A hanging lunch

This is the season when the annual Summer exhibition is hung.   Wandering round the galleries in the morning, members of the committee are busy with the difficult task of selection of pictures and sculpture for whichever room they are hanging, intent on doing the best for the Royal Academicians, their peers, for the open submission, and, not least, for the public.   Each year I am impressed by how deeply seriously they take it – how to make the best possible display, how to show as many works as is practical without overloading the rooms, how to balance works by known artists and unknown, how to grapple with the tricky individual works.   At 11, they are fortified by beef tea (reputedly, a mixture of sherry and bones).   By lunchtime the artists involved in the hanging need fortification.  They retreat to the General Assembly Room.   This scene of Academicians having lunch during  the hang was painted by Frederick Elwell (he’s standing up on the left) in 1938, lots of old men sitting round the table with their cigarettes and cigars.   Nowadays lunch is quicker and much less formal, self-service and tough beef.   It concentrates on the problems of the hang, but also includes a bit of RA gossip, which is why I always like this time of year.


The Royal Academy Selection and Hanging Committee, Frederick William Elwell. © The Royal Academy of Arts


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