Royal Academy of Arts

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18th-century institution still going strong
A privately funded artist-and-architect-led institution devoted to the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate, the Royal Academy was started up in 1768, with painter Joshua Reynolds among the original 34 members who were determined to put British painting and architecture on the map, partly through public exhibitions and its school of art. The RA represents the art establishment in the extreme, resulting in some of the London art calendar's most attended exhibititons (often 'blockbusters'), whether works of antiquity, Cranach, Rodin and the Pre-Raphaelites, the eyebrow-raising 1997 Sensation exhibition showcasing younger (and at times daring) British artists, or, reliably since 1769, the relatively light and frothy Summer Exhibition – an annual event embracing up-and-coming and amateur artists, with the option to buy their works. A second and smaller gallery, the Sackler Wing, is located on the top floor. In the warmer months visitors have access to the garden at the Keeper’s House, accessible via the Shenkman Bar on the lower ground floor. Across the road is shopping dinosaur Fortnum & Mason [see entry], while contemporary gallery art can be found nearby at White Cube, Hauser & Wirth and Sprüth Mager [see entries]. Just behind the RA is the more established Cork St-area gallery zone, not to mention Abercrombie & Fitch's crazed flagship store. Local food/tea recommendation (if you can get a table): the Wolseley [see entry].