It was the setting for the fiercest rivalries in British art, the place where the country’s finest artists would reveal their creations in direct competition with one another. The Royal Academy of Arts’ (RA) annual Summer Exhibition, once the grandest social occasion of its day, is where Reynolds and Gainsborough, Turner and Constable, and many, many more, would battle for the public’s attention and for highly coveted exhibition prizes. In 1832, when a seascape by Turner was hung alongside a canvas by Constable that brilliantly captured the effects of sunlight, Turner improvised: he added a bright red buoy to his own painting, its dazzling colour outshining anything in his rival’s work.

The Summer Exhibitions represent the world’s longest-running series, with an unbroken record since 1768, and in 2018, the RA will mark its 250th anniversary by recounting many of these famous controversies in a historical show tracing the story of its development. Although not yet announced, the show will be called The Great Spectacle, reflecting how it was regarded by 18th-century London society. read more