The RA Summer Exhibition invasion

Congratulations to all The London Group members who are exhibiting this year, including Philippa Tunstill who is January on the 2020 RA Calendar.

The London Group and the RA
Notes by David Redfern the Group’s archivist.

The London Group emerged in 1913 as an extension to the Camden Town Group, bringing in sculptors and women artists. All of the founder members were progressive artists eager to promote new trends in painting and sculpture, especially ideas from Europe and France in particular. At the time the Royal Academicians selecting for the Summer Shows would have none of this, preferring established academic art practice.

The Group survived the First World War and built up a reputation for tolerance and accepting and encouraging new forms of art in their open submission exhibitions. By the end of the Second World War the RA came to the rescue of The London Group, offering exhibition space for the group’s exhibitions in 1943, 1944 and 1945, ensuring its survival. In 1952 the Group’s President Claude Rogers was “buttonholed” by Sir Gerald Festus Kelly, President of the Royal Academy, at a dinner. Kelly proposed setting aside two rooms for London Group pictures as the modern section of the Summer Show “was not very good”. Rogers was stunned, and suspicious, believing Kelly was trying “to discredit London Group especially with younger members and those independent artists who sometimes show with us.” The group’s working committee agreed and the proposal was declined.

But early in the 1970s the RA offered its Diploma Galleries for “London Group Member’s Choice Exhibitions” in 1970 and 1971 when the group was in dire financial difficulties and could easily have folded. The Royal Academy has secure funding and extensive premises on London’s Piccadilly whilst The London Group has no such luxury.

The history of The London Group is one of members’ contacts, finding exhibition space not only in London’s galleries (Tate, Whitechapel, South London) but also in its other buildings, offices, hotels, art schools and recently car-parks. The Group’s independent spirit persists to this day. That said, The London Group has always had some Royal Academicians as members and currently has six, Frank Bowling, Gus Cummins, Anthony Eyton, Anthony Green, Paula Rego and Anthony Whishaw. Many members put into the Summer Show and this year as you can see below is a bumper crop.