Rebecca Salter Has Been Elected the First Female Artist to Preside Over London’s Royal Academy in Its 251-Year History

Rebecca Salter has broken the glass ceiling of one of Europe's oldest and most prestigious artist-run institutions.

Rebecca Salter. Photo ©Getty Images /Tristan Fewings.

Royal Academicians have voted for the artist Rebecca Salter to be their new president. She becomes the first woman to lead London’s Royal Academy of Arts in its more than 250-year history.

Salter was announced last night as the 27th president of the institution, an election that comes with the Queen’s approval. The artist follows in the footsteps of the likes of Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, and more recently Christopher Le Brun, who stepped down in September after eight years at the helm. 

“I am so honoured to have been elected President of the Royal Academy. The RA is unique, a place shaped by artists and architects,” Salter says of her appointment in a statement. “Its exhibitions are world class and we teach the artists of the future in the RA Schools,” she adds. Salter has been the Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools, which offers free tuition to postgraduates, for the past two years. Her rise has been rapid, reflecting the esteem she is held in by her peers. She was elected an Academician in 2014.

Following the recent expansion of the RA to mark its 250th anniversary, Salter says it is a “tremendously exciting time” to take the lead at the artist-and architect-run institution. “I look forward to working with my fellow Academicians, our staff, and our many supporters to help the RA to evolve while keeping art, architecture, and debate at the heart of what we do.”

The artist was chosen by her fellow Academicians, who are all practicing artists and architects. Among those celebrating her election last night were Yinka Shonibare, Jane and Louise Wilson, Michael Craig-Martin, and Grayson Perry, along with members of the RA staff. 

Salter will work closely with its new chief executive, Axel Rüger, the former director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam who returned to London this summer. Rüger says in a statement that he is “delighted” with Salter’s election. “With a long career as a respected artist, and an in-depth knowledge of the Royal Academy through her position as Keeper, Rebecca will bring a wealth of experience to the role. I look forward to working with her,” Rüger says. 

Fundraising and overseeing an exhibition program that combines scholarship and box-office appeal are constant challenges for an institution that receives no core funding from the UK government. The RA has to raise all of its income, unlike its peers the National Gallery, Tate, and British Museum.

Salter, who has a lower profile than some of her fellow Academicians, has exhibited in London and internationally. She had a mid-career survey show at the Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut, in 2011. Her work is in museum collections including the Tate and the British Museum, as well as at Yale. She has also worked on several architectural commissions.

Salter studied at Bristol Polytechnic in the West of England, and Kyoto City University of the Arts in Japan, where she lived for six years and trained in traditional Japanese woodblock printing. She taught printmaking at Camberwell College of Art in London until 2016.

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