• 16 May 2018

Ahead of the release of the major new digital publication The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018 on 30 May 2018, Research Assistant Thomas Powell will be giving a 'behind-the-scenes' look at the Chronicle, read the first post in the series 'An Introduction to the Chronicle' here.

A Year in Context

Last week I gave a flavour of the 250 entries in The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018 that will each bring a single year of the Summer Exhibition to life. But presenting a history segmented by the somewhat artificial limits of the calendar year always risks overemphasising the importance of annual cut off points—where one year ends another entry begins. In order to situate these stories within a wider context, the Chronicle draws on a wealth of revealing data that is presented alongside each entry.

A screenshot of a chart from the Chronicle showing the medium of exhibitors in 1769. While extracting this information for the Chronicle, I had the opportunity to work with the incredible resources made available in the Royal Academy Archive. From bulging bound volumes of annual reports that log the Academy’s activities, to handwritten sales ledgers detailing works sold at the Summer Exhibition—the Chronicle could never replace an archive like this, and it isn’t designed to.

Instead, the Chronicle gathers the available data generated by the Summer Exhibition in one place and broadens its scope by including material extracted from newly digitised exhibition catalogues and other sources using optical character recognition software (more on this later). These figures are then presented as a series of charts accompanying every annual entry, connecting the stories told in the text with information like the number of works submitted and accepted, the percentage of artists working in certain media, and the ratio of male to female exhibitors each year.

Because the figures presented alongside each Chronicle entry are drawn from a dataset that deals with every Summer Exhibition since 1769, the PMC’s Digital Manager, Tom Scutt has also been able to create a series of visualisations that graphically demonstrate the peaks and troughs in the Summer Exhibition’s fortunes right across it’s 250-year history. Excitingly, this data will also be made available to download, and we hope this opportunity will prompt even further research on the place of the Summer Exhibition within the British art world.

Further reading:
An Introduction to the Chronicle

About the author

  • Head shot of man

    Thomas Powell - Independent Researcher