Architect to lead the Royal Academy: Dalya Alberge finds the arts world united in its praise for the RA's choice as new president

THE Royal Academy of Arts, one of the world's leading artistic institutions, has a new president - Sir Philip Dowson, the architect and winner of the 1981 Gold Medal for Architecture.

He becomes the RA's 23rd president, 225 years after Sir Joshua Reynolds, following initial hesitation, was appointed the first holder of the post.

The appointment was widely welcomed in the arts world. Piers Rodgers, secretary of the Academy, said: 'Sir Philip is highly intelligent, sensitive and has an incisive mind. He has a broad interest in the arts and a quiet manner, but passionate conviction.'

The selection was made by Royal Academicians, some 75 painters, sculptors and architects, who descended on Burlington House yesterday and, in the manner of their predecessors, voted in a secret ballot. After obtaining the approval of the Sovereign, they watched the outgoing president, Sir Roger de Grey, hand over the gold medal of office.

At 69, Sir Philip is the right age - presidents of the academy have to retire at 75. But, it is his background as an architect, and his wide interest in the arts and museum world, that have made him a popular choice. He is chairman of the RA's working group preparing the bid for the Museum of Mankind to transform it into a Museum of Architecture.

As an architect, the fifth to hold the presidency, and a senior partner of Arup Associates, Sir Philip has been described as a modernist 'up to a point'. In the Eighties he produced the controversial plan for Paternoster Square. However, the distinguished architect, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, whose works include the Kennedy memorial at Runnymede, has written: 'All his work has an element of classicism in its pure geometry and in the charm that it holds for the layman so easily overwhelmed by bigness, hostility of material, and inelegance'.

Alan Balfour, chairman of the Architectural Association, commented: 'It is an excellent choice. Few have more passion for culture and breadth of knowledge across the arts.'

Sir Philip follows in a line that includes Benjamin West and Sir Alfred Munnings, who had to stand down after making disparaging remarks about Matisse and Henry Moore. Sir Roger is a difficult act to follow. Although the presidential term is for one year, it can be extended - Sir Roger served nine terms.

Under Sir Roger's presidency, the RA's previously rather stuffy image was transformed by hugely popular, blockbuster exhibitions that appealed to the general public and the academic. Among them were the Monet show, which attracted a record 658,000 visitors in 1990; the Great Age of British Watercolours, which drew more than 200,000 earlier this year; and the Great Age of Chivalry, seen by 349,750 in 1987-88.

That such shows were staged without a penny of government support make the RA's achievements all the more impressive. Exhibitions are staged with corporate sponsorship; refurbishments to the building have been made - notably the pounds 10.4m Sackler galleries, one of London's most impressive display spaces; and, under Sir Roger's presidency, the RA pioneered the idea of advance tickets for shows.

Leading figures in the art world were unanimous in praising both men yesterday. Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, the sculptor and academician, said: 'Sir Philip will be very good . . . If you can improve on Sir Roger's legacy, it'll make him into a wonderful president.'

Graham Greene, chairman of the Museums and Galleries Commission, said: 'I couldn't imagine a better appointment. Although Sir Roger is a hard act to follow, Sir Philip has got all the charm to lead that sort of institution in this day and age.'

Leading article, page 17

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game