The Royal Academy Collection is unique in that it was selected by artists. Founded in 1768, the collection was started by leading artists such as Reynolds and Gainsborough who wanted to encourage and promote a British School of fine arts. It was written into the laws of the institution that all newly elected Academicians should give one work to the Collection. Known as 'Diploma Works', these are still given today and include the work of artists ranging from Henry Fuseli and J. M. W. Turner to John Singer Sargent and David Hockney.
In addition to these, important paintings and a large number of portraits and self portraits by artists were acquired through gifts and bequests. Purchases of copies of famous Renaissance paintings were also made to inspire students at the Royal Academy Schools. These include a full-size copy of Leonardo's 'The Last Supper', by Giampietrino, which dates from about 1515. Particularly celebrated works in the collection include John Constable's 'The Leaping Horse', Henry Fuseli's 'Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent' and J. W. Waterhouse's 'A Mermaid'.