• 29 May to 21 September 2018
  • Monday to Friday, 10am–5pm
    Saturday 7 July, 10am - 12pm
    Paul Mellon Centre
  • Drawing Room, Paul Mellon Centre

To coincide with the forthcoming Royal Academy show, The Great Spectacle: 250 years of the Summer Exhibition, the PMC’s ninth Drawing Room Display will investigate the varied kinds of publication that have been prompted by the Summer Exhibition over its long history. As well as showcasing the Academy’s own publications – in particular, its Summer Exhibition catalogues and the Royal Academy Illustrated – the display will focus on the especially rich array of exhibition-related guides, pamphlets and illustrated supplements that were issued by other publishers in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The display will draw upon the PMC’s substantial collection of catalogues, journals and ephemera, and is designed to provide a brief introduction to this little-investigated yet fascinating subject.

Black and white photograph of painting of fighting figures in landscape

Blood of the Grape, Bangwyn, Academy Pictures,

The first part of the display will focus on the Royal Academy’s in-house publications. The Academy has published a catalogue to accompany its Summer Exhibition every year since the first display in 1769. Ever since 1780, this catalogue has provided its readers with a list of works that is organised in relation to the order in which these works are distributed across the exhibition – a format that is still used today. These catalogues have long been used by exhibition goers to chart their journey around the exhibition space, to mark those works which they consider to be of most important or interesting, and to keep as a souvenir of the exhibition. Meanwhile, the Royal Academy Illustrated, which pictures a selection of the pieces on display, and which is published by the Academy itself, has long served as a popular supplement to the catalogue.

The Academy’s decision to publish an illustrated supplement to the Summer Exhibition catalogue can best be understood as a response to the dramatic emergence of unofficial illustrated guides to the exhibition in the Victorian period, which will provide the focus for the second part of our display.

Interest in the Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibition burgeoned in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Huge numbers of visitors travelled to Burlington House to see the annual show, and newspaper reviews pored over the exhibition’s contents in great detail. A dramatic boom in publications on the Summer Exhibition accompanied this growth of interest in the event. New art periodicals such as the Art Journal and The Magazine of Art offered their own perspectives on the exhibition and, in the case of the latter, produced a supplementary illustrated guide. John Ruskin self-published extended and often controversial pamphlet commentaries upon the exhibition, whilst Henry Blackburn, a leading commercial publisher, offered readers less partial textual tours of the summer display and later an illustrated guide. In the Drawing Room Display, Ruskin and Blackburn’s publications will take their place amongst other materials geared to the Victorian visitors who flocked to the Academy’s annual event in such great numbers.