A Conversation with the President of the Royal Academy

It can be very satisfying when things come full circle. There was a bit of this sense of satisfaction in the air around The Munnings Art Museum on July 18th2018 when Christopher Le Brun, current President of the Royal Academy, was in attendance for a conversation with our Director, Jenny Hand.


Under the seemingly watchful gaze of Alfred Munnings, as you can see in our photos from the event, Christopher Le Brun ranged across a wide canvas of ideas and insights. He began by describing his own journey to becoming President of the RA and the ways in which the role demands sensitivity, tact and sense of diplomacy. Christopher then went on to detail the process that the Royal Academy works to in selecting work for exhibition at its Summer Show. Christopher was able to really humanize the process, too, by identifying particular stories about artists who had submitted work that was duly selected. In discussing the RA exhibition, Christopher addressed the ways in which work can be exhibited and he touched on the form of exhibition by ‘theme’. Rather nicely for us here at the museum, Christopher noted that our exhibition Munnings and the River was exemplary as exhibition by theme. A focal point of the early part of the conversation was around legacy in terms of Christopher’s role as President, in terms of the RA itself and in terms of Munnings and it was gratifying to hear Christopher focus so much on Munnings’ achievements as an artist.


Jenny also engaged Christopher in a discussion of his own creative practice and the idea of a legacy, in terms of his own work and practice and also in terms of Munnings’ resonance and relevance in his own time and in the decades since. Christopher LeBrun described Munnings as “spectacularly talented”. We already knew this, of course, but it’s nice to hear the President of the RA saying it, too.

The conversation also moved into interesting territory about what art is and what it offers and, by extension, what the relationship is between artist and viewer of their work. Do we need to know what the artist intended ? Is it enough to just have the work to respond to without any sense of creative context for it ? It’s a good question to try and answer and maybe there’s never an answer to arrive at.


Satisfyingly , as part of the closing part of the event, when our audience were able to ask questions, Christopher started to dig into what art offers in its most essential ways. Clearly, the conversation with the audience could have run much longer. The comment that Christopher made that hung in the air after the event was over was simply this: that art is “thick with meaning”.


Just as it’s satisfying when things come full circle, it’s also satisfying when things echo: as Christopher Le Brun talked about making and showing and responding to art, just  outside, beyond our marquee, in the peace and sanctuary of our front lawn at the house, sat a scattered band of artists from a local art group. These scattered solitary figures with their sketchpads and their paints and pencils, sat with quiet intensity, making their own art.