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The Academy of Art Collage

The Academy of Art

Started: 1562
The Academy of Art Timeline
"Make copies, young man, many copies. You can only become a good artist by copying the masters."
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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Signature
"A painter must not only be of necessity an imitator of the works of nature...he must be as necessarily an imitator of the works of other painters."
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Joshua Reynolds Signature
"One always begins by imitating."
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Eugène Delacroix Signature
"The living model never answers well the idea or impressions the painter wishes to express; one must, therefore, learn to do without one, and for that, you must acquire facility, furnish one's memory to the point of infinitude, and make numerous drawings after the old masters."
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Eugène Delacroix Signature
"Draughtsman may be made, but colorists are born."
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Eugène Delacroix Signature
"Draw for a long time before thinking of painting. When one builds a solid foundation, one sleeps peacefully."
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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Signature
"Drawing includes three and a half quarters of the content of painting... Drawing contains everything, except the hue."
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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Signature
"Drawing is the probity of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours; drawing does not consist merely of line: drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane, modeling. See what remains after that."
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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Signature

Summary of The Academy of Art

The Academies of Art promoted classical specifications of excellence in painting, sculpture and architecture and their popularity spread subsequently throughout the great cities of Europe and America. With a primary role of training and supporting artists, academies also housed and hosted exhibitions, managed archives, published books, undertook restoration work, and acted as lenders to national and international partners. The status of academies remained largely unchallenged until the mid-nineteenth century when their authority started to be undermined by avant-gardists who (somewhat hastily) dismissed them as an outdated mechanism of the ruling classes. Though they continue to serve an important role in state identity, academies have had to move with the times and their standards have evolved to accommodate changing attitudes towards what might, or might not, constitute art.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • The idea of an Academy education was based firmly of the belief that art was a "discipline" that deserved to take its place alongside advanced other forms of human learning. It too could be organized around a set of agreed rules and principles that students would master by a system of rote learning (a system which involved copying the works of Old Masters). A student would only then earn the prestigious position of "artist" once they learned painting in the live studio setting of established masters.
  • As an academy standard, the "Hierarchy of Genres", was established in France in the seventeenth century. The "Hierarchy" ranked history painting at the most scholarly genre and classified "lesser" genres accordingly. History paintings not only made the greatest demands on the artist's technical capabilities, it also required a learned quality that asked the artist to form their picture narratives from mythology, the Bible, classical literature, and from history. Mastery of history painting became a benchmark requirement for academy students.
  • Academies were vital in providing artists with a regular exhibition outlet. Before the rise of the independent Salon and gallery, academies were the arbiters of popular tastes and by featuring prominently in an "official" academy exhibition, an artist's future career could be all but secured.

Overview of The Academy of Art

A 19th-century photograph of the French École des Beaux-Arts. What must have been a typical scene at an academy where a life drawing class is in progress.

Very much in the spirit of the Academy, the great English landscapist, John Constable said: "An artist who is self-taught is taught by a very ignorant person indeed." Many followed that kind of establishment thinking, but the few who didn't, the avant-garde of the next centuries, trod their own path, and are remembered just as well for it.

Do Not Miss

  • Romanticism was a nineteenth-century movement that celebrated the powers of emotion and intuition over rational analysis or classical ideals. Romantic artists emphasized awe, beauty, and the sublime in their works, which frequently charted the darker or chaotic sides of human life.
  • Looking back to the arts of Greece and Rome for ideal models and forms, Neoclassicism was a major art period that set standard and redefined painting, sculpture, and architecture.
  • The Rococo was a far reaching artistic movement associated with ornate decoration that included architecture, painting, sculpture, music, interior design, landscape design, and theater.
  • Europe experienced a harsh interwar period after the chaos and aftermath of World War I, and with the onset of the Great Depression. Meanwhile artists focused on the so-called "return to order" (rappel a l'ordre), a renewal of depictions of Greek and Roman topics and imagery.

The Important Artists and Works of The Academy of Art

The School of Athens (1509-1511)

Artist: Raphael

The third in a series of four frescoes, the work was commissioned by the Pope for his Vatican Palace. This fresco, described by art historians Horst Woldemar Janson and Anthony F. Janson as "Raphael's masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the Renaissance", depicts the Academy of Athens, founded by Plato in the fourth century. In the center of the painting, the legendary philosopher is revealed in fervent conversation with his equally famous student, Aristotle, as they walk through the animated crowd of philosophers gathered on the temple steps. Raphael has created an imagined academy here, as many of the collected philosophers were never Athenians and lived long before the era of Plato and Aristotle. At the same time, he portrayed many of the figures as his contemporaries. For instance, Plato is thought to be a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, while in the center foreground Heraclitus is thought to be a portrait of Michelangelo. The work thus reveals how the Renaissance Academy saw itself as the rightful heir to Greek Classicism.

Raphael's sublime artistic mastery became foundational, especially to the French and British Academies, which emulated his classical proportions and his commitment to the principle of disegno. As art historian Michael Paul Driskel wrote, "Raphael's position at the pinnacle of artistic achievement was already well established in France by his prominence in the king's collection and his influence on the generation of French artists who founded the Academy [...] By claiming Raphael as their own, the Academicians were able to construct their aesthetic on the bedrock of classicism".

The Salon due Louvre in 1765 (1765)

Artist: Gabriel de Saint-Aubin

This spirited drawing lends an impression, not only of the crowded competition that the French Academy encouraged among its members, but also of the hierarchy that governed such exhibitions with large history paintings gaining the greatest profile and minor genres, such as still life, placed in less favorable positions. This partial view of the Salon shows one wall, its paintings hung in the "salon-style" from floor to ceiling and placed according to their importance. The few viewers shown here (in the work's lower foreground) are aristocrats; their elegant clothing and powdered wigs echoed in the marble busts and cameos surrounding them. The work represents how the Academy's aesthetic standards were thought to accommodate the tastes of the bourgeois class.

Though considered a proficient and imaginative genre painter (and following three failed attempts to win a Prix de Rome) Saint-Aubin left the Academy and became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, making a career as an illustrator and a street draughtsman. As art historian Kim de Beaumont noted, his "most original contribution was to capture in paintings, finished drawings, and thumbnail sketches the art exhibitions and sales of his day, both as great events in the life of Paris and in all their fascinating documentary detail. Saint-Aubin was, in fact, the first artist ever to produce panoramic representations of the exhibitions of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture".

The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-72)

Artist: Johan Joseph Zoffany

This group portrait represents most of the 36 members of the British Royal Academy in the life drawing room at Old Somerset House (where the Academy was initially housed). Wearing black and holding his ear trumpet (as he was hard of hearing) Sir Joshua Reynolds stands left of center, facing away from Francesco Zuccarelli and George Moser who are discussing how best to position the male nude on the right. On the room's walls, shelves hold the plaster busts and replicas of various classical works that students would have been required to copy. Exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts fourth annual show, the painting met with great success and was purchased by King George III.

Although it appears realistic, Zoffany's painting is an artful fiction, given that only students under the tutelage of a single instructor would attend a life class. As art historian Meredith Gamer noted, the work "is best understood [...] as a mission statement of sorts, one that announces the Academy's allegiance to what was then considered the most technically and intellectually demanding of art forms". Zoffany became famous for works such as these, later characterized as Conversation Pieces - large paintings designed to delight and impress the public and draw critical attention at the Royal Academy's annual exhibitions.

As a "mission statement", the work reflected the Academy's ambition to create a national school of art to match any of its European rivals. It also depicted some of the unique qualities of the British school; in effect, a group portrait, it evoked the British emphasis on portraiture as equal to history painting. As art scholar Desmond Shawe-Taylor noted, "Zoffany's group is conceived as a pastiche of the most famous intellectual conversation in art, Raphael's School of Athens [...] The reference is not quite an outright parody; nor is it a solemn tribute. Zoffany's painting is more a good-humoured mock-heroic version of the School of Athens". The art historian Amanda Vickery also picked up on the detail of the portraits of Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman on the right wall. On the one hand, Zoffany shows the Royal Academy's "modernity" by including women amongst its members. At the same time, it enforced a rule that barred female artists from attending life classes (which featured male nudes). Vickery wrote, "the painting is seen to epitomise the ambivalent recognition and conditional institutional support extended to female artists" at this time.

Useful Resources on The Academy of Art

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Tony Todd

"The Academy of Art Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Tony Todd
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First published on 01 Sep 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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