RWA Permanent collection (Max McClure) 
Photograph of the collection before new storage: Max McClure                                  

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 comprises 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 19th 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 20th century, a number of these paintings were loaned to the City Art Gallery which the then President, Lord Winterstoke, helped to found, and 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 may be used to purchase works of art by artist members. These works of art now exceed 1000 and form the substantial part of our growing collection.  They include significant works by major 20th 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 with Bristol and the West of England post-1941.

A recently re-introduced requirement that all new RWA members must donate a diploma work to the collection adds a continuing contemporary element to the collection. 

RWA Permanent collection - new racking

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.

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.

For further information about the collection, its history and our collecting aims, please download a copy of our Collections Development Policy here.

Using the Online Archive

Heritage Lottery Funding has enabled the RWA’s collection to be made available online for the first time as a searchable database.  Images are included where available and more will be added over coming months; in the meantime, we apologise that not all works include an image. Enter the archive

To view images of all the Oil and Acrylic paintings from the permanent collection on the BBC Your Paintings website, please click here.

If you would like any further information about the permanent collection, or to arrange to view a particular work or artist please email us or call us on 0117 973 5129.

University of Bristol Collaborative Research Project

The RWA and the University of Bristol History of Art Department work in partnership to deliver a collaborative study unit for MA students utilising the RWA's permanent collection. Each year, a group of students curates an exhibition from the permanent collection to complement the theme of the main exhibitions on show.  

In 2015, the theme was drawing, resulting in the exhibition 'Draw In', on show from 21 May to 17 June 2015.  For more information on this project please visit the students' Drawn In website at 

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