Royal Academy expels its first member for more than 200 years

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The Independent Online

The artist who quit running the Royal Academy's art college in a row over disputed bank accounts has become the first to be expelled from its membership in more than 200 years.

Brendan Neiland becomes only the second Royal Academician to be kicked out in the 237-year history of one of Britain's most venerable artistic institutions. As it was established under royal charter, the Queen was informed yesterday after the majority of the Royal Academy's general assembly decided Professor Neiland should not be allowed to continue as a member. She gave her assent.

The professor resigned as keeper, or head, of the Royal Academy Schools last summer after the discovery of an unauthorised bank account and a pattern of transactions involving £80,000 that were not properly documented. Specialist auditors were brought in to investigate the financial irregularities while many students and former students rallied to Professor Neiland's defence as an inspiring teacher and leader.

A high court judge, described as a friend of the Royal Academy, was brought in to carry out an independent review of an internal investigation. The Academy's painters, sculptors and architects were sent copies of the conclusions of these investigations before yesterday's meeting. Professor Neiland admitted, and repeated the admission yesterday, that he could have handled affairs more professionally but denied dishonesty. He said he was very disappointed by yesterday's decision.

"I am disappointed but unsurprised by the decision of my fellow members to eject me. It is a sad day for the Academy, when someone who has dedicated so much of his energy and ideas to the institution is treated in this way. It would seem that chopping off my head was not enough for the administration; they wanted it on a pike in Piccadilly [where the Royal Academy is based]."

He accused the Academy of failing to keep a promise to hold an independent inquiry and that he had not met the judge who was brought in to investigate and report to the assembly. "They have continually reneged on promises to allow my case to be both put and heard," he said.

"The judge's report was sent to members without my response, which they had promised to do. Where is the equity and justice from an institution so vital to Britain's image abroad?"

Nicholas Grimshaw, the president of the Royal Academy was not available for comment.

Members are usually elected as Royal Academicians for life. The only previous member to have been expelled was a painter, James Barry, in 1799.