The Royal Scottish Academy Building

The Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture

The Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture (RSA) is an independently funded organisation which supports the creation, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts in Scotland. Based within the Royal Scottish Academy building, the RSA runs a year-round programme of exhibitions, artist opportunities and related educational talks and events which support artists at all stages of their careers. The RSA also holds an extensive collection and archive.

Led by eminent artists and architects, the RSA embodies a wealth of professional experience in Fine Art and Architecture, with many RSA members taking a leading role in higher education and many of the leading cultural institutions in Scotland.

You can learn more about the RSA and its programme of exhibitions and activities by visiting their website at

The History of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture

The ‘Scottish Academy’ was founded in 1826 by a group of eleven artists. It was created with the aim of creating an academy of fine arts instructing students at no charge, to present an annual exhibition open to all artists of merit and maintain a library devoted to the fine arts. 

John Wilson Ewbank, The The Royal Institution, Edinburgh (now the Royal Scottish Academy Building)

The Academy held its first exhibition in 1827 and in 1835 had been granted permission to lease space within the Royal Institution building on the Mound for its annual exhibition. By 1838, the Academy had gained a Royal Charter (and was now known as the Royal Scottish Academy) and it continued to grow in significance and status throughout the nineteenth century, training young artists and looking after its collection for the benefit of students and the wider public.

The founders of the RSA also held a strong desire that Scotland should have a National Gallery of its own and as they continued to expand and place demands on the space within the Royal Institution, it was clear that they required new premises. Therefore, when a new purpose built gallery was designed and constructed in the 1850’s, the Royal Scottish Academy moved in alongside the newly created National Gallery of Scotland  (today part of the Scottish National Gallery), hosting its exhibitions within the gallery, as well as having its council room, library and life school within the building. It continued to teach Fine Art in the gallery until the Edinburgh College of Art was formed in 1907.

Unknown Artist, Interior of the National Gallery of Scotland , c 1867-1877

In 1910, it was decided that the RSA should be transferred back into the Royal Institution Building and be awarded permanent tenancy of office space and the right to hold its annual exhibition within the building. The building then became known as ‘The Royal Scottish Academy’. In return, the RSA gifted ninety-six paintings and sculptures and approximately two-thousand drawings to the National Gallery of Scotland, and are still part of the national collection.

Claude Lorrain, Pastoral Landscape with Roman Arch, 17th century
Purchased by the Royal Scottish Academy 1864; transferred to the National Gallery of Scotland and presented 1910
William Dyce, Francesca da Rimini, 1837
Purchased by the Royal Scottish Academy 1864; transferred to the National Gallery of Scotland and presented 1910

The Royal Scottish Academy Building Today

View of the Gardens Entrance to the Scottish National Gallery

The latest phase in the history of the RSA saw the construction of an underground link between the Royal Scottish Academy Building and the National Gallery of Scotland (as it was then known). Award-winning architects John Miller and Partners rose to the challenge of redeveloping the buildings for modern use.

The Royal Scottish Academy building reopened in 2004 and is now a world-class exhibition space, while the underground Gardens Level houses a range of visitor facilities and education spaces. The Royal Scottish Academy Building now plays host to a variety of exhibitions programmed by the National Galleries of Scotland, the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, and others.


Open daily, 10am-5pm
Thursdays until 7pm

The shop at Royal Scottish Academy has a wonderful selection of contemporary books and art-inspired gifts including local designer and jewellers. The shop can be found at the front of the Royal Scottish Academy building via the Princes Street entrance.

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