The Royal Academy (RA) is a classic institution of modern British state culture. Hovering between government and monarchy, it seems to be a concrete realization of the nature of British political life by making and effacing the relationship between the public and the private in the process of articulating them. Promoted and patronized by powerful agencies, its nineteenth-century history is one in which issues of identity; function and duty are entangled with the operation of institutional power and cultural authority. And such matters are themselves bound up with debates about the nature of the legitimation and sovereignty of the Victorian RA, the relations between its customs and the governance and administration of art. As will become apparent, commentary about the state of Victorian art tends to focus on the status of the RA, seeking to identify the 'correct' institutional conditions for the generation of an 'authentic' relationship between artists and the public.