Famed artists including Turner and Constable, and even Winston Churchill under a pseudonym took part in the summer exhibition

Founded in 1768, the Royal Academy was formed with one of the main intentions to establish an annual exhibition that is open to all artists of merit. The following year, the first summer exhibition opened to the public; the exhibition has been held every year since. This longtime tradition encourages the training of young artists in the Royal Academy schools. True to its original intent, until today, the exhibition champions the practice of art. Throughout the years, famed artists including Turner and Constable, and even Winston Churchill under a pseudonym took part in the summer exhibition.


Royal Academy’s entrance on Piccadilly, London, UK. Image by Von Chua.

The Summer Exhibition is the world’s oldest open submission exhibition. In recent years, 16,500 entry places have been allowed. Once the number is reached, no one will be able to purchase an entry form to submit their artwork for the committee’s consideration. Then, the summer exhibition committee will shortlist up to 4,000 entries to be shared with the Academy for the final round of selection that is concluded inside the gallery space. The final selection is said to be carried out over an eight-day hang, ending with the ‘Sanctioning Day’ where the last meeting of committee members is held. While it may appear that only upcoming artists apply to be a part of the summer exhibition, that is not the case at all - you will find leading artists' works situated next to new artists. This year, the summer exhibition was co-ordinated by Alison Wilding, a Royal Academician who is an English artist noted for her multi-media abstract sculptures; the co-ordinator works closely with the Royal Academicians - the elected artists and architects who run the Royal Academy. An interesting note is that the Royal Academicians are automatically entitled to submit up to six works every year.

After the final selections are made and announced, artists are selected to a tradition that remains until today - the Varnishing Day. Traditionally in the olden days, the Varnishing Day is the day artists are allowed in to complete any final touches to their artworks. Today, this tradition continues but more to celebrate the artists and artworks rather than a time to make adjustments.


Inside the RA’s Summer Exhibition 2022. Image by Von Chua.

Summer Exhibition 2022 - Theme

This year’s Summer Exhibition theme is ‘Climate’ chosen by Alison Wilding, who said “I thought there was only one possible theme.” Unseen to visitors of the exhibition is her consideration of the environmental impact of putting on a large exhibition. Bringing artworks from around the world to be exhibited in London involves a large carbon footprint. With this in mind, Alison Wilding revealed that she chose to select more local artists to keep the carbon footprint of the show to a minimum.

Summer Exhibition 2022 - Architecture Room


Scaled model of BDO Unibank Inc. HQ’s facade by Foster and Partners. Image by Von Chua.

The Summer Exhibitions also include an architecture room. This year, there are two rooms curated by the newest Royal Academicians architect Níall McLaughlin and artist Rana Begum. With this combination of co-curators, architectural pieces are set beside paintings and photographs by artists, creating uncertainty to ponder if a piece was by an artist or an architect. This creates diversity and a sense of curiosity as one moves through the exhibits. According to an interview in the Architects’ Journal, Níall McLaughlin said “We wanted to change the sense of the architecture room as this roped-off area from the rest of the Summer Exhibition with these tables of tiny models.”

In the architecture room this year, most notably were works by Chris Wilkinson and Richard Rogers, both architects who passed away in December 2021 were exhibited this year. On loan from Paris is an early model for the Pompidou Centre, in memory of Richard Rogers.


In memory of the late Chris Wilkinson. Image by Von Chua.

Just under 1,500 artworks are featured in 2022’s Summer Exhibition in a range of media from painting to photography, printmaking, sculpture, film and architecture models. Many of the exhibited artworks are available to purchase online, so on top of an opportunity to showcase one’s works to a new crowd, the artist has an opportunity to sell their work too. Prices start from £20 to a piece by Sir Frank Bowling listed at £550,000. The Royal Academy takes a 30% commission from each sale, with each proceeds contributing to the RA School’s funds that finance postgraduate students.

Of all the galleries and museums to visit in London, the Royal Academy is arguably one of the most important. Since the Royal Academy’s establishment as the first art school in Britain, the Summer Exhibitions still play a significant role in the support of emerging artists. Not to be missed if one is in London over any summer, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition 2022 in London, UK is now open to the public until the 21st of August 2022.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at von@vonxarchitects.com