The Academic Art movement or academicism, influenced by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, embraces the highlights from both neoclassicism and romanticism. The term Academic Art was traditionally used to describe high-minded realist painting and sculpture under the influence of European academies of art, best reflected by the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Thomas Couture, and Hans Makart. Academic art, in contrast to the luxurious style of Rococo, socially aware style of French Realism or emotional style of Expressionism, is considered to promote an intellectual style of art that involves a high degree of reason and rationality (types of art styles, 2017).

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L’Amour Désarmé (Love Disarmed) by Émile Munier, circa 1886_©M.S Rau

Origin of an Academic Art movement 

French in the 19th century used to be a cultural superpower; the rigorous french training, along with high standards, were limited to art schools and universities. These schools were often known as academies and were sponsored by the patrons of art. To dominate the cultural institution and to demonstrate that art was a highly intellectual process, the Académie des Beaux- introduced stringent standards that were meant to separate the artists from the craftsmen. Which made art accessible to few privileged students, thus Academic Art was criticized as materialistic and bourgeois (Craven, 2019).

Artistic Conventions

The characteristic of Academic Art emerged over time; as a result, the artists became the models to be copied. This led to academic authorities gradually building up a series of rules and conventions that were to be followed. Academic artists idealized rather than overly realistic form; thus, Realism was discouraged in art. Since Academic Art was culturally appropriated, the history paintings depicted people in historical dress. It contradicted the rules Benjamin West caused a scandal with the death of General Wolfe, which became the first painting to feature contemporary costumes. 

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Death of General Wolfe, Benjamin West,1770_©Khan Academy

Paint surfaces were smoothened with no brush strokes. Colors were kept natural. bright colors were used sparingly. Complex rules governed the use of linear perspective and foreshortening and the light was Handel using shading techniques in paintings.

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The Grand White Eunuch by Jean-Léon Gérôme, circa 1880_©M.S Rau

Academic architecture 

The architectural style taught at the school of fine arts in France, influenced by the strict rules and revolution of instructions implemented by the Academy of Arts (Académie des Beaux). These teachings were based on two principles that systemized artistic training; visual education to achieve the mastery of repetition and Greek and Roman cultures as the new formal vocabulary. Therefore, academicism taught emphasis and combined intellectual elements with aesthetics, appropriately uplifting a noble and altruistic message.

One of the aspects that make this architecture unique is the use of traditional artistic resources for the treatment of light, colour, and perspective drawing established by the Academy of Fine arts. In this architectural movement, the French found a possibility to defend artistic creation through a communicable rule. Thus, this architecture was addressed to aristocratic ideals and principles of the ruling classes (Goldstein, 1975).

Development of Academic Architecture

Academic architecture evolved in two stages; the first stage in the early nineteenth, that mainly focused on fine features and proportions that started in French. Later, when this period brought about many industrial revolutions and the turn of the 20th proved to be a great time for industrial growth, it was this period that French Ideas of beauty were brought to the US by the American architects that were fortunate enough to have studied at the school of architecture. 

In the second stage, particularly in America, in the early decades of the twentieth century, ornamental sobriety took place, obeying the strong influence of ideologies of national and centralist trends. The latter style was named Academic Tardo (late academic), developed about beyond 1940. The architect Alejandro Bustillo work best reflects this stage of Academic Art (Craven, 2019).

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The Palais Garnier is one of the emblems of the architecture of fine art_©types of art style

The most notable artists and architects of the movement were: Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Jean-Antoine Gros (1771-1835), among others.

Significant features of Academic Art

Beaux-Arts buildings were a statement in itself. They were usually made with the best quality materials. The Academic Arts approach to design had a strong urban planning component. The common features used in Academic architecture are summarized as Symmetry, Hierarchy of spaces, replacing the noble spaces, grand entrances, and stairways with more utilitarian.

Academic Art is considered fine art as an intellectual discipline involving a degree of rationality along with high moral content (Fricker and Fricker, 2010).

Academic architecture bridge_©types of art styles

Fall of the movement 

From the nineteenth century, painting artists such as Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso ignored its guidelines and revolutionized the theory and practice of this tendency art. Gustav Courbet first criticized Academic art for its use of idealism and considered it as mythical and cliched. Although the movement played a positive role in educating students, its dogma and conservatism resulted in restricted artistic freedom (Fricker and Fricker, 2010). 

References:

  1. Craven, J. ed., (2019). What’s So Fine About Beaux-Arts? [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-beaux-arts-architecture-178195.
  2. Fricker, J. and Fricker, D. (2010). THE BEAUX-ARTS STYLE. [online] Available at: https://www.crt.state.la.us/Assets/OCD/hp/nationalregister/historic_contexts/beauxartsREVISED.pdf.
  3. Goldstein, C. (1975). Towards a Definition of Academic Art. The Art Bulletin, 57(1), p.102.
  4. types of art styles. (2017). What is Academic Architecture? [online] Available at: https://typesofartstyles.com/what-is-academic-architecture/ [Accessed 8 Jan. 2022].
Author

Romaisa Tahir ( a student of architecture at the Institute for arts and culture, from Pakistan) enjoys writing and expresses her concerns via poetry and narrative writing. She believes that the passion for writing and admiration for the art of building can be blended; allowing the silence of buildings to speak through words and add meaning to their existence.

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