Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris
Four-Venue National Tour Brings Historic French Masterworks to U.S.
The American Federation of Arts (AFA) is pleased to announce the four-venue national tour of Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, which will commence at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art on June 21, 2014. Chronicling the history of one of Europe’s most celebrated and influential art academies while showcasing a stunning array of French masterpieces that spans more than two centuries, the exhibition will provide visitors with a fascinating, intimate view of an institution that produced some of France’s most accomplished artists and left a profound legacy on the entire history of Western art.
“We are thrilled that this rewarding partnership has brought about such a rich examination of the shaping of this seminal institution, and that we are able to tour the masterpieces held in the École’s collection to audiences across the country, many of which have never before been seen in the U.S,” said AFA Director Pauline Willis.
Born from the legendary Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, founded in 1648, the École des Beaux-Arts was a highly competitive, government-run school that rigorously trained artists to fulfill the needs of royal, state, and church patrons from the late seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries. Its impact on the visual culture of France, Europe, and indeed the world beyond is difficult to overstate. In more than 200 extraordinary works by such renowned artists as François Boucher, Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Charles Le Brun, Nicolas Poussin, and Jean-Antoine Watteau, this exhibition reflects on the École’s demanding program of study and how the gifted artists who studied within its walls were shaped and transformed into masters.
Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris will follow this schedule:
• Oklahoma City Museum of Art (June 21 – September 14, 2014)
• Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (October 12, 2014 – January 4, 2015)
• Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum (February 19 – May 17, 2015)
• Portland Art Museum (June 13 – September 13, 2015)
About the Exhibition
Gods and Heroes will offer a rich, multilayered exhibition experience. On one level, it will illustrate the intriguing role of the epic deeds of gods and heroes—as enshrined in the words of the Bible, Homer, and other classical sources—in the work of generations of artists in France and beyond. On another level, it will explore, for the first time in the United States in more than forty years, the dramatic impact of the École des Beaux-Arts’ curriculum on Western visual culture. Through over 200 exceptional works (approximately 140 at each venue) crossing the breadth of more than two centuries, the exhibition will provide a deeply immersive visual experience that sheds light on a system that united belief in the future greatness of French art with the tried and tested values of past art, in particular that of antiquity and the Renaissance. By examining the École’s curriculum, it will also deconstruct and challenge popular notions of artistic genius, revealing how artists were as much “made” as born as they systematically learned how to construct a certain type of image.
Visitors will start their journey in the mid-sixteenth century with the founding of the predecessor to the École des Beaux-Arts, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. A fine, period copy of Hyacinthe Rigaud’s iconic full-length portrait of Louis XIV (the original is in the Louvre) will give viewers an immediate appreciation of the milieu into which the original Académie was born and introduce them to its first royal patron, the Sun King, whose military and political achievements and support of the arts were to be celebrated by the school’s artists. Pierre Monier’s grandly scaledThe Conquest of the Golden Fleece (1663), the earliest extant winner of the Académie’s premier prize, the Grand Prix de Peinture, demonstrates key themes that will carry on through the exhibition, including the way in which art was used in service to power, the significance of subjects drawn from ancient history and myth, the importance of being able to convincingly render the human form in action, and the primacy of the dramatic narrative mode. Indeed, today we can see such panoramic narrative paintings as Monier’s and other Académie artists not only as allegorical reflections upon the most powerful political figures of their time but also as prototypes for the cinematic epics that are now our culture’s dominant form of visual storytelling.
For the next two centuries, the Académie, which would become the École des Beaux-Arts in 1817, would reign supreme as France’s leading institution for instruction in the visual arts, subjecting its pupils to an exacting course of study that required them to master the meticulous depiction of the human body while keeping the idealized forms of antiquity in mind. Drawing the nude male form was at the core of this system; thus the École’s historical collections are rich with examples of this practice, and a selection of works by seventeenth-century masters such as Carle Vanloo, Nicolas de Largillière, and Charles-Antoine Coypel, as well as a small group of preparatory master drawings that entered the collection through donation—by artists ranging from the Renaissance to the Rococo—are included here. Works such as The Second Courtyard of the École des Beaux-Arts, as well as nineteenth-century photographs by Charles Marville and Édouard-Denis Baldus of the École’s grand historic buildings, will give viewers a rich appreciation of the splendid architectural environment in which the École’s students strove to excel, and which served as the backdrop for generations of intense artistic ambition and fierce rivalry.
By the nineteenth century, École students were competing regularly in a number of contests, including the painted torso competition, the expressive head competition, and others focusing on nude, anatomy, perspective, history, and landscape compositions. All of these prepared them for the most prestigious competition of all: the Prix de Rome. This prize was given for history painting, sculpture, architecture, and historical landscape painting; winners were awarded a coveted scholarship and sent for up to five years to the Villa Medici in Rome, where they could study the ancient and Renaissance masters. Preparatory sketches, final paintings, and sculptures created for the Prix de Rome competition and included in the exhibition illustrate the grueling nature of the competition process, while works such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Idols(1752), Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson’s Joseph Recognized by His Brothers(1789), and Michel-Martin Drolling’s The Wrath of Achilles (1810) exemplify some of the magnificent artistic achievements to which that process gave birth. Picturing gods and heroes—and sometimes, mere mortals—these works showcase in exquisite form the technical skills valued by the Académie and the ways in which some of its most talented artists gave visual representation to the mythological and historical narratives it so prized.
The exhibition concludes with four iconic paintings by the two best-known artists associated with the École: Jacques-Louis David and his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. After several failed efforts and an attempted suicide, David finally won the Académie’s top prize in 1774 forErasistratus Discovers the Cause of Antiochus’s Disease, but it was in his magisterial Andromache Mourning Hector (1783) that the hallmark austerity of his revolutionary work would emerge. Ingres is represented here by his painted half-figure, a tour de force that won the Académie’s top prize in 1800. However, it is in the linear quality of Ingres’ Prix de Rome–winning painting of 1801, Achilles Receiving the Ambassadors of Agamemmnon, that he announces his independence from the sober and rigorous style that has since come to characterize the imagery of his master, David.
Exhibition Credit Line
Gods and Heroes is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. This exhibition is generously supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, the JFM Foundation, and the Donald and Maria Cox Trust. Funding for the catalogue is provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. In-kind support is provided by Barbara and Richard S. Lane and Christie’s.
Emmanuel Schwartz has been Conservateur du Patrimoine/Research Curator at the École des Beaux-Arts since 1996 and has written extensively on the history of its buildings and collections. Among his recent exhibitions are L’École de la liberté: Être Artiste à Paris, 1648–1817 (2009) and The Legacy of Homer: Four Centuries of Art from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (2005). He is also the author ofLes Sculptures de l’École des Beaux-Arts de Paris—Histoire, Doctrine, Catalogue (2003).
Published by the AFA in association with D. Giles Limited, the fully illustrated exhibition catalogue includes a major essay by Guest Curator Emmanuel Schwartz, as well as essays by Emmanuelle Brugerolles, Curator of Drawings at the École, and Patricia Mainardi, Professor of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
American Federation of Arts
The AFA is a nonprofit institution that organizes art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishes exhibition catalogues, and develops various educational programs. Over the years, millions of visitors in museums worldwide have viewed more than 3,000 AFA exhibitions. For more information about the AFA’s exhibitions, publications, and events, visit www.afaweb.org.
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