French art salons and academies  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

From the seventeenth century to the early part of the twentieth century, artistic production in France was controlled by artistic academies which organized official exhibitions called salons.

Academies and Salons

In France, "Academies" are institutions and learned societies which monitor, foster, critique and protect French cultural production. Academies first began to appear in France in the Renaissance (Jean-Antoine de Baïf created one devoted to poetry and music), inspired by Italian models (such as the academy around Marsilio Ficino). The first half of the seventeenth century saw a phenomenal growth in private learned academies, organized around a half-dozen or a dozen individuals meeting regularly. Academies were more institutional and more concerned with criticism and analysis than those literary gatherings today called salons which were more focused on pleasurable discourse in society, although certain gatherings around such figures as Marguerite de Valois were close to the academic spirit.

By the middle of the century, the number of private academies decreased as academies gradually came under government control, sporsorship and patronage. The first private academy to become "official" and to this day the most prestigious of governmental academies is the "Académie française", founded in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu. It is concerned with the French language.

In the fine arts, the Académie de peinture et de sculpture ("Academy of Painting and Sculpture") was founded by Cardinal Mazarin in 1648; the Académie d'architecture ("Academy of Architecture") was founded by Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1671; the "Académie de musique" ("Academy of Music") was founded in 1669. In 1816, these three academies were consolidated into the Académie des beaux-arts ("Academy of Fine Arts"), which is (along with the "Académie française") one of the five academies that make up the "Institut de France" ("French Institute").

From the 17th to the 20th century, the "Académie de peinture et sculpture" organized official art exhibitions called Salons. To show at a salon, a young artist needed to be received by the Académie by first submitting an artwork to the jury; only Académie artists could be shown in the salons. Salons were started under Louis XIV and continued from 1667-1704. After a hiatus, the salons started up again in 1725. Under Louis XV, the most prestigious Salon took place in Paris (the Salon de Paris) in the Salon carré of the Louvre, but there were also salons in the cities of Bordeaux, Lille and Toulouse.

In 1881, the government withdrew official sponsorship from the annual Salon, and a group of artists organized the Société des artistes français to take responsibility for the show.

In the 19th century, the salon system frequently incited criticism from artists for the bland or academic quality of the artwork, while radical artists (like Edouard Manet or Gustave Courbet) would not be received or would be greatly censured by the "respectable" public. The salon system thus forced radical and modern artists to seek alternative or unofficial exhibition sites. This is especially true for Impressionists and Fauvism.

The "Académie de peinture et sculpture" is also responsible for the Académie de France in the villa Médicis in Rome (founded in 1666) which allows promising artists to study in Rome.

See also:

Other major art exhibitions in France

France has been the host of a number on important international fairs and exhibitions:

Paris was also the site of two world exhibitions of decorative arts:

Today, France is host to one of Europe's most prestigious international contemporary art fairs, the FIAC ("Foire internationale d'art contemporain"), and to Paris Photo (an international photography exhibition). Other art fairs and salons include:

  • ArtParis - held in the Carrousel du Louvre. ArtParis website
  • SAGA ("Salon des Arts Graphiques Actuels") - specialized in lithography, etching and illustration

See also List of world's fairs.

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