The Royal Academy of Arts is to consult staff on making 150 people redundant, a figure that equates to 40% of its workforce.
The RA on Thursday held a meeting for all staff members at which they were told of a need to reduce annual costs by £8m.
Britain’s museums, galleries and arts organisations have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Politicians and unions have warned of a growing “tsunami” of job losses in the arts.
The RA said it was an independent charity that did not receive funding from the government and was wholly reliant on ticket sales, friends membership, commercial activities, donors, patrons and sponsors.
“Covid-19 has placed the RA under severe financial pressure,” it said. “Although the RA reopened to the public as soon as possible following the easing of lockdown, social distancing reduces capacity and revenue by 75%, and we continue to incur substantial losses.”
Axel Rüger, its chief executive, said: “For over 250 years, the Royal Academy has championed artists and architects and inspired visitors. This pandemic has placed us under critical financial pressure.
“Our staff are incredibly dedicated and passionate about working at the RA; it is therefore with great regret that we confirm roles are at risk, but our focus must be on protecting the survival of the RA.”
The RA said the job cuts were necessary to secure its survival and long-term sustainability. The redundancy consultation would “affect all areas and levels of the organisation”, it added.
A spokesperson said the RA had applied for a grant from the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund and was waiting to hear whether it had been successful.
Just two years ago, the RA celebrated its 250th anniversary and the triumphant opening of a £56m expansion that brought buildings on its central London site together for the first time.
Like all museums in the UK, the RA closed suddenly in March and its income fell to almost zero. It postponed its summer exhibition, a annual fixture as traditional as Wimbledon or the Derby.
Remarkably, the exhibition has taken place every year since 1769, including during the first and second world wars. It will take place this year as an autumn show for the first time, opening in the main galleries on 6 October and curated by artist twin sisters Jane and Louise Wilson.
The RA is one of a growing number of arts organisations making redundancies. Tate is planning 313 job losses across its commercial enterprises and the Southbank Centre is planning 400.