The Great Spectacle – 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts

Really enjoyed the current exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts entitled The Great Spectacle – 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition and would certainly recommend a visit.

Clearly given the large timeframe the curators had to be highly selective, however, there is a curious absence especially for all who have an interest in British maritime exploration and discovery. I could not see one artwork by the voyager artists who participated on the expeditions of James Cook and Matthew Flinders? Or for that matter any Chinese artworks created by William Alexander derived from his participation in the first British Embassy to China led by Lord Macartney which took place in 1793.

The Royal Academy of Arts in all its various locations offered a promotional platform for expedition and voyager artists to visualise Britain’s imperial, colonial and diplomatic ambitions and interests. Those that were encouraged by Joseph Banks prior to and after he became President of the Royal Society. Banks was invited to the grand dinners preceding the public opening of the RA exhibitions and would certainly have on occasions directed distinguished guests with catalogues in hand to the artworks of William Hodges, John Webber and William Westall and others.

In fact maritime subjects are dominated by the inclusion of artworks by J M W Turner whilst contemporary British marine painters and earlier practitioners, such as Nicholas Pocock, are largely absent from the show.

Still well worth a visit.

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