When Joshua Reynolds was offered the presidency of the new Royal Academy in 1768, he first consulted with his close friends, Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke. From the perspective of the Olympic-plagued, Boris-bothered London of the 21st century, such information is painful. One wonders at the depth of one’s misfortune at not having been alive in London at a time when career advice could be had from Johnson and Burke; or, more important, when one could have watched the foundation of an institution such as the Royal Academy.
Grandly embracing its own courtyard on Piccadilly, the RA is a countercultural miracle. Unlike most comparable institutions, it receives no public money and it still does what it always did – teaches, informs and encourages – on the basis of its original constitution. Not that it is stuffy. It has