David Chipperfield, houses a wealth of new and exciting chambers for a visitor to explore. An entrance on Burlington Gardens (the street that runs behind Piccadilly) shaded with grand columns and topped by a number of impressive statues, leads you into a wide atrium, from where you are given free rein to wonder. Perhaps you might choose to go up the ‘imperial staircase’ (the official term for a staircase that splits into two) into the galleries which hold some of the academy’s permanent collection. You’ll be greeted by the simply enormous Thomas Lawrence painting Satan Summoning his Legions and if that’s not enough, through the next room you’ll find the epic 1506 painting of the Last Supper by Gianpietrino, a contemporary of Leonardo’s.

Or you can choose to go through the Weston Bridge, taking time to look down at the beautiful shaded internal courtyard belonging to the art school (and perhaps see some of the current students enjoying the sunshine) and make your way down to the cast gallery, where the rippling muscles of a striking Hercules await you. Here you will learn more about the teaching practices of the academy and what tools they use and have used to instruct the students in the art of drawing over the course of the school’s lengthy history.

Across the whole of the new building, you can use Smartify to discover more about the art. We’re also so excited to announce that the inimitable Mary Beard has provided an audio tour for some of the classical pieces and casts. You surely can’t get more of an expert tour than this!

The Royal Academy is 250 years old, but this new building demonstrates its as relevant as ever, and it hasn’t compromised on its original core values. It has jumped to the top of London’s must-visit attractions. It’s open and welcoming and most importantly now, it’s free. The new lecture theatre which will play host to a wide-ranging series of informative talks and debates, students at the school will be given space to exhibit their work to the public, and the impressive private collection which has only become more and more remarkable and interesting as it has grown, will be on display to whoever wants to come and learn about it. We can only encourage you to go visit and explore!

The New RA opens to the public on the 19th May 2018 — find out more here: