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century when their authority started to be undermined by avant-gardists who (somewhat hastily) dismissed them as an outdated mechanism of the ruling classes.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
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.
The Important Artists and Works of The Academy of Art
The School of Athens
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".
Fresco - Vatican City
The Salon due Louvre in 1765
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".
Watercolor, pen and black and grey ink, graphite pencil on paper
The Academicians of the Royal Academy
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.
Oil on canvas - Royal Academy of Art, London
The Oath of the Horatii
This famous history painting was seen as the fruition of the aesthetic approach of the French Academy, as it launched Neoclassicism, a movement that employed classical aesthetic principles and subject matter. Here, the artist depicts a dramatic moment from Roman history, as the three Horatii brothers salute their father before going into battle. In the center of the picture, Horatus holds their upraised swords, his hand grasping the sharp blades, while, behind him, the women and children of the family wilt with grief anticipating the painful losses that will follow. In a minimal architectural setting that conveys a classical gravitas, the scene is presented with clarity, elevating its classical source and strong moral message for a contemporary audience. Celebrated by King Louis XVI, as well as by the French revolutionaries that deposed him, the painting propelled David to the front ranks of French painting.
As art critic Roberta Smith observed, when the work appeared at the 1785 Salon, it "announced the triumphant return of the grand tradition of Poussinian history painting, and answered the prayers of critics who had been fulminating against the decadence of court painting for years, with Boucher as main scapegoat". For the French Academy, David's work marked the restoration of the Poussin's classicism, following the frivolous use of color of the Rococo era. David's influence was so great that the following period was called "the Age of David" and he influenced prominent French Academy artists such as François Gérard, Antoine Jean Gros, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Even the Romantic artists Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault acknowledged a debt to David's famous painting.
Oil on canvas - Musée du Louvre, Paris
Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill)
Having emigrated to America from England in 1818, a 24 year-old Cole arrived in New York (via Ohio and Philadelphia) in 1825. He soon journeyed up the Hudson River to the eastern Catskill Mountains where he executed a series of landscapes, three of which, a New York bookseller agreed to display in his shop window. John Trumbull, the President of the American Academy of Fine Arts (AAFA), saw Cole's paintings, purchasing one for himself, and recommending the other two to his colleagues Asher B. Durand and William Dunlap. Legend tells it that Trumbull was so impressed with Cole he told his colleagues, "I am delighted and at the same time mortified. This youth has done at once, and without instruction, what I cannot do after 50 years' practice". Cole's spectacular Romantic landscapes (which would give birth 25 years on to the first truly American fraternity of landscapists, The Hudson River School) saw him immediately welcomed into the fold of New York's cultural elite.
Under the guidance of the polymath Samuel F. B. Morse (who had studied at the Royal Academy and who was familiar with its operations) the inception of the National Academy of Design can be traced back to November 1825, when, Cole, Durand, Martin E. Thompson and a group of thirty or so other AAFA members met to discuss the formation of an artist's union. Calling themselves the New York Drawing Association, the group would meet on three evenings a week for drawing sessions. The AAFA was, however, unhappy about the formation of a breakaway group and obstructed its access to its collections. Nevertheless, the rebels represented a potent threat to the Academy's authority. An attempt at reconciling the two parties (by nominating artists to the board of directors) under the banner of a single Academy proved unsuccessful.
In January 1826, the New-York Drawing Association severed all ties with the AAFA, and renamed itself the National Academy of the Arts of Design (NAD). Meeting initially at the Old Alms House at City Hall Park in lower Manhattan, the founders defined the four "arts of design" as painting, sculpture, architecture, and engraving. Thus was born the first Academy in America to be founded, and exclusively controlled, by professional artists. NAD initially taught classes included anatomy, perspective, ancient history, and mythology and, from 1837, added, for advanced male students, life drawing to its curriculum. Women had been members of the Academy from the outset and frequent contributed to NAD's annual exhibitions but life drawing classes for women were not instituted until 1857. By the turn of the 20th century, NAD had adopted the European atelier system, giving students the option of completing their training under a specific master. The Academy's reputation continued to grow in stature and it can claim amongst its alumni such names as Winslow Homer, George Inness, Arshile Gorky, and Willem de Kooning.
Oil on canvas - Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio
Nymphes et satyre (Nymphs and Satyr)
Depicting a scene where several nymphs are playfully pushing a satyr into a forest pond, this painting was inspired by a poem of the first century Roman poet Publius Statius: "Conscious of his shaggy hide and from childhood untaught to swim, he dares not trust himself to deep waters". Here the satyr, half-man, half-goat, and traditionally a figure of lust and drunkenness, has the tables turned on him, as the nymphs that he thought to besiege tussle him into the depths he so fears.
Like other leading French academic artists of the late 1800s, Bouguereau continued to follow the classical approach, as seen in his subject matter and the triangular composition that centers the five figures. Yet, he also aspired to Romanticism's penchant for eroticism as evinced in this work's emphasis on the multiple viewpoints of the female nude. This combination made his work appealing to both critics and collectors. As art critic Chris Miller wrote, "Bouguereau's works were much sought after, particularly by American entrepreneurs, made wealthy in the Gilded Age, and the artist, well aware of their tastes, said in 1905: 'I soon found that the horrible, the frenzied, the heroic does not pay, and as the public of today prefers venuses and cupids, and I paint to please them'".
Trained at the École des Beaux Arts, Bouguereau studied painting with François-Édouard Picot, and worked determinedly to win the Prix de Rome, which he won on his third attempt (in 1850). As art historian Fronia E. Wissman noted, an early critic praised him as having "a natural instinct and knowledge of contour. The eurythmie of the human body preoccupies him, and in recalling the happy results which, in this genre, the ancients and the artists of the sixteenth century arrived at, one can only congratulate M. Bouguereau in attempting to follow in their footsteps ... Raphael was inspired by the ancients ... and no one accused him of not being original". This "lack of originality" proved to be Bouguereau's undoing so far as modernists were concerned. As art critic Grace Glueck noted, "Degas and his friends used the term 'bouguerated' to derogate a finicky, overly finished painting surface, and van Gogh put him down as a well-paid maker of 'soft, pretty things'".
Oil on canvas - Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA
The Academy in the Renaissance
In 1563 Cosimo I de' Medici, the ruler of Florence, and the most powerful art patron in Europe, founded the first academy dedicated specifically to the advancement of the arts. His Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy and Company for the Arts of Drawing) was to establish and further the cultural and artistic dominance of Florence. At the same time, the progressive institution celebrated what was in effect the "birth of the artist". Superseding the medieval guild system, which set training standards and governed artistic production and commerce, the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno instigated an educational system based on humanist principles derived from the philosophical model of Plato's fourth century Academy of Athens. No longer the anonymous craftspeople of the Middle Ages, artists were viewed as the recipients of divine inspiration with masters of the standing of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo considered the very embodiment of the learned Renaissance man. The historian Mary Ann Jack wrote, "The Accademia del Disegno was the most important institution for Florentine artists in the late sixteenth century. Records show that virtually all of the city's artists matriculated in the academy, and some of the most prominent artists in Florence [...] Cellini, Vasari, Ammannati, Giambologna, and Buontalenti, were among its officers".
Giorgio Vasari and Disegno
The noted artist and critic Giorgio Vasari, and his friend and colleague, the humanist scholar Vincenzo Borghini, shaped the Accademia curriculum, which included lectures on geometry, anatomy, classical literature and philosophy. Students learned technical skills by imitation, drawing copies of both classical works and those of more recent Renaissance Masters.
In his Vite (The Lives of the Best Painters, Sculptors and Architects) (1568) Vasari noted the primary importance of disegno (drawing). As he wrote: "Proceeding from the intellect, drawing, the father of our three arts - architecture, sculpture and painting - turns multiple elements into a global concept. The latter is like the form or concept of all things in nature, all original in its measurements [and] the animating principal of all creative processes". Disegno drew firmly upon Renaissance Humanism, recalling Petrarch's De remediis utriusque Fortune (Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul) (1366), which argued that drawing must be the origin of both painting and sculpture. At the same time, Vasari saw the Academy as heir to both the medieval guild and the Christian tradition (which attributed the origins of painting to the legend of St. Luke painting the Virgin Mary when she appeared to him as an apparition). The Academy became thus a conveyer of classical culture and antiquity, but reconceived to accommodate the new age of human inspiration.
Accademia di San Luca (Rome)
Rome's Accademia di San Luca was officially invested in 1593 under direction of the Roman Mannerist Federico Zuccari (it became the Royal Academy in 1872 and the National Academy from 1948). The Accademia promoted the theoretical and aesthetic foundations of disegno. Raphael was singled out as the master of disegno and was especially revered for his history paintings. In 1509 he had painted The School of Athens (1509-1511), part of a series of frescos he made in the living quarters of Pope Julius II. Based on the teachings of ancient Greek philosophy, Raphael painted four stanzas representing different fields of knowledge but with a self-portrait on the right of the picture, as an assertion of the Renaissance artists' claim to be deserving of a new and higher humanist standing.
At the same time, the power and vibrancy of Venetian painting had begun to attract supporters. Artists such as Titian composed by means of colorito (color). Rather than creating preparatory sketches and studies, Venetian artists worked directly onto the picture surface. As art historian Bruce Cole noted, Titian would paint with "empirical method, working his way through the design as it laid out on the prime canvas ... slowly and carefully, always adjusting his forms and paint to achieve a premeditated effect and often strikingly original results". The Colorito technique was viewed, as art historian Paul Hills described it, as "the source of animation, of the pulse of life and likeness". Though the concept of disegno would ultimately prevail in Rome and in other European academies, the quarrel between the value of disegno and colorito would be a source of heated critical debate that passed down through the centuries.
Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Paris)
The painter and designer Charles Le Brun played a leading role in establishing the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, or the French Royal Academy, under the patronage of King Louis XIV in 1648. Le Brun was part of a group of artists who felt constrained by the medieval guild system, which was still dominant in France and operated according to political allegiances and nepotism over individual merit.
By 1661 the French Royal Academy began emphasizing a classical - or royal - style, devoted to the glorification of Louis XIV, and this model of an academy influenced the development of academies throughout Europe. Academies were vital in fostering national schools of painting and sculpture and remained pinnacles of aspiration for most French artists long into the nineteenth century. Appointed as the Academy's director in 1663, Le Brun modelled the French system on the Italian Academies, opening an art school, enlisting noted patrons, and upholding strict classical standards. At the same time, the French Academy made its own unique contributions, expanding its role to include: an annual Salon where members exhibited their work; a branch of the Academy in Rome; the Prix de Rome award which granted a three-year scholarship for a student to study in Rome; and the establishment of a "Hierarchy of the Genres". These elements were widely adopted by new academies, including the British Academy of Art and the Danish Royal Academy of Art.
Poussinistes versus Rubenistes
For the Académie Royale, the conflict between colorito and disegno took on new energy between the Poussinistes - those who preferred the classical works of Nicolas Poussin - and the Rubenistes - those who favored the sensuous works of Peter Paul Rubens. At a 1672 Academy conference entitled Sentiment on the discourse on the merit of colour, Charles Le Brun argued "drawing imitates everything real, whereas colour only represents the accidental". Color was considered an aesthetic embellishment, or, as Le Brun put it, "color depends entirely on matter, therefore it is less noble than drawing, which depends only on the mind".
The Poussinistes would win the debate, establishing Poussin as the central figure to the Academy's teachings. Indeed, many Academians cited Poussin as Raphael's rightful heir. As art historian Michael Paul Driskel put it, "by interpreting Poussin as the 'French Raphael,' French art theorists in and around the Academy heightened Poussin's prestige and strengthened his pedigree as the father of the French classical tradition [...] in the hope of creating their own version of the beau ideal".
The Royal Academy of Arts (London)
In 1768 Sir William Chambers headed a group of 22 artists and architects - including four Italians, a Frenchman, a Swiss and two women - who signed a petition seeking permission from King George III to "establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design". With the King's blessing, the Royal Academy of Arts emerged as an independent institution ran by 36 artists and headed with an elected President, the esteemed portraitist Joshua Reynolds. The Academy featured an art school, a design school, public exhibitions - including its famous Summer Exhibition - and a public lecture series through which the Academy disseminated its scholarly principles.
Reynolds's own "Discourses" series of annual lectures followed the "Hierarchy of Genres" already established by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Reynolds, however, laid the foundations for what would become known as the Grand Manner; a style that applied the academic standards of history painting to portraiture. The art historian Cecil Gould observed that in Reynolds's vision of portraiture "Landscape backgrounds or ornamental detail must be reduced to a minimum and individual peculiarities of human physiognomy absolutely eliminated [while] Draperies should be simple, but ample and noble, and fashionable contemporary costume absolutely shunned".
Over time, the Grand Manner expanded the status of genre works further to include full landscapes (typically depicting the British countryside as ideal pastorals). In 1770 The Academy's future president, and the King's personal "History Painter", the American ex-patriot Benjamin West, produced The Death of General Wolfe, a painting that transformed history painting by representing a scene from contemporary history with its heroic figures presented in contemporary clothing.
For the public, the Academy became a vibrant center of cultural life; the summer exhibitions were so popular in fact that catalogue sales and ticket fees made the Royal Academy financially independent. Open to artists outside the Academy (including amateurs) each exhibition received thousands of entries. A committee would choose several hundred works, filling entire walls with paintings, though the advantageous placement of the work often became a matter of infighting and debate. While central to the success of its members, these exhibitions also launched the careers of affiliates of the Academy.
The Academies of German-speaking Europe
The success of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture inspired the founding of other academies in cultural centers throughout Europe. Even powerful independent regions and cities established academies that were nationalistic in their ambition. Prior to the establishment of modern-day Germany and Austria, German-speaking Europe was divided into numerous independent states, a number of which established respected academies. Noted engraver Jacob von Sandrart founded the first art academy in German-speaking Europe, the Nuremburg Academy of Art, in 1662. Subsequently, The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna was founded in 1692, and the Brandenburg Academy of Art in Berlin soon followed in 1694.
These academies played an important role in shaping the national consciousness via art, as exemplified by Johann Gottfried Schadow's 1793 sculpture on Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. The classical sculpture, which secured the 29-year-old Schadow's standing as an academician, would become a symbol of German power (not always for the good) down the centuries. The Academy's emphasis on classicism was not seriously challenged until the fin de siècle and the emergence of Modernism. Indeed, in 1897, a group of young artists, including Gustav Klimt, Kolomon Moser, and architects Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich, formed the Vienna Secession movement. Rebelling against the Academy's conservatism, the movement elevated the standing of the applied and decorative arts and would play the leading role in emergence of Art Nouveau.
The Academy in Spain and New Spain
In the 18th centuries, the Spanish monarchy established three academies in Madrid, Valencia, and in Saragossa. The Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, established in Madrid in 1752, was the first and most influential, as, closest to the crown, it influenced the building of academies in the colonies of New Spain. The Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City began as an engraving school in 1778 but soon expanded to teach Mexican students in sculpture, painting, and architecture. In Spain and in Mexico, the academy remained a powerful artistic force well into the 20th century. Though they would rebel against the academy system, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Fernando Botero all studied at the Academy in Madrid, and the noted Mexican artist Diego Rivera trained at the Academy of San Carlos.
The Academy in Russia
The Russian Academy began in 1757 with Ivan Shuvalov's founding of the Academy of the Three Noblest Arts; renamed the Imperial Academy of Art in 1764 by Catherine the Great. The name change reflected the Russian Empire's emergence as a great world power and its Academy operated as a de facto arm of the government. The Academy extended Russian influence throughout Europe. Noted Russian artists were sent to Rome and Paris, while celebrated European artists were invited for extended stays to the court in St. Petersburg. The institution remained closely allied with the values of the French Academy, so much so in fact that in the mid 1800s a group of young artists, led by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, rebelled against the Academy's insistence on the practice and principles of the leading defender of Classicism, Dominique Ingres. Lobbying for realistic treatments of everyday subject-matter, they formed the Peredvizhniki, a movement emphasizing landscape painting and Russian rural life. The leading member of the group, Ilya Repin, was so esteemed that, when the Academy was abolished following the Russian Revolution in 1917, it was renamed the Ilya Repin Leningrad Institute for Painting.
The Academy in Sweden and Denmark
In Sweden and Denmark, the foundation of academies became central to a "golden age" of art that developed subsequently in each country. Founded in 1754, the Royal Danish Academy of Portraiture, Sculpture, and Architecture in Copenhagen later became the vibrant center for the Golden Age of Danish painting. Beginning in the early 1800s, the artistic flowering was shaped by the work and teaching of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersburg. A Neoclassicist who had studied with Jacques-Louis David in Paris, Eckersburg mentored a new generation of artists including Wilhelm Bendz, Constantin Hansen, and Martinus Rørbye. Shaped by a rising middle class, and strongly influenced by the Dutch Golden Age, the Danish Academy adapted its approach away from history painting in favor of landscapes, genre scenes, and portraits. The Danish Academy's reputation and approach attracted young foreign artists such as the German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich who studied in Copenhagen.
Modelled on the French Academy, Carl Gustaf Tessin set up the Royal Drawing Academy in Stockholm in 1735. The prime destination for Sweden's aspiring artists, painters such as Guillaume Taraval, John Henrik Scheffel and Olof Arenius, and the architect Carl Harleman, all taught there. The Academy duly expanded and change its name to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1768. Soon after, in 1773, King Gustaf III wrote the first binding statutes for the Academy and its new curriculum covered painting, architecture, graphics, anatomy, philosophy and history. The late eighteenth century witnessed the dawning of Sweden's own Golden Age, with the famed Neoclassical sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel elected to the Academy's board. In 1810, the institution was renamed the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts (Kungliga Akademien för de fria konsterna) the name it bears to this day.
The Academy in the United States
The Pennsylvanian artist Benjamin West (who succeeded Joshua Reynolds as president of the Royal Academy following the Englishman's death) produced paintings of contemporary American events that did much to transform the Royal Academy's concept of the genre. At the same time, the Royal Academy offered a model for an American arts institution of similar stature. Founded in 1794 in Philadelphia, the Columbianum was the first attempt at an American Academy based on the English model.
Though the Columbianum was rather short lived, it paved the way for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), which opened in 1805. It was founded by the painter and scientist Charles Willson Peale, the sculptor William Rush, and other artists and business leaders, and its charter stated that the PAFA's role was to "Promote the cultivation of the Fine Arts, in the United States of America, by [...] exciting the efforts of artists, gradually to unfold, enlighten, and invigorate the talents of our Countrymen". Arts academies were considered key attributes for cities vying to become America's cultural capital and the PAFA was in fact a rival to the New York Academy of the Fine Arts (later named the American Academy of Fine Arts (AAFA)) which had opened just three years earlier.
Between 1816-36, The AAFA was led by John Trumbull. Dubbed the "artist of the American Revolution", Trumbull had studied extensively with Benjamin West at the Royal Academy, and, as head of the AAFA he adopted its dogmatic, conservative approach to arts education. In 1825, advocating a naturalistic approach to landscape based upon scientific observation and en plein air painting, and led by the polymath Samuel F.B. Morse (himself a former Royal Academian), some thirty artists including Thomas Cole and Asher Brown Durand founded the National Academy of Design (NAD) in New York. The NAD opposed to the PAFA and AAFA which was run by businessmen and collectors, whose aim (so the NAD members argued) was to cultivate public tastes that, in turn, served their own commercial concerns. The NAD, on the other hand, put the needs and ideas of the artist at the forefront of its agenda. Although a single national academy failed to govern in the United States, the PAFA and the NAD are arguably the country's most important arts institutions and remain ongoing concerns.
Concepts and Trends
The art historian Michael Driskel noted that the "formation of the Academy and the development of academic theory was predicated on the notion that painting was a 'discipline' governed by rules that could be defined and taught. These rules were derived from the works of the most exemplary past masters". Copying the classics was the favored mode of academic study, as students focused exclusively for the first two years on drawing copies of Old Masters' paintings or casts of classical sculpture. Students also studied geometry, human anatomy, and the literary classics. Later on, students would begin by "drawing from life", sketching live male models; a practice which was seen as central to a complete arts education. On completion of their courses, students would finally learn painting and the use of color in the studios of established masters.
Hierarchy of Genres
The Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was the first to establish a codified Hierarchy of Genres in 1669. Academy Secretary, Andre Felibien, had ranked history painting at the most scholarly and edifying genre followed, in diminishing rank, by portraiture, genre painting, landscapes, and still lifes. History paintings were large works depicting subjects taken from classical mythology, the Bible, literature, or from important historical events. Mastery of the genre was a necessary requirement for any student who wished to be admitted to the Academy as a member or to win the prestigious Prix de Rome. As Driskel noted, the French Academy's "rules were derived from the works of the most exemplary past masters, including Titian, Correggio, Michelangelo, and above all, Raphael and Poussin, whose art perfectly fit the classicizing predilections of the French".
Though academies were often viewed (especially by modernists) as having entrenched ideas on artistic practice, they were in fact shaped by paragoni, an Italian word meaning "comparisons". The comparisons between the merits of painting and sculpture, or disegno versus colorito, led to ongoing aesthetic debates. Such debates hinged partly on the complexity and range of skills involved in mastering each art and played a role in formulating the Hierarchy of Genres. The debates also took on geographical or nationalistic concerns, as the rivalry between artistic approaches often reflected a shifting power dynamic that was as much political and cultural as aesthetic. When Rome and Florentine disegno vied against Venetian colorito, for instance, the artistic debate was informed by the political and economic rivalry of the city-states. Similarly, the French Academy resolved the debate between Poussin's disegno and Rubens's colorito preferences, coming out in favor of the Frenchman (Poussin).
These debates also sparked new movements and fluctuations in academic taste. For example, in 1820, the works of Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and François Boucher launched the Rococo movement. Their exuberant and sensuous use of color became an academy standard. Similarly, Neoclassicism dominated the late 1700s only then to be challenged by Romanticism, with artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault using color to intensify the emotional impact of their painting.
The Academy Exhibition
A primary function of academies was to provide artists with a regular exhibition venue. Since their authority lent considerable credence to the juried shows, academy shows were often considered arbiters of taste and, as such, the most important event in the arts exhibition calendar. Possibly the most famous example was the biannual exhibition of the French academy, the Salon, so called because it was initially held in the Salon Carré of the Palace (in The Louvre). The Salon became the most important regular exhibition in Europe throughout the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and was key to a successful career since it ensured that a student would graduate to academy member. At the same time, the enormously popular exhibitions drew art collectors and those who commissioned portraits and other artistic projects.
The challenge to the authority of the academy system began with the rise of "alternative" salons. Having been rejected by the official Salon, artists such as Camille Pissarro, Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler were among the avant-garde artists who exhibited in the 1863 Salon des Refusés. Attracting more visitors and art critics than the official Salon, the Salon des Refusés hastened the demise of the French Academy's dominance and was a signifying development in the dawning of the modern age of art.
By the nineteenth century, many artists began to challenge the idea of a centralized authority. Modern artists, whose preference was for naturalism, began painting en plein air. While nature was, for groups such as the rural Barbizon School, a source of great inspiration, the Romantics were emphasizing the power of color to conjure scenes of drawn from an impassioned imagination. As Delacroix noted, "Draughtsman may be made, but colorists are born". The case against the academy became so compelling that by the mid-nineteenth century even academic artists such as Bouguereau and Cabanel aspired to combine the classical elements of the academy with Romanticism's passion and color (though such concessions were dismissed by avant-gardists as stale and sentimental and only served the interests of the bourgeoisie).
It wouldn't be long before many artists were rejecting authority entirely; indeed, it is arguable that in its early stages modern art came to be defined exclusively by its opposition to academy art. Today, with the state having withdrawn from large-scale patronage, and official exhibition venues having ceded ground to a variety of public museums and commercial galleries, art schools have also modernized. For example, many academies have reduced their emphasis on life drawing classes, and others remain sceptical of the value of dogmatic training programs.
Useful Resources on The Academy of Art
- The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century PaperbackBy Albert Boime
- School of Genius: A History of the Royal Academy of ArtsBy James Fenton
- Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836By David H. Solkin
- The Florentine Academy and the Early Modern State: The Discipline of DisegnoBy Karen-Edis Barzman
- Representing Belief: Religion, Art, and Society in Nineteenth-Century FranceBy Michael Paul Driskel