The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018

About the project:

Launched on May 30th, 2018 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the annual exhibition of contemporary art at the Royal AcademyThe Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018 was produced and published by the Paul Mellon Centre. The RA Chronicle is 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.

Conceived by Mark Hallett, and developed and produced by a team of Paul Mellon Centre staff, working with many partners, including our authors, designers, and reviewers, the RA Chronicle consists of essays examining key artists, artworks, and events from each individual year’s Exhibition are accompanied by 250 completely digitised and searchable copies of the accompanying Exhibition catalogues. Structured as an online art-historical chronicle that focuses on each individual exhibition in turn and discusses something especially interesting about its character or contents, the RA Chronicle is the product of more than ninety scholars, curators, critics, and artists who produced concise essays, of around 1,200 words each, about individual Summer Exhibitions. Some have written one or two—others a few more. In every case, authors have been encouraged to treat their task as something akin to that of writing a lively short story, on a topic of their own choosing. In a small number of cases, we have also worked with film-makers and animators, who have offered their own take on individual displays. A team of three editors - Mark Hallett, Sarah Victoria Turner, and Jessica Feather— each took responsibility for different periods of this 250-year history, as well as writing some entries themselves.

This project was made possible through digital tools and technologies, all of the texts, data, and digitised catalogues published in the RA Chronicle are available as open-access resources under a Creative Commons licence, indicating that this is a starting point for research, acknowledging that there are many more histories of the Exhibition and its exhibitors that remain to be written. In sum, this repository of original research and primary source material was created to shine new light on British art, its exhibition histories, and its publics, and to encourage further innovative study.

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