The Origins of the RHA Gallery
The RHA was founded in 1823, King George IV having granted a charter after years of campaigning by Irish artists. It was given a modest budget for the establishment of an exhibition space and painting school and to further its pursuit of turning Dublin into a European art hub.
Among its founders were famous landscape artist William Ashford and renowned architect Francis Johnston. Out of his own pocket Johnston provided a house for the academy and, in May 1826, they hosted their first exhibition, which featured 402 exhibits by over 90 different artists. From then on the exhibition became a cherished annual event.
The RHA Gallery is Displaced
In 1916 the academy's house got caught in the crossfire of April's Easter Rising. A piece of shrapnel flew through a window, narrowly missing an artist who was at work at his easel and setting the building alight. The fire spread and the artist was forced to grab what works and documents he could get ahold of and flee the premises. Soon after, the building burnt to the ground and the academy was left homeless.
It did not again find a permanent base until 23 years later. This was just one of many problems. The art market was in decline and younger artists were gravitating towards newer art schools that were more accepting of modernism. The RHA for a while became known for being conservative and outdated.
The RHA Gallery Makes a Slow Comeback
The academy finally found a new home in 1939 at Ely Place in the heart of Dublin's cultural quarter. The building had artistic pedigree, it having been the home of writer Oliver St John Gogarty (the inspiration behind Joyce's Buck Mulligan), but lacked modern gallery spaces, meaning the annual exhibition still had to be held off-premises.
In the 1970s developer Matt Gallagher pledged to finance the development of a new, purpose-built building in its place. Gogarty's old house was demolished but disaster then struck when, in 1974, Gallagher died, leaving a funding shortfall. As a result, it wasn't completed until 1985. In total the RHA had to host its exhibitions on third party sites for 69 years.
The RHA Gallery Today
In 2007 a drawing and painting school was established in the building, bringing art education back to the academy for the first time since 1942. It continues to host classes and residency programs today, alongside its annual exhibitions and frequent retrospectives of Irish artist's careers.
In 2023 it will celebrate its 200th year of championing Irish artists past and present. Over the centuries it has boasted the likes of J. M. W. Turner, Daniel Maclise, David Wilkie and many more as its members.
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