Thursday, May 31, 2018

MUST VIEW online: 250 years of the Summer Exhibition Chronicle

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018 was published last night. It's
  • a record of the first 250 years of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts;
  • a major scholarly endeavour; and 
    • anybody who has been visiting the Summer Exhibition for years and/or 
    • anybody with an interest in art history
The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition A Chronicle 1769-2018
The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition A Chronicle 1769-2018

What is "The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition A Chronicle 1769-2018"?

The Chronicle is a database - and I recommend a wide screen for viewing! The menu can be found in the top right hand corner.

There's also a video which I'm including AFTER the "read more page break" as I'm not sure it's been suitably sized for all devices.

It covers every year of the last 250 years. The decades are down the left handside of the screen and when you click a decade the individual years within that decade open up.

If you're like me you will tend to dive in at the decade when you first started going to the exhibition regularly. As you can see below, each year had a major image - and then small thumbnails for the individual years down the left hand side.

The Introduction (accessed via menu top right of screen) states (with my bullet pointing)
Welcome to The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018, an open access and peer-reviewed digital publication produced by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The RA Chronicle comprises two main parts. 
  • First of all, it offers a lively and informative year-by-year account of the Summer Exhibition’s remarkable history. This succession of short, illustrated texts, written by more than ninety art historians, curators, artists, and critics, is designed to highlight key issues, works, or artists from a particular year’s display. To provide a broader context for these accounts, each text is accompanied by factual and statistical details, such as attendance and submission figures, relating to that year’s Exhibition. 
  • Second, the RA Chronicle publishes a major digital database that makes the catalogues for every single Royal Academy Summer Exhibition available online as fully searchable texts. 
  • Together, the two parts of the RA Chronicle will be a permanent research resource for all those interested in the history of the Summer Exhibition.

It highlights the fact that the Summer Exhibition has been located at a succession of venues as the RA changed its home - Pall Mall, Somerset House, Trafalgar Square, and Burlington House - and has changed in size over the years in terms of numbers of paintings hung and the number of visitors each summer

The intention was to produce a counterpoint to the theme of the 2018 Summer Exhibition "Art Made Now" - as determined by Grayson Perry.

The notion emerged of providing an idea of how the exhibition has changed every year in the past.
to develop an online art-historical chronicle that focuses on each individual exhibition in turn and discusses something especially interesting about its character or contents. To enable us to carry out this ambitious project, we have asked more than ninety scholars, curators, critics, and artists to produce concise essays, of around 1,200 words each, about individual Summer Exhibitions. Some have written one or two—others a few more.
Do have a look at the gallery of illustrations used across the different years - and if you're anything like me - give yourself the mental challenge of seeing how well you do at recognising them with no clues other than the image!

These relate to the pages for each year which include typically a couple of illustrations to accompany the essay written for that year

You can find out who wrote which year in this Index of Authors

I came across it via this article The Summer Exhibition Chronicle by Charles Saumarez Smith who is the current Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and also a cultural historian. He also wrote the entries for 1949 and 2006.

There is also an Index of Exhibitors - all those who have ever exhibited at any of the 250 Summer Exhibitions covered by the Chronicle. If you've ever exhibited your name is in there!

HOWEVER my experience hiccuped......

You find yourself wondering who on earth is any one of the names who have multiple years against their names - such as
Lucy E. Kemp-Welch1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900,1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906,1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914,1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1923,1924, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1930,1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1941,1944, 1949
and then find out from Wikipedia who she is - and realise that you have never ever heard of her before
Lucy Elizabeth Kemp-Welch (20 June 1869 – 27 November 1958) was a British painter and teacher who specialized in painting working horses. She is best known for the paintings of horses in military service she produced during World War One and for her illustrations to the 1915 edition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty.
BUT I then realised that gremlins had invaded whatever quality control was set up to vet entries in the artists index.

That's because every one of the Chronicle listings I checked out pointed to a different Lucy (i.e. they all had different surnames) - whereas Wikipedia indicates she kept the same name from birth to death. You can also see her paintings on the Art UK website which also indicates her name stays the same and there's no question she's a very good painter - the equestrian artists will love her!

[NOTE: The problem with having a career which involved being a professionally qualified accountant and a government inspector is that I ALWAYS check things!!  I shall be writing to the Mellon Centre to suggest they check the validity of their female entries.]

I came across Lucy while looking for John Ward CBE, RP, NEAC 1917 - 2007 - whose drawings and paintings I admired and who I met once (see my obit)

John Ward meets Boris Johnson at the Mall Galleries (in the RSPP exhibition 2007)
8" x 10", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in moleskine sketchbook
(the Boris painting was by Felicity Gill)
The bottom line is that every reference to a year that he exhibited that I checked just took me to the page for that year as opposed to a digital facsimile of the exhibition catalogue for that year - which is really odd because the way I detected all the different Lucys was via an image of the catalogue with the name highlighted. I can only imagine that they haven't yet found a way of categorising all the paintings or maybe this is what happens if they haven't yet got a digital archive of the catalogue for that year.

Also it became very clear you have to be very careful if your artist has a 'common name' as I found out that several John Wards had exhibited at the RA Summer Exhibition over the years.

The RA Summer Exhibition Catalogues

There is a link to a digital online archive copy of the catalogue for SOME of the years - so you can see something more of how exhibitions have changed over the years. I've still got my actual catalogues for several years in the recent past - but it's nice to know you can now check facts online. (I found big gaps in the 20s and 30s in the 20th century)

I loved reading some of the text from catalogues for 40-50 years ago - and I think this might be very educational for those submitting work eg
Some of the entries in the catalogue are linked to the Index of Artists.

Making progress through each catalogue is somewhat slow (....and yes I did clear my cache before making that comment!).

I think they probably need to examine some of the software used by the digital book archives where finding what you want in a book proceeds a great deal faster due to the use of thumbnails for the pages first. (eg I can highly recommend the online version of the Biodiversity Heritage Library!)

The Summer Exhibition Statistics

For fellow number crunchers, the statistic are completely fascinating in terms of what the statistics for each year tell you about:
  • dates for the exhibition
  • number of visitors to the exhibition (1769: 14,008 visitors | 2016: 229,206 visitors)
  • how many artists exhibited (1769: 54 artists | 2016: no data)
  • how many works were exhibited (1769: 136 artworks | 2016: 1,240 works)
  • what percentage of the academicians were painters, sculptors, printmakers, architects and draughtsmen
  • what percentage of the artists were Academicians vs non-academicians (1769: 76% academicians | 2016: no data)
  • what percentage of the artworks were by Academicians vs non-academicians (1769: 64% Academicians | 2016: no data) 
  • the names of the members of the Selection Committee

It was really odd to find the statistics for 2017 were less accurate and complete than those for 1769!

Cooper takes on the mantle of coordinating the largest open submission exhibition in the world, hanging over 1,200 works by artists established and lesser-known in the space of just eight days.Summer Exhibition 2017
I can only hope that the Chronicle continues to be developed and updated as it is a fantastic historical resource.

Who produced the Chronicle?

The RA Chronicle was conceived by Mark Hallett, the Director of Studies at the Paul Mellon Centre. I congratulate him of the size of his ambition for this project - and I hope it will continue to develop to become more complete with respect to references and statistics.

It launched on 30 May 2018 to coincide with
  • the 250th anniversary year of the annual exhibition of contemporary art at the Royal Academy, and with 
  • the exhibition The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition, which was co-curated by Mark Hallett and Sarah Victoria Turner.
The project has been undertaken by The Paul Mellon Centre
This site was created in collaboration with Strick&Williams, Digirati, and the staff of The Paul Mellon Centre.
This is a Glossary of Terms associated with the Summer Exhibition

1 comment:

Jules said...

Thank you for the link. You have to scroll up to read the writing and see more pictures which is the opposite as how most websites work and took me a while to figure it out. There is some gorgeous stuff uploaded.

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