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Kitaj causes pounds 1m stir at Royal Academy show

Brilliant splashes of colour and exquisitely-executed black and white prints jostled side by side as the critics got the first glimpse of the 229th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, yesterday.

But members of the public have to wait until Sunday before they will be able to see the 1,201 works on display. More than 120,000 people are expected to visit over the next 11 weeks to compare the paintings, prints and sculptures of professional artists with the work of Britain's keen amateurs.

The American artist RB Kitaj once more succeeds in seizing the limelight with a pounds 1m price tag on his work Sandra Three, the follow-up to last year's scathing attack on the critics he blames for contributing to the death of his wife, Sandra Fisher, who was also an artist.

At the opposite end of the price range, Juliet Blaxland is offering an unlimited edition of three works entitled Life in a Listed Building for pounds 10 a piece. Last year, more than 2,900 works were sold at an average price of pounds 428, making a total of pounds 1,2m.

Highlights of the exhibition, which is sponsored by Guinness, include a work by Jasper Johns, an honorary member of the academy, and a portrait of Stephen Fry, the actor, by Maggie Hambling.

Works by Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud and Richard Hamilton all appear in the exhibition for the first time, at Kitaj's request. They hang alongside his work. Kitaj describes them as the "Over-The-Hill-Gang" whom he had asked to join him in the show "because I believe in a Geriatric Avant- Garde".

But there are also miniatures of the entertainer Rolf Harris and the actress Dame Judi Dench as well as the usual range of landscapes, still lives and nudes.

Chris Orr, the Royal Academician and printmaker who curated the print gallery, said he had endeavoured to give the exhibition a coherence. But he was "pretty catholic" in his tastes and had made sure he had chosen a variety of styles and not only those like his own "funny narrative" prints.

"We had an awful lot of sheep entries this year. It was definitely year of the sheep," he said. Not all were chosen, he said, but his own work inspired by Dolly, the cloned Scottish sheep, is among them. It is called The Martians Have Landed.

Twenty-five sculptures in the exhibition have been captioned with braille for the visually impaired and can be touched by them. Gioya Steinke, 77, who is registered blind, said this service was "terribly important"."I came the one year when you couldn't touch and ached to. All they ask is that you don't wear rings."

From the end of June, visitors can also see the Final Year Show of 19 Royal Academy students. There are also two new departures this year. On Sundays in July the academy will stay open until 8.30pm. And all children under eight who visit during Gallery Week, from 19 to 27 July, will receive colouring pads and crayons.