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    C. Michel, L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1648–1793) (Reed Benhamou)

    Francia-Recensio 2015/3 Frühe Neuzeit – Revolution – Empire (1500–1815)

    Christian Michel, L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1648–1793). La naissance de l’École française, Genève (Librairie Droz) 2012, 416 p., 85 ill. (Ars longa, 3), ISBN 978-2-600-01589-9, EUR 63,10.

    rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par

    Reed Benhamou, Bloomington, IN

    It is appropriate that the editors of Francia-Recensio should specify that the two halves of Christian Michel’s title – »L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1648–1793) and »La naissance de l’École française«– be separated by a period, rather than connected by the colon typical of English-language publications, for the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was characterised by twinned goals, developer of both artistic proficiency (»école«, »académie«) and artistic precepts (École, Académie). Michel’s comprehensive knowledge of officially sanctioned art under the Bourbons and of the institution that both fostered and ensured its production is evident in his patient exploration of these multiple aspects.

    In this he is atypical, for many of us approach the Academy piecemeal, if we approach it at all, focusing on individual members (preferably nonconformists) and events (preferably dissolution) – subjects with dramatic potential, in other words. Others of us may offer ahistorical interpretations of its principles and policies, presenting them in the light of current theories or personal philosophies: »Aujourd’hui encore, l’étude de l’institution reste déterminée par l’idée que la liberté de l’artiste est menacée par les contraintes qu’une structure collective ferait peser sur lui et qu’une institution royale est avant tout une structure de pouvoir, sinon d’oppression. Il y aurait corrélation entre le développement du savoir artistique dont l’Académie était chargée et le pouvoir qu’elle aurait exercé, soit en son nom propre, soit au nom de l’État monarchique«(p. 9). While not agreeing with these views, Michel deliberately foregoes correcting those who hold them: »je n’ai pas cherché à réfuter par des notes critiques ce qui me paraissait erroné chez d’autres historiens«(ibid.). Occasionally, one wishes he had been less objective1.

    Michel states that his original intent had been to focus solely on the Academy’s place in the evolution of French art; the effect of its shared intellectual and art-centred space on a membership differing in status and specialties; the impact of its educational model; and the criticism it has aroused from its earliest days. Realising that such an analysis assumed readers as well versed as he in the institution’s trajectory from founding to suppression2, he bowed to the inevitable. Part One (»Histoire de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture de 1648 à 1793«) provides the necessary »fondements historiques sur lesquels reposait cet essai«(p. 9).

    In his first four chapters, then, Michel notes the Academy’s founders and earliest members, some of whom were obscure even at the time, describes its regulations and educational programme, and emphasises the relationship between its directors and the directors general of the Bâtiments du roi to whom they reported. The stress placed on the Academy’s leaders and supervisors is unconventional. It is also effective, for Michel demonstrates that, depending on the individuals involved, this administrative structure could be problematic. However despotic they might have been with fellow academicians (Charles Le Brun and Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre come readily to mind), the Academy’s directors were artists whose opinions were founded in a practitioner’s experience. Such was not the case with directors general. Although most were modest enough in their demands (witness the marquis de Villacerf or Le Normant de Tournehem), others (Colbert and the comte d’Angiviller) assumed the Academy existed primarily to serve the varied interests of the Crown. Ironically, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the only working artist to direct the Bâtiments, was of Colbert’s and d’Angiviller’s way of thinking. With his appointment »s’ouvre une phase où les peintres et les sculpteurs furent particulièrement soumis aux besoins de la Monarchie«(p. 75) and cast into disfavour when their work failed to meet his approval. It was for this reason, we learn, that A. Coypel and Bon de Boullongne »songent à s’installer à l’étranger, [et] Charles-François Poerson après avoir vu effacer ses fresques pour les Invalides, se fait envoyer à Rome«, where he would direct the Académie de France3. It would be nearly a decade before Hardouin-Mansart’s death brought the duc d’Antin to the Bâtiments and »le retour de la liberté« to the Academy (p. 75).

    Part Two, »L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture et la production artistique en Europe«, is the book Michel had first intended to write. He introduces the section by reviewing the charges levied against the Academy throughout its lifetime and that still inform much of art historical opinion. Once again, he refuses polemic:

    »Si […] je commence l’étude du rôle de l’Académie […] sur les arts en France par celle des discours critiques portés sur elle, ce n’est naturellement pas pour prendre sa défense, mais pour mieux comprendre ce qu’on a pu attendre d’elle pendant son existence (et donc les déceptions qu’elle a suscitées), et aussi de voir sur quels fondements s’est construite la légende noire de l’institution, qui a contribué à sa suppression en 1793«(p. 151).

    The complainants were a varied lot (academicians, artisans, amateurs, art students, art critics and the Crown), and their complaints wide-ranging: inadequate admission standards, ineffective educational programme, meaningless doctrines, undeserved privileges, and a hierarchical structure that restricted decision-making to officers and, more particularly, to directors4. »Ces critiques sont souvent liées«, Michel notes, describing the chain of critics’ deductions: »le despotisme des officiers les conduirait à ne recruter que des artistes médiocres et l’ensemble des académiciens ferait peser sur l’art une gangue stérilisante«(p. 154)5. Academicians’ discontent increased with the imposition of the repressive 1777 statutes that strengthened the director’s authority and literally silenced »les simples académiciens«.

    Michel next considers how »aspirants«became »académiens«. If the increasingly elaborate process was defined by statute6, the criteria applied in the examination of work that took place at every step were not. Here, the statutes said only that applicants be »jugéz capables«(1648), »d’un mérite reconnu«(1751) and always »de bonnes mœurs«7. Postulating that »morceaux de réception doivent correspondre à une certaine idée de l’art telle que la reconnaît la communauté académique«(p. 181), Michel fills this gap by analysing reception pieces and even a few »échecs«, the latter including that of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, »reçu« in 1769 as a »peintre de genre« when officers refused to consider his »Septime Sévère reprochant à son fils Caracalla d’avoir voulu l’assassiner« a history painting but not wanting to refuse a painter whose domestic dramas pleased both the public and critics8. Generally speaking, Michel concludes as he begins to define l’École française, »morceaux de réception« were typified by visual references to canonical works, both »Antique« and »modernes«, and a muscular rendering of anatomy that would be »vivement critiqué dans le reste de l’Europe à partir des années 1770«(p.228, 239)9.

    Michel introduces his dense chapter on »définitions et progrès des arts«by noting that »Le projet académique, dès l’origine, est un projet de distinction«(p. 246) – of itself from the Paris guild, of academicians from artisans and of its students (known collectively as »la jeunesse«) from apprentices10. An important step in this process was the enunciation of principles that would differentiate »les beaux arts« from les arts mécaniques« and from the beginning the Academy envisioned conferences in which academicians and »[des] personnes curieuses« would share »les lumièrs dont ils sont esclairez« and develop »des sciences et rèsonnements des arts de peinture et de sculpture«11.Beset by organisational, administrative and budgetary problems compounded by student unrest, the Academy held few conferences until a January 1666 directive from Colbert prodded them into action. Even then, it was another seventeen months before Le Brun addressed his colleagues on Raphaël’s »Saint Michel terrassant le démon«12.This was followed, first, by a decade in which the Academy’s officers analysed masterworks and such individual elements as light, colour, perspective, anatomy and »la belle nature« and, then, by two decades in which the first group of conferences were re-read, summarised or parsed13. Michel focuses only rarely on individual conferences – their recent publication »rend ce travail superflu«– opting instead to analyse »la façon dont [elles] ont pu modeler un art français«(p. 247)14. As he reminds us, »l’Académie n’a jamais défini, même au XVIIe siècle, un modèle artistique absolu auquel chacun aurait dû se plie« (p. 294). In fact, the Academy was not the rigid institution portrayed by critics. If it absorbed precedents (Italian, Flemish and Dutch in its earliest days) and if such long-tenured academicians as Le Brun (forty-two years), Largillière (sixty-one years) and Pierre (forty-seven years) provided continuity, it is also the case that a steady stream of new members freshened traditional practices15.

    Michel next turns his attention to a fact at odds with the Academy’s elevated self-image: acknowledged as members of a »noble« profession, academicians had to dress (and live) the part, and this was expensive16. Few were independently wealthy, marrying »up« was rarely an option17, government stipends and appointments were limited to officers, employees and qualified students. Outside income was essential, but it could not come from commerce. (In 1723, the Academy in fact expelled Michel De Serre for advertising a paid exhibition of his work, condemning both fee and advertisement as »contre l’honneur de l’Académie«18). How, then, develop the reputation that brought commissions from church and Crown, private students, monied collectors, buyers  …? The Academy answered with the Salon, the regularly scheduled, visually intense public venue in which visitors found »des tableaux de commande, des tableaux destinés à la vente, voire des esquisses et des dessins susceptibles d’être exécutés comme tableaux ou comme statues pour des amateurs«(p. 316). The Salon was a double-edged sword, however: the viewing public varied in aesthetic sensitivity and disposable income; and if such journals as »Observations sur les écrits modernes«, »l’Année littéraire« and the »Mercure de France« treated the works exhibited with respect, the growing number of self-declared (and often anonymous) critics found multiple opportunities to flaunt their wit and did so, increasingly at artists’ expense. As Charles-Joseph Natoire would reflect at mid-century, »la critique, peu indulgente et souvent outrée sans égard, nous juge durement«19.

    Michel’s final chapter discusses the Academy’s reputation in the French provinces and abroad. Understandably, it was better received at home than beyond the borders – from the 1670s onward, official France had claimed her artists surpassed those of Italy20 (and this even as it continued to send students to Rome to absorb the lessons of Raphaël and Greco-Roman statuary) – but this view was not universal even within the hexagon. Of the forty or so provincial art schools opened in France between 1726 (Toulouse) and 1786 (Orléans and Toulon)21, only Rouen and Poitiers included the entire Paris programme as this was understood beyond the capital and, even then, elements of that programme may not have been offered consistently, theory being the most widely omitted topic22. (Generally more attuned to »les arts utiles« than »les beaux arts«, many provincial communities integrated, or even adopted, the applied arts programme of the École gratuite de dessin, later »royale«, begun by Jean-Jacques Bachelier in 1766.) Various European capitals recruited French academicians to serve as court artists and academy directors; Pope Benedict XIV encouraged the Accademia del nudo at the Capitole in 175423; the Accademia clementina in Bologna sought relations with Paris. Still, most sovereigns continued to seek their history paintings in Italy. »La France fournit surtout des tableaux galants – ou éventuellement des nus féminins – aux amateurs étrangers et c’est essentiellement sur ces œuvres que l’on juge l’École française et surtout son système académique, qui est, dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, à la fois un objet d’admiration et de répulsion«(p. 343). One widespread criticism was that »l’Académie ignore ce qu’est le beau«(p. 348) and so offered no real guidance to the character of »le beau naturel« (although had it done so, this would almost certainly have been condemned as formulaic). Michel notes the »tension entre deux conceptions de l’art, l’une lui assignant comme but de chercher le beau et l’autre le vrai, ou plutôt le vraisemblable« that emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century (p. 356). Naturally enough, artistic as well as socio-political tensions arose with the Revolution.

    Describing the »Ecole françoise« for the »Encyclopédie«, the chevalier de Jaucourt pronounced it »difficile de caractériser […] car il paroît que les Peintres de cette nation ont été dans leurs ouvrages assez différens les uns des autres«24. Michel may well be sympathetic to this point of view, for he too seems to have some difficulty in defining the indefinable: »s’il n’existe pas une doctrine académique certaines des pratiques propres au corps ne sont pas sans effet sur la production de ses membres«(p. 364). He does believe, however, that it exhibits »une conception partagée de l’art«, one that developed less in the institution’s formal assemblies than in the passages, apartments and studios of the Louvre, that »cité d’artistes« where academicians developed a common visual and spoken vocabulary as they sought and offered advice, emulated one another’s work and engaged in informal discussions of »des éléments centraux pour l’émergence d’une Ecole française«: »la prééminence de la figure humaine, le bon choix d’une belle nature plutôt qu’une nature triviale ou qu’une nature idéale, l’importance des reflets, la lisibilité de l’expression … […] Sans pouvoir définir plus précisément les caractéristiques d’une école française«, these are the elements that allow us to identify a work as »French«(p. 366–367, 370). It is not a question of pondering what French art would have been like had the Academy not existed, Michel concludes, but of understanding that it is impossible to study these arts without considering its fundamental role.

    Michel’s »L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1648–1793). La naissance de l’École française« is a thorough exposition of the culture and activities of an often misunderstood institution, a quiet marshaling of facts and insights in straightforward declarative prose. It is not of course free of irritants. Granted, there is a great deal of information to convey, a great many voids to fill, but it occasionally lapses into a litany of names, among them the original cohort of academicians (p. 24–28) and the founders, or would-be founders, of provincial academies (p. 336–340). The illustrations are well selected, but universally black-and-white, not always with a desirable degree of contrast: »estampes« and statuary survive this treatment, but the clarity of many paintings and some »académies« is compromised25. The depth of the Bibliography (p. 392–412) is impressive, but its presentation is unnecessarily elaborate: is a specific reference more likely to be listed under »Sources inédites ou publiées sous le nom de leurs auteurs«, »Sources publiées sous le nom de leurs éditeurs«, »Sources imprimées«, »Études« or »Catalogues d’exposition« (and, if the latter, in what city)? The Index (p. 374–383) is limited to persons mentioned by name in the text (there is no subject index), and needlessly divided into categories: will a particular individual be found among the »Artistes académiciens ou agréés«, »Amateurs ou protecteurs de l’académie« or »Autres noms cités«? On a more positive note, the »Chronologie des principaux événements cités«(p. 385–390) is superb.

    1 With Nicholas Mirzoeff, Revolution, Representation, Equality Gender, Genre, and Emulation in the Académie royale de peinture et sculpture, 1785–93, in: Eighteenth-Century Studies 31.2 (1997–1998), p. 153–174, I am myself cited as offering one of »les meilleures analyses« of the internecine quarrels contributing to the Academy’s suppression: Reed Benhamou, Regulating the Académie. Art, rules and power in ancien régime France, Oxford 2009. I’m sure Michel keeps his promise to »apporte[r] de nombreuses retouches« to our analyses (p. 132, n. 47), but for my own part I regret not knowing what they are. Other examples of his objectivity can be found on p. 8, 9, 151, 233, 330, etc.

    2 Like its royal peers, the Academy was resurrected within the »Institut de France« (1795-), a reconstitution that left it sundered but alive, the educational programme that lay at its heart joined with architecture in a specialised Ecole des beaux-arts, its by-then-diminished theorising function assigned to the Troisième classe of the Institut (Littérature et beaux-arts). Its status changed once again with the Institut’s 1803 reorganisation, Histoire et la littérature ancienne becoming the new Troisième classe and the former Académie de peinture et de sculpture grouped with architecture and music in the Quatrième classe (Beaux-arts). See F. Benoît, L’Art français sous la Révolution et l’Empire. Les doctrines. Les idées. Les genres (Paris, 1897); http://www.lib.uwaterloo.ca, search term ‘Institut de France’, accessed 20 June 2015.

    3 Jean-Pierre Alaux describes the appointment of the devastated Poerson to Rome as an act of compassion on the part of Louis XIV (Académie de France à Rome, ses directeurs, ses pensionnaires, 2 vols., Paris, 1933, p. 61–62).

    4 That (known) attacks on the hierarchy never extended past the director to the director general renders Michel’s emphasis on these royal appointees in Part One especially valuable.

    5 See, for example, Simon-Charles Miger, Lettre à M. Vien […] du 20 novembre 1789, in: Émile Bellier de La Chavignerie, Biographie et catalogue de l’œuvre du graveur Miger, Paris 1856, p. 52–63; and Jacques-Louis David, Discours […] sur la nécessité de supprimer les académies, 8 August 1793, in: Daniel and Guy Wildenstein, Documents complémentaires au catalogue de l’œuvre de Louis David, Paris 1993, p. 56–57.

    6 The protocol was reformulated in 1660, 1664, 1748, 1751, and 1777. Two sorts of applicants were automatically excluded: sculptors »d’un talent particulier« (»résolu« 1704) and women (1706). Various artists were admitted »sans tirer à conséquence«, among them Marguerite Haverman (1722); a few were simultaneously »agréés« and »reçus« as was Chardin (1728), again, »sans tirer à conséquence«.

    7 The 1777 statutes expanded this to »de bonnes mœurs et de probité reconnues«, the postulant’s honour and honesty being attested to by his sponsor.

    8 Although the reasons for a candidate’s acceptance or rejection are usually little known, Greuze’s Septime was scorned by critics, all of whom shared the Academy’s opinion – or, perhaps, publicised the opinion leaked by the Academy (see Michel, p. 231–234). Diderot noted Greuze’s usual popularity in commenting on the 1761 Salon: »Enfin je l’ai vu, ce tableau [L’Accordée du village]; mais ce n’a pas été sans peine; il continue d’attirer la foule«, in: Denis Diderot, Essais sur la peinture. Salons de 1759, 1761, 1763, éd. par Gita May, Jacques Chouillet, Paris 1984, p.164.

    9 Anatomy was basic to expression, itself a principle enunciated from the Academy’s earliest days as we see from the 1653 list of topics considered worthy of discussion; see Anatole de Montaiglon (ed.), Procès verbaux de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, 10 vols., Paris 1875–1897, 1:76; see Michel, p.258–265.

    10 The necessary intervention of the hand in painting and sculpture complicated the differentiation, especially for engravers (see Michel, p.265–274) .

    11 Montaiglon (ed.), Procès verbaux (as in n. 9), 1:9, 72.

    12 Ibid., 1:298, 319. That conferences took place before 1667 is implied by a few resolutions (taken 1655–1656 and 1664–1665) that they be restarted or continued (ibid., 1:106, 136, 268, 279, 288). For an idealised depiction of these assemblies, see Henri Noblin, L’alliance de Mars et de Minerve ou la gloire des armes des sciences et des arts (ca. 1676), Cabinet des estampes, Collection Hennin 4882, BnF.

    13 See, for example, Montaiglon (ed.) Procès verbaux (as in n. 9, 2:157–385, which include the years 1684–1688, during which historiographe Guillet de Saint-Georges subjected over forty »morceaux de réception« to »explication allégorique«. The 1669 appointment of Hardouin-Mansart to the Bâtiments brought improvement, but despite several presentations by Roger de Piles (1700–1706), the comte de Caylus (1732–1751), and Charles-Antone Coypel (1747–1751) to enunciate theories and standards, the original élan was never regained. Students were required to attend these meetings in 1748, at least some were in the audience in 1751 (ibid, 6:113, 272). Few conferences of any kind were held after 1760.

    14 Jacqueline Lichtenstein, Christian Michel (ed.), Conférences de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, 5 vols., Paris 2007–2013.

    15 In only sixteen of its 145 years did the Academy receive no new members. After the addition of forty-seven in 1663 (when Colbert demanded that artists join either the Academy or the guild), the annual number »reçu« typically ranged between one and four. The reception of fourteen in 1681 is an anomaly.

    16 Michel (p. 325) cites the case of N.-G. Brenet who, despite subsidised housing in the Louvre and an assured income of 1900 livres from his academic stipend (800 livres) and private students (1100 livres), left his family penniless at his death in 1792. An annual income of 1000–3000 livres was typical of »les cadres moyens; a »noble« income began at 40 000. See Jean Sgard, L’échelle des revenus, in: Dix-huitième siècle 14 (1982), p. 425–428.

    17 Many academicians found wives (and dowries) within guild families, daughters of the artisans who typically enjoyed greater job security (Michel, p.297).

    18 Montaiglon (ed.), Procès verbaux (as in n. 9), 4:361, 364–365.

    19 Natoire to Marigny, 5 November 1755, see id., Jules Guiffrey (ed.), Correspondance des directeurs de l’Académie de France à Rome avec les surintendants des Bâtiments, 1666–1793, 17 vols., Paris 1887–1908, 11:112.

    20 This opinion was shared by the marquis d’Argens among others; see Jean-Baptiste de Boyer Argens, marquis d’, Réflexions critiques sur les différentes écoles de peinture, Paris 1752.

    21 Schools opened in Toulouse (1670), Reims (1677) and Bordeaux (1690) did not survive, presumably for lack of public support, but were restarted in 1726, 1748 and 1768, respectively. In 1676, Thomas Blanchet received permission to open a school in Lyon »selon […] la discipline de l’Académie Royalle«, see Montaiglon (ed.) Procès verbaux (as in n. 9), 2:79; letters patent extended this privilege to all such schools throughout the realm. In 1750, the Toulouse drawing school was elevated to a royal art academy functionally equivalent to the academy of Paris.

    22 Generally, the provinces and foreign capitals adopted such characteristics of the academic programme as tuition-free education, live models, collections of »estampes« and »antique« statuary, competitions and expositions.

    23 In: Charles-Joseph Natoire, 1700–1777, Paris 2012, p. 146, n. 968, Susanna Caviglia-Brunel leavens Michel’s assertion that the school’s success »fut assuré […] par le discrédit de Natoire«, whose ceiling for Saint-Louis-des Français (1756) was »fortement critiqué par les milieux proches de Winckelmann et du cardinal Albani« (p. 359).

    24 Louis. de Jaucourt, »Ecole françoise«, in: Denis Diderot, Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 17 vols., Paris 1751–1765, 5:318.

    25 That this did not have to be the case is evidenced by the b/w reproductions in: Marianne Roland Michel, Le Dessin français au XVIIIe siècle, Fribourg 1987.

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    PSJ Metadata
    Reed Benhamou
    Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris
    L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1648–1793)
    La naissance de l’École française
    en
    CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0
    Frühe Neuzeit (1500-1789)
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    Künste
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    1648-1793
    Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (4230722-3), Kunststudium (4166084-5), Kunst (4114333-4), Frankreich (4018145-5)
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    C. Michel, L’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (1648–1793) (Reed Benhamou)
    In: Francia-Recensio 2015/3 | Frühe Neuzeit – Revolution – Empire (1500-1815) | ISSN: 2425-3510
    URL: http://www.perspectivia.net/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2015-3/fn/michel_benhamou
    Veröffentlicht am: 11.09.2015 16:50
    Zugriff vom: 25.03.2017 03:00
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