The National Exhibition of Art is the most prestigious annual event of the Lalit Kala Akademi. Begun in 1955, it is directed towards showcasing and representing visual advances in the year. Through the years the National Exhibition has evolved, keeping abreast of developments and alterations along the years.
In 1955, 280 of the 1200 entries were chosen for display. Ten awards of Rs. 1000/- each were given to deserving exhibits. From 1956 onwards, the best exhibit was also awarded the Akademi’s Gold Plaque. Also, a decision to take the exhibition to select cities of the country by rotation was proposed so that over the six decades the National Exhibition has travelled to major art hubs such as Calcutta (Kolkata), Bombay (Mumbai) and Madras (Chennai), Jaipur,Amritsar, Lucknow,Guwahati, Patna, and Hyderabad.
From 1958, sale of exhibits under the strict supervision of the Akademi, was initiated and the Akademi and the National Gallery of Modern Art purchased paintings for their permanent collections.
In 1959, its fifth year, the exhibits were classified under three distinct categories (Modern, Oriental and Academic-Realistic), but in 1960, the very next year, the exhibition went back to the earlier composite system of presentation.
In 1962, H.M. the Queen of England also expressed keen interest in the Exhibition and purchased two paintings after her visit to the same. 1963 saw a surge in public interest in the National Exhibition with over six thousand footfalls.
From 1964 to 1967, The Akademi withheld the prestigious Gold Plaque introduced to honour the best of the exhibits.
The U.P. State Lalit Kala Akademi hosted the National Exhibition of Arts . The exhibition was moved out of the national capital for the first time owing to the other exhibitions being conducted by the Akademi in Delhi. This recurred in 1971 when the National Exhibition of Art was held in Bhopal in co-operation with the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad, and in 1978 when it was organized in Ahmadabad and in 1986 when the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata,opened its doors to house the exhibition.
Important art authorities and curators came on board the 19th Exhibition with Shri R. L. Bartholomew being appointed Commissioner. That year the amount given away as reward was increased to Rs5,000/-.In 1986, a new section, comprising works by invited artists was introduced with eight works by artists Vinod Ray Patel, Babu Rao Sadwelker and Ram Gopal Vijayvargiya and others. The prize-money was increased to Rs10,000/- for the ten best exhibits thereafter.
In 2001, the 43rd National Exhibition of Art was held at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore. Prize money was upped to Rs 25,000/- each, which was later revised to Rs 40,000/- in 2002.
A significant marker was the 46th National Exhibition of Art, at Kochi. The jury that year was re-organized into a two-tier set-up with the first tier doing the initial selection from the thousands of entries and the second tier ascertaining finalists who received a cheque of Rs 50,000/- a citation and a memento.
2006 saw the inclusion of cultural performances in an initiative to merge the visual with the performative and literary arts, a tradition that has continued ever since. The Akademi also accepted digital photography in the graphic art category in order to keep up with the changing times.