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Entries in Academic Classicism (4)


Paul Delaroche: An Academic Painter

Paul Delaroche - The Death of Elizabeth I, Queen of England - 1828 - Oil on canvas, 422 x 343 cm - Musée du Louvre, Paris (click photo for larger image)French painter Paul Delaroche’s (1797-1856) early work consists mainly of subjects from the Old Testament, while later he chose subjects from French and English history. He was one of the most popular artists of his day. His paintings satisfied the need for education through art and the demand for sensibility. Both his carefully researched interiors and costumes, as well as the theatrical content of his art rendered his paintings immensely popular. In The Death of Elizabeth I, Queen of England the cultivation of material actually distracts attention from the real subject--the death of the Queen. However, this approach was in keeping with the contemporary taste for decorative history painting, which had gone to extremes in its meticulous attention to detail in the objects, furniture, and costumes. This painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1827/28. Academic painting of this type (also known as Academic Classicism) is what the Impressionists would eventually challenge, in the last quarter of the 19th century. Because of the later popularity of Impressionism and the modern movements that followed, Academic Painting was largely ignored by art historians for many years. We’re finally beginning to take notice of their noteworthy achievements, but progress remains slow. These were remarkable artists. It’s “okay” to admire them--as well as the avant-garde artists. We don’t have to choose one over the other any longer. 


John Pettie - Scottish Painter

John Pettie - Jacobites 1745 - Oil on canvas - 1874 - 124.5 x 88.9 cm - (4' 1.02" x 35") - Private collection (click photo for larger image)Scottish painter John Pettie (1839-1893) “spent most of his career in England. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1866 and a full academician in 1874.” The meticulous attention he paid to his work is quite remarkable to behold.


Jean-Léon Gérôme - “Lion Snapping at a Butterfly”

Lion Snapping at a Butterfly, oil on canvas by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1889; in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pa. 60 × 83 cm. (click photo for larger image)French artist and École des Beaux-Arts teacher, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), was one of the great Academic Classicists of the 19th century. Among his pupils were the great Symbolist, Odilon Redon and the American masters, Thomas Eakins and J. Alden Weir. Academic Classicism (also known as Academic Art) refers to the painting style that was established by academic academies and universities. Based on the standards set by such artists as the Renaissance master, Raphael, Academic Classicism held a particularly strong influence in France, at a time when Paris was a large center of the art world. It was this style of art that the avant-garde movements such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism reacted against. These latter movements opened the door to Modern Art--and Academic Classicism has thus long been underrated and far less addressed in scholarship. Visionary artists felt that it was imposing, restrictive, and that it didn’t address the issues of a changing world. Nevertheless, some of the world’s greatest artists were practitioners of Academic Classicism. They are definitely worth our consideration. Jean-Léon Gérôme was an artist who railed against what he saw as the upstart avant-garde artists, and fiercely argued for banning their works. In his day, he was certainly a “lion snapping at a butterfly”!


Beauty and the Beast?

Breton Brother and Sister, 1871 - Adolphe-William Bouguereau - Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York (USA)William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a French painter, dominant in the academic painting tradition during the second half of the 19th century. He was honored for his mythological and allegorical paintings, and his portraits. The achievements of this artistic genius were long ignored by scholars--overshadowed by the study of the avant-garde movements of the same period, which led to Modern Art.

Henri Rousseau - 1891 National Gallery - London (England) Painting - oil on canvas

On the other side of the technical wizardry of Bouguereau was Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) the French painter who is considered the archetype of the modern naive painter (although he was by no means the first naive artist). Rousseau is known for his richly colored and painstakingly detailed pictures of lush jungles, wild beasts, exotic figures--as well as landscapes and portraits. These two artists were working at the same time in Paris. Bouguereau had the far greater success at the time--since the art world of the day only allowed for one type of art--one set of standards. Thankfully, we live at a time when all styles of and approaches to art can peacefully co-exist--and be celebrated.