Left: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The Birth of Venus, 1879. Image via Wikimedia Commons; Right: Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, 1814, 1862. Image courtesy of Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
The French Painting Tradition
If an artist’s success today is determined in large part by the market, in 19th-century France it was dictated by institutions—namely the Académie des Beaux-Arts, a body consisting of 40 elected life members, including 14 painters, 8 sculptors, 8 architects, 4 engravers, and 6 musical composers. Conservative and exclusive, the academy only accepted new candidates for membership upon the death of an incumbent.
Painting for a Salon Audience
Considered one of the best The Children of Edward (The Princes in the Tower) (1831) and Cromwell Contemplating the Corpse of Charles I (1831). Exhibited in 1834, his painting Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833) caused a sensation with its dramatic depiction of the blindfolded 16-year-old English queen at the threshold of death after only nine days on the throne. Delaroche is thought to have achieved wider fame in the mid-19th century than
Paul Delaroche, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833. Collection of the National Gallery. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
From Fame to Obscurity
But their successes would not last. While Bouguereau was exalting in classical forms and the painting of “Beauty and Truth,” as he once said, the avant-garde French painter
Why Are They Still Relevant?
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