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View of one of the main rooms, June 2015
A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 by William Powell Frith, depicting Oscar Wilde and other Victorian worthies at a private view of the 1881 exhibition

The Summer Exhibition is an open art exhibition held annually by the Royal Academy in Burlington House, Piccadilly in central London, England, during the months of June, July, and August. The exhibition includes paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, architectural designs and models, and is the largest and most popular open exhibition in the United Kingdom. [1] It is also "the longest continuously staged exhibition of contemporary art in the world". [2]

When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768 one of its key objectives was to establish an annual exhibition, open to all artists of merit, which could be visited by the public. The first Summer Exhibition took place in 1769; it has been held every year since without exception. [1]


In 1768, a group of artists visited King George III and sought his permission to establish a society for Arts and Design. They proposed the idea of an annual exhibition and a school design. King George III approved of the idea and the first exhibition, in 1769, included 136 works. [2] The name Summer Exhibition dates from 1870. [2]

Selection process

Today, around 1,000 works are selected each year from as many as 10,000 entries representing some 5,000 artists.[ citation needed] Any artist (living, known or unknown) may submit up to two works at a fee of £35 per piece for selection by The Summer Exhibition Selection and Hanging Committee.[ citation needed] Due to the significant increase in the volume of entries over recent years, the number of entries per artist was reduced to 2 (from 3) and the fee was increased £18 per piece. The committee is formed from the Council of Academicians (the governing body of the RA) and is traditionally chaired by the President of the Royal Academy. In addition to those works selected by the committee, all 80 Academicians are entitled to have six of their own pieces in the exhibition.

For the 2006 exhibition, the academy received a statue and a plinth from David Hensel. By mistake, the two parts were judged independently, with the result that the statue was rejected and the plinth put on display. [3]


Participants in the RA Summer Exhibition 2015 at St. James, Piccadilly, on Varnishing Day

The RA Summer Exhibition usually opens to the public in early June, preceded by a series of private viewings. The main event is called "Varnishing Day", the day that, according to popular legend, artists would come to add a final coat of varnish to their paintings (compare: vernissage). Traditionally, artists walk in procession from Burlington House to St James's Church, Piccadilly, where a service is held. At the opening reception the shortlists for various prizes are announced.

Some years have particular themes. The 2005 exhibition theme was " Printmaking and the multiple". In 2006, the theme was "From Life." In 2008, the theme was "Man Made". The theme for 2010 was "Raw". [4] In 2011, the selection committee agreed to have no specific theme.[ citation needed]

Almost all exhibited works are for sale; the Academy receives 30% of the purchase price. In 2003, this amounted to a sum of some £2,000,000 for the institution, which receives no financial support from the state or crown.[ citation needed]



Over £70,000 prize money, including the £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award, is awarded each year at the Summer Exhibition. In addition, a £10,000 architectural prize is awarded. [14]

Winners of Charles Wollaston Award


The exhibition has received both admiration and criticism. [2] Jonathan Jones described it in 2019 as the "bloated corpse of a tradition ... [with] a tired, inward looking, end-of-the-road quality". [13]

An exhibition about the history of the Summer Exhibition, The Great Spectacle, was held in 2018. [20]


  1. ^ a b "The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2011". Culture, The Telegraph. UK. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Royal Academy remains a great asset that must never be squandered". Apollo. 15 May 2018. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  3. ^ Sally Pook (15 June 2006). "Artist laughs his head off at the RA". The Telegraph.
  4. ^ Summer Exhibition 2010 Archived 8 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Royal Academy of Arts, 2010.
  5. ^ Boucher, Caroline (5 June 2005). "No longer a hanging offence". The Observer. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  6. ^ Kennedy, Maev (30 May 2012). "Royal Academy summer exhibition rolls into town". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  7. ^ Brown, Marc (5 June 2013). "Nonagenarians make mark at 2013 Royal Academy summer exhibition". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  8. ^ Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (5 June 2015). "Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition goes on a candy cavalcade". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  9. ^ Jones, Jonathan (18 May 2016). "Radical or retrogade? Yinka Shonibare can't redeem the Royal Academy". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  10. ^ Sooke, Alastair (2 June 2017). "Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, review: The dependably reassuring last word in déjà-vu". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  11. ^ "Grayson Perry to chair Summer Exhibition art show". BBC News. 14 December 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  12. ^ Cole, Alison (16 January 2018). "How Grayson Perry is taking on America: 'People want to be provoked, but not catastrophically'". The Independent. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  13. ^ a b Jones, Jonathan (6 June 2019). "Summer Exhibition review – a moronic monument to British mediocrity". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  14. ^ R. Waite, "Cash prizes return for Royal Academy Summer Exhibition" Archived 20 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine,, 22 February 2015.
  15. ^ Gibbons, Fiachra (29 June 1999). "Hockney wins summer exhibition prize". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Chapman brothers win £25,000 prize" Archived 4 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 27 June 2003.
  17. ^ "Alison Wilding wins the Charles Wollaston Award 2011" Archived 24 June 2020 at the Wayback Machine,, 20 June 2011.
  18. ^ "El Anatsui wins the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award for his work at the Royal Academy of Arts, 245th Summer Exhibition" Archived 20 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine,
  19. ^ "Summer Exhibition 2014, Royal Academy of Arts" Archived 7 February 2019 at the Wayback Machine, The Huffington Post, 24 June 2014.
  20. ^ Jones, Jonathan (5 June 2018). "Summer Exhibition/The Great Spectacle review – a Grayson revolution". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2019.

Further reading

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