The late Victorian period for the Royal Academy was really the end , succumbing after a long and chronic respiratory illness. Frith’s The Private View from 1881, showed that the Summer Exhibition could still take a hold on the public, but the moment was approaching where an immense fund of hatred and contempt for the Royal Academy was no longer denied by anyone in the art world. There was a complete breakdown of the Academy’s function as a negotiator between new art and the public. In 1860 Whistler’s On The Piano was not only accepted by the R.A. , and hung on the line, but bought by a member of the hanging committee. By the time John Ruskin wrote his famous pasting of Whistler in 1877: I never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face; the artist was showing at the new Grosvenor gallery.
So rapid was the movement of taste that even Holman Hunt, the Academy’s stern critic, had been left behind and could only say that Whistler’s work, ” shows a defiant slovenliness which he could not have intended to be taken seriously.” The Academy was now in the realm of just another place in which an artist could show his work and the historic monopoly had been blown asunder by an advancing society both socially and technologically. The climate of art had changed, and it was now possible for a small group of friends and allies to hold out undismayed against the R.A. and all it stood for. It is hard to believe today, as Joshua Reynolds did, that a career in art, institutionalized, could grow steadily as an oak.