École des Beaux-Arts


École des Beaux-Arts


Attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris was the head-start for the career as an artist. Some of the partakers of the ‘impressionist’ expositions did attend the École, others only attended an art-workshop which was a preparation for the École, some didn’t do both.
On this page you will find general info on the École des Beaux-Arts, it’s relation to L’Institut and the admission. Info on the lessons, copying at the Louvre, concours (including the Prix de Rome) and the leading figures.

The École was part of the Institut:
The École des Beaux-Arts (the school of Fine Arts) started in 1648 as the Académie Royale de peinture et de sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture) or short the Académie des Beaux-Arts (R88II,p387;R5,p20;iR3). Around 1862 it was called the École Impériale et Spéciale des Beaux-Arts (R31,p295). Since 1863 emperor Napoleon III granted the school independence from the government, then it got the name École des Beaux-Arts (iR3). Since 1968 it is called École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (iR3).
Around 1816 it became part of the Institut de France, which consists of 5 academies, including the Académie des Beaux-Arts (R3,p670). The Académie des Beaux-Arts consisted of the Académie de peinture et de sculpture, the Académie de musique (since 1669) and the Académie d’architecture (since 1671) (iR3). The Académie des Beaux-Arts provided education of free artists, that no longer were attached to guilds (R3,p660).
Some sources mention the École was founded in 1796 (R3,p660), others in 1816 (iR5). Other sources mention the Institut de France was founded in 1795 (iR5). The Institut de France is located in the building with the Dome (iR3), compare the picture of Renoir.
Since 1863/11/13, by imperial decree, the Académie (the Institut de France) lost control of the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie de France in Rome. The government now appointed the employee’s.  (R59,p183;R60,p97;R5,p26;R3,p660). Still, the teachers from the École were mostly members of the Académie (R3,p660). Already in 1830 the Académie had lost privileges, but received them again in 1853 (R59,p182).
The École as part of the Institute de France was since 1816 situated in a a complex of buildings at the 14, Rue Bonaparte in Paris (iR3). The central building is called the Palais des Études in which Paul Delaroche made a mural of 27 meters (iR3).


Admission to the École des Beaux-Arts:
To become a pupil at the École des Beaux-Arts one had to pass an exam (R3,p660), a ‘morceau de réception’ (iR3). So mostly pupils studied before at a related art-workshop or studio. Renoir was admitted 1862/04/01 at the École (R31,p179). Before that and afterwards he attended Atelier Gleyre (R31,p294). Degas was registered 1855/04 (he was one of the 80 candidates) and joined the atelier of Lamothe (R88II,p1001;R5,p20). One source mentions that Pissarro was registered in the autumn of 1855, when he had just arrived in Paris (R88II,p1001; another source mentions it was the wish of his father to enrol at the École des Beaux-Arts, but as a compromise Camille followed private classes at Picot, Dagnan and Lehmann, starting early 1856, before enrolling Académie Suisse in 1857 (R116I,p106-108). Seurat and Sisley also were admitted (iR3). Cézanne was rejected two times (iR3). Redon was rejected in 1862 (R88II,p1009). Since 1863/11/13 pupils had to be French and between 15 and 25 years (R59,p183;R60,p97; R5,p26;R3,p660). So, if Sisley (and Pissarro) were admitted, was this because they did so before 1863? Women were admitted since 1897 (iR3).


The lessons at the École des Beaux-Arts:
(In the 19th century) the lessons at the École des Beaux-Art were based on strict imperatives, based on the Greek and Rome classics and the Italien Renaissance, also called Néo-Classicism or Academism. The pupils first had to draw after etchings, later after plasters (of classic sculptures) and than after life models. First they had to draw parts of a body and only later the whole body. They also had to draw antique objects, such as vases, sandals, drapery, chairs and Greek columns. The pupils followed cources in anatomy, drapery, archeology, perspective and theory. Only after a pupil mastered the drawing, they were teached to paint with oil (in the 3rd year). And again they first had to do studies after making a composite painting. (iR23;iR3;R3,p660;R22I,p26;aR1;aR2)

There was a hierarchy in genres; the primacy of drawing; systhematic study of drapes, nudes, etc.; the use of smooth, non-visible brushstrokes. (R88II,p197). 12 professors (7 painters and 5 sculpters) would teach on a monthly base in a strict classical way. The emphasis lay on religious, biblical, historical, mythological subjects or a theme from literature. The art-works had to depict moral lessons and / or patriotic grandeur. It was important to render the smallest details and to use a proper perspective. Since 1863/11/13 the Ecole began to appreciate originality (R59,p183;R60,p97;R5,p26;R3,p660).
The École also collected art-works and historical books (iR3).


Copying old master at the Louvre:
Part of the study was copying old masters (at the Louvre). One had to receive a permission for this. Renoir received one in 1860+61+62+63+64 (R31,p294;R5,p18). There he copied works of Rubens, Fragonard and Boucher (1703-70) (R30,p9). Morisot copied in the Louvre in 1860 (R88II,p1007/8). Degas did so for 30 years starting in 1854 (R5,p18;R88II,p1007/8). Pissarro frequently visited the Louvre studying the old masters (R116I,p113). One also could study a large collection of etchings (iR3;R31,p294;R5,p18).


Concours and exams at the École:
During the study there were several concours / exams held. Renoir did 1862/04/18 an exam for perspective drawing, depicting ‘four steps of a Classical temple, of the shaft of a Doric Column and of an oblique inclined stone block’ (R31,p295). 1862/08/16 Renoir did a composition exam, depicting ‘Joseph sold by his brothers’ (R31,p295). 1863/03/21 Renoir did a figure drawing examination (R31,p295). 1863/08/14 he again did a composition exam, depicting ‘Ulysses in the palace of Alcinous’ (R31,p295). 1863/10/07 Renoir did a winter semester examination (R31,p295). The winnars received prices and medals. Mythological, historical or religious themes often had to be depicted in these concours. (R3,p660). The most important concours was the Prix du Rome (see link).


Leading figures:
Comte de Nieuwerkerke was member of the Institut since 1853. Since 1851 he also was director of the national musea and since 1863 he is appointed Superintendent of Fine Arts and thus regulates the admission to the Salon (R88II,p387+388). Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume (1822-1905), a sculptor, was director of the École des Beaux-Arts from 1864 till 1878. He then became director-general of Fine Arts till 1879, when the position was abolished (iR3). Paul Dubois (1829-1905) followed him up in 1878 as director of the École; he was mainly a sculptor and also a teacher at the Atelier Julian (iR3R88II,p400). Monneret mentions that Chennevières was director of Beaux-Arts from 1873/12 (R88II,p395).


My main sources are Walther (2013=R3), Denvir (R5), Raeburn (1985=R31), Wildenstein (1996=R22I), Adams (1994=R59), Monneret (1978-81=R88), Pissarro & Durand-Ruel (2005=R116I), the Exposition Universelles catalogues (R231), the Salon database (iR1), WikiPedia (iR3-5), Joconde (iR23). See the link for other general References (=Rx) and to the internet references (=iRx). See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.

Additional sources (=aRx):

  1. WikiPedia//École des Beaux-Arts (page on WikiPedia = iR3)
  2. jssgallery.org//École des Beaux-Arts (page on jss gallery =iR359)
  3. x



Recommanded citation: “Meta-Impressionism: École des Beaux-Arts. Last modified 2022/06/14. https://www.impressionism.nl/ecole-des-beaux-arts/