The RWA’s Permanent Collection comprises over 1700 works of art. The majority of these are paintings, but the collection also contains drawings, prints, sculpture, archives, artefacts and architectural models. The collection includes fine examples of portraiture, landscapes, still life, abstract and figurative work, predominantly by artists based in, or associated with, the South West.
Within the collection, a small but significant group of nineteenth century work relates to the period of RWA’s establishment, when Ellen Sharples – a key figure in the initiation of the Academy – bequeathed her large collection of paintings on her death in 1849. These paintings, together with many paintings given to the Academy by its artist members during the latter part of the nineteenth century, formed the beginnings of the RWA Permanent Collection.
In the early twentieth century, a number of these paintings were loaned to the City Art Gallery, which the then President, Lord Winterstoke, helped to found. In 1930 they were sold to the city.
In 1941 Augusta Talboys, an artist member, left a sum of money to the Academy so that the interest could be used to purchase works of art by artist members. These works of art now exceed 1000 and form a substantial part of the RWA’s growing collection. They include significant works by major twentieth century artists such as Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Dod Procter, Gilbert Spencer, Carel Weight, Mary Fedden, Ann Redpath and Julian Trevelyan. This is an unrivalled body of work by a range of artists with close connections to Bristol and the West of England, post-1941.
Today, all new RWA Academicians are asked to contribute a work to the collection.
Over the years, a number of paintings, sculptures and other works have been donated or bequeathed to the Academy by generous members and supporters.
Works from the collection are on display in the RWA galleries periodically throughout the year and incorporated into exhibitions wherever relevant.
Following Heritage Lottery Fund investment, the collection is now housed in a dedicated store with rolling racking and stable environmental conditions. Preventive and remedial conservation work has been undertaken on a number of works in the collection and a rolling programme of further work is planned, subject to funding.
The RWA and the University of Bristol History work in partnership to deliver a collaborative study unit for MA Art History students, which utilises the RWA's permanent collection. Each year, a group of students curates an exhibition from the collection to complement the theme of the main exhibitions on show.