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Academic art

Related: kitsch - Orientalism - art

Practitioners: Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 - 1904) - William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 - 1905) - Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836 – 1911) - Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912)

Criticism: Academic art was first criticised by Realist artists such as Gustave Courbet, as being based on clichés and representing fantasies and tales of ancient myth while real social concerns were being ignored. Impressionists, who were associated with loose brushstrokes, criticized the smooth finish of academic art.

As modern art and its avant-garde gained more power, academic art was further denigrated, and seen as sentimental, clichéd, conservative, non-innovative, bourgeois, and "styleless". The French referred derisively to the style of academic art as "art pompier" (pompier means fireman) alluding to the paintings of Jacques-Louis David (who was held in esteem by the academy) which often depicted soldiers wearing fireman-like helmets. The paintings were called "grande machines" which were said to have manufactured false emotion through contrivances and tricks.

This denigration of academic art reached its peak through the writings of art critic Clement Greenberg who stated that all academic art is "kitsch".

Other artists, such as the Symbolist painters and some of the Surrealists, were kinder to the tradition. As painters who sought to bring imaginary vistas to life, these artists were more willing to learn from a strongly representational tradition. Once the tradition had come to be looked on as old-fashioned, the allegorical nudes and theatrically posed figures struck some viewers as bizarre and dreamlike.

With the arrival of Postmodernism, academic art has been brought back into history books and discussion, though many postmodern art historians hold a bias against the "bourgeois" nature of the art. [May 2006]

Allumeuse de Narghilé - Jean-Léon Gérome

Birth of Venus (1883) - Alexandre Cabanel


Towards the end of the 19th century, Academic art saturated European society. Exhibitions were held often, and the most popular exhibition was the Paris Salon. The Salon was a sensational event that attracted crowds of visitors, both native and foreign. As much a social affair as an artistic one, 50,000 people might visit on a single Sunday, and as many as 500,000 could see the exhibition during its two-month run. Thousands of pictures were displayed, hung from just below eye level all the way up to the ceiling in a manner now known as "Salon style." A successful showing at the Salon was a seal of approval for an artist, making his work saleable to the growing ranks of private collectors. Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel and Jean-Léon Gérôme were leading figures of this art world. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_art, Apr 2004

Odalisque (1861) - Mariano Fortuny

Odalisque (1861) - Mariano Fortuny

Jacques Thuillier, dans son essai intitulé Peut-on parler d'une peinture pompier?, écrivait que l'on célèbre à l'étranger comme « génie national » des artistes qui, s'il étaient nés en France, auraient été blâmés, dédaignés parce que qualifiés du terme péjoratif de pompier. Assurément Mariano Fortuny y Marzal (1838-1874) fait partie de ceux-là et reste très méconnu du public français pour deux raisons : d'une part, parce qu'il n'y a pas de tableau de lui accroché à Orsay (qui possède cependant plusieurs aquarelles de premier plan) et surtout parce qu'on le confond avec son fils Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1849), peintre mondain et créateur de tissus qui affadit le style de son père2 (lui est bien présent à Orsay par sa belle Femme à la gondole, à la manière d'Albert Besnard). --http://www.latribunedelart.com/Expositions_2003/Expositions_Mariano_Fortuny.htm [Sept 2006]

See also: academic art - odalisque - 1861

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