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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Academie Julian

In the Studio, 1881, Marie Bashkirtseff. Classes were segregated by gender.
Roldolphe Julian, 1870s
In the more than three years that I've been perusing the lives of famous (and near-famous) artists, I keep encountering one name quite consistently--Paris's Academie Julian. Although the school was rather small by today's standards (in fact, those of the 19th century, as well) it seems to have had an outsized impact on the fine arts of not just the late 1800s but much of the first half of the 20th century too. With one or two exceptions, the instructors were not famous artists. Rodolphe Julian was mostly famous for having founded the school rather than for his painting. Adolphe-William Bouguereau was probably the most famous painter to have taught there and he was merely "moonlighting" from his day job at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he was something of a kingpin instructor. Perhaps even more than the high and mighty Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Academie Julian is remembered not for its instructors but for its instruction, and the seemingly endless list of major figures in art history from that period who passed through its doors.

Bouguereau's Atlier (class), 1891, Jefferson David Chalfant. Drawing the nude human figure was the cornerstone of the Academie Julian curriculum.
Passage de Panoramas, home of the
Academie Julian from 1868 to 1959.
Those doors were on the Passage des Panoramas, the first covered shopping mall in Paris, located in an artsy area about three blocks north of the Louvre and a block or two east of the Paris Opera House. When Roldolphe opened his storefront operation "in the mall" he didn't start out to compete with the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In fact, he intended his atlier to be a private "prep school" for art students seeking to pass the rigorous entrance exam for France's premier artist training school. His chief competition was the Académie Colarossi, on the Île de la Cité (near Notre Dame Cathedral), opened by the Italian Sculptor Filippo Colarossi in the 1870s. Both schools accepted women. The Ecole des Beaux Arts manifestly did not until around 1898. Though the classes were separated by gender, the instruction, using nude models, was identical. Students of both sexes began by drawing from plaster casts. Judging by paintings done by students such as Marie Bashkirtseff (top) in 1881, facilities were somewhat cramped and congested. One of her "friends" drew a caricature of her at her easel (below, right). College kids in those days were apparenly not much different from today. Jeffereson David Chalfant's Bouguereau's Atlier (above)from 1891, seems more relaxed and orderly.

Marie Bashkirtseff at her easel.
Ladies' fashions during the late
1800s were not well suited
for working all day at an easel.
It could well be argued that the inclusion of female art students, unable to obtain academic art training elsewhere, made the Academie Julian more than just a prep school. Certainly a number of male artists (many of them Americans) saw it that way. It was undoubtedly cheaper, less formal, and far less regimented than it's official counterpart across the Seine from the Louvre. Yet the art instruction at the Academie Julian was at least on a par with that of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and some might say even better. There was official recognition of this fact when, in the 1880s, Academie Julian students were made eligible to compete for the Ecole's prestigeous Prix de Rome (an all-expenses-paid year to study art in Rome).

The list of famous artists who attended classes at the Academie Julian is enough to make your eyes glaze over, (but, to name just a few) they include Grant Wood,, Jean Arp, Cecilia Beaux, Henri Matisse, Kahlil Gibran, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Dubuffet, Thomas Hart Benton, John Singer Sargent, Diego Rivera, Emile Bernard, and Charles Demuth (and those are just some of the ones I've written about).

The Acamemie Julian today.
Study of a Male Nude in Julian's Atlier,
1902-03, Alfred Munnings. Apparently a
slender physique was not considered
essential for male models.
Much like successful private art schools today, during the next few decades, until his death in 1907, Rodolphe Julian expanded his educational enterprise, branching out to as many as five locations all over Paris. Art students still attend classes at the Academie Julian (above), located not far from where it was first founded. Today, however, and since 1959, the school has become a part of ESAG (École Supérieure d'Arts Graphiques) Penninghem, founded by painter/ceramist Guillaume Met de Penninghen and the decorator Jacques d’Andon in 1953. This school has branches in major cities around the world, though they tend to emphasize graphic design more than traditional fine arts.

An Academie Julian brochure from 1903
--lots of staring at the model but not much art happening.



  1. I had never heard of the Academie Julian, and I appreciate you bringing that information to light!

  2. Rowena--

    Thank you for your comment. The Julian was kind of poor man's (and woman's) Ecole des Beaux Arts as well as being a prep school for art students seeking to pass that institution's stringent entry exam.