Art History Definition: Academy, French

Statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert
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(noun) - The French Academy was founded in 1648 under King Louis XIV as the Académie Royale de peinture et de sculpture. In 1661, the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture operated under the thumb of Louis XIV's minister of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), who personally selected Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) as the director of the academy.

After the French Revolution, the Royal Academy became the Académie de peinture et sculpture. In 1795 it merged with the Académie de musique (founded in 1669) and the Académie d'architecture (founded in 1671) to form the Académie des Beaux-Arts (French Academy of Fine Arts).

The French Academy (as it is known in art history circles) decided on the "official" art for France. It set the standards under the supervision of a select group of member artists, who were deemed worthy by their peers and the State. The Academy determined what was good art, bad art, and even dangerous art!

The French Academy protected French culture from "corruption" by rejecting avant-garde tendencies among their students and those who submitted to the annual Salon.

The French Academy was a national institution that oversaw the training of artists as well as the artistic standards for France. It controlled what French artists studied, what French art could look like and who could be entrusted with such a noble responsibility. The Academy determined who were the most talented young artists and rewarded their efforts with the coveted prize, Le Prix de Rome (a scholarship to study in Italy using the French Academy in Rome for studio space and a home base).

The French Academy ran its own school, the École des Beaux-Arts (The School of Fine Arts). Art students also studied with individual artists who were members of the French Academy of Fine Arts.

The French Academy sponsored one official exhibition each year to which artists would submit their art. It was called the Salon. (Today there are many "Salons" because of various factions in the world of French art.) To achieve any measure of success (both in terms of money and reputation), an artist had to exhibit his/her work in the annual Salon.

If an artist was rejected by the jury of the Salon which determined who could exhibit in the annual Salon, he/she would have to wait for a whole year to try again for acceptance.

To understand the power of the French Academy and its Salon, you might consider the film industry's Academy Awards as a similar situation - though not identical - in this respect. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science nominates only those films, actors, directors, and so forth who produced films within that year. If the film competes and loses, it cannot be nominated for a subsequent year. The Oscar winners in their respective categories stand to gain a great deal in the future--fame, fortune, and greater demand for their services. For artists of all nationalities, acceptance into the annual Salon might make or break a developing career.

The French Academy established a hierarchy of subjects in terms of importance and value (remuneration).

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Gersh-Nesic, Beth. "Art History Definition: Academy, French." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gersh-Nesic, Beth. (2020, August 27). Art History Definition: Academy, French. Retrieved from Gersh-Nesic, Beth. "Art History Definition: Academy, French." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).