Academic Art

Academic art flourished in Europe from the 17th to the 19th century and is closely associated with Neoclassical art.

The art movement is characterised by a highly sophisticated style, frequent use of mythological and historical subject matter, and a general moralistic tone.

Academie des beaux-arts

Though Academic Art is said to be the style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of various European academies, it refers particularly to the artists influenced by the French Academie des beaux-arts.

Founded in 1648 in an effort to distinguish true artists from craftsmen, the Academie des beaux-arts placed a strong emphasis on the intellectual qualities of art-making and closely followed the styles of Neoclassicism and Romanticism in an effort to integrate both styles.

It was extremely difficult to be a student of the Academie. Only students who passed an exam and carried a letter of reference from a noted art professor were accepted into the academy’s school, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Spending years in painstaking art training, students were required to copy prints of classical paintings and sculptures to become familiar with the principles of contour, light and shade.

This procedure was believed to be crucial to the academic education as it would help students to assimilate the methods of the masters into their own art making.

To advance to the next step, students presented drawings for evaluation. If approved, they would then draw from plaster casts of famous classical sculptures or human anatomy. Only after obtaining these skills were artists allowed to attend classes in which a live model posed.

Although painting was not actually taught at the cole des Beaux-Arts until after 1863, to learn to paint with a brush, the student first had to demonstrate great skill in drawing, as this was considered to be the foundation of academic painting. Only then could the pupil join the studio of an academician and learn how to paint.

Prix de Rome

Throughout the entire process, many competitions were held which served to measure each student’s progress.

Perhaps the most famous art competition for students was the Prix de Rome. A grueling process, this competition involved ten students who were impounded in studios for 72 days to paint their final historical masterpieces.

The winner of this competition was offered the opportunity to study at the Academie francaise’s school at the Villa Medici in Rome and was assured a successful career as an artist. To compete for the Prix de Rome, however, a student had to be of French nationality, male, under 30-years-old, single, and have the support of a renowned art teacher.

A successful showing at the Salon was a seal of approval for an aspiring artist. It would give them the right to be regarded as an academician.

When the Paris Salons were successfully held in the Louvre, they became influential in moulding public taste and strengthening the Academie’s domination over the production of fine art.

Other Art Movements

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