The Royal Academy of Arts

London, England

The Royal Academy Arts has been fostering artistic talent for over two centuries now. It is fitting, then, that it is based in Burlington House, a building which has had a comparable impact on the world of English architecture.

The Royal Academy of Arts is one of London's finest art galleries. Its huge collection boasts works by the likes of Michaelangelo, Salvador Dali and Tracey Emin. And the building that hosts it is equally impressive.

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Burlington House

The building of this imposing mansion began in 1664. It was sold, incomplete, to the first Earl of Burlington in 1667. Over the following 60 years it was transformed beyond recognition thanks to the tastes of the third Earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle.

Boyle inherited the building as a ten year old, in 1704. One can imagine that he was satisfied with the place, at that age, but this was not to last.

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I Want What They've Got!

Whilst in his 20s, he went on holiday to Italy- twice- and, this way inspired, he decided to give the place a makeover.

Palladian architecture (named after 14th Century architect, Andrea Palladio) was all the range in Italy, at the time. So, Palladian architecture was what he wanted, too. He hired an architect and an interior designer and had them overhaul Burlington House.

And the English public loved it.

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A New Trend

Burlington House 2.0 started something. For the generations that followed, Baroque was out and Palladian architecture was in. And the English were determined to do it bigger and better than the Italians. All sense of style and proportion went out the window.

These mansions became status symbols, or 'power houses', as Sir John Summerton called them. The private jets of the Georgian era.


Oh Great... Another House

Unfortunately for Burlington House, fashions are fickle. Following Burlington III's 1753 death, the place was passed on to the Dukes of Devonshire. They, however, already had enough mansions. So, it was left seldom used for almost a century.

The Royal Academy of Arts

In 1755, a group of artists attempted to form an academy for the use of students of the arts.

They failed.

13 years later, however, other artists took up their cause and, in December 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts was formed, under the patronage of King George III.

The Academy was originally housed in a cramped building in Pall Mall. They then spent stints in Somerset House and the National Gallery, before finally finding a more permanent home: Burlington House.


One Hell Of A Bargain

The Devonshires sold Burlington House to the British government in 1854. Originally, the bright sparks of Westminster wanted to tear it down and build a University in its place.

Unsurprisingly, this caused uproar.

The government was forced to do a swift 180 and, in 1867, they gave its main block to the Royal Academy of Arts on a 999 year lease. Since then, the Academy have paid just £1 rent a year.

The price of London real estate has never looked better.

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Exhibitions and Works

The Royal Academy of Artists has hosted exhibitions every year since 1769. It has also amassed a collection of 350 sculptures and over 900 paintings. Highlights include Michaelangelo's Taddei Tando (1504-06) and Zoffany's The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-72).

Alongside these older works (which can be seen for free), it also hosts exciting new exhibitions from the likes of Anish Kapoor and David Hockney.

These not out there enough for you, then perhaps the Viktor Wynd Museum will be more your speed.

One More Thing...

The neighbouring Burlington Arcade was allegedly ordered to be built by the first Earl of Burlington to stop passers-by from throwing oyster shells into Burlington House Garden.

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Hunts in London - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.

Looking for things to do in Mayfair? Check out our article on the top things to do in Mayfair for more suggestions.


What you need to know

The Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, UK
Tips before you visit

Royal Academy of Arts Opening Hours:

Tuesday-Sunday - 10am-6pm

Saturday - Closed