Art evolved during the Renaissance time from its religious content and the genius of Leonardo da vinci and Michelangelo into the romantic, dramatic brushstrokes of Reubens, Rembrandt, Carravaggio and Velasquez, etc.. One cannot help but see the passion, skill and dedication these artists brought forth. Gerome was the immediate predecessor (years) of the classical beauty of the academic realists.

The new genre evoked the emotional, atmospheric paintings of Leon L’Hermitte, Bastien Lepage, Lefebvre and William Bouguereau to name a few. These academics were known as the Naturalists. When you view their works it’s as though you can feel the blood running through their figures and smell the morning air. Emile Zola, the top art critic of the time said “These were the greatest artists of all time, because of the feelings they conveyed.”

Bastien Lepage and Jean-Leon Gerome were great artists and teachers who helped transform flat canvasses into two-dimensional, social realistic scenes of mood. Merriot Chase, Dewing Thomas Eakins and Ridgewood-Knight were some of the artists Bastien Lepage taught. Lawrence Alma Tadema, John Waterhouse, Jules Breton, Lord Leighton, Sorolla and Ortiz to name a few, also pushed past their predecessors.

Genre paintings gained popularity as the 19th century progressed. Adolphe-William Bougeureau’s ‘Water Girl’ (1885) and Leon-Augustin Lhermitte’s painting of ‘Harvester drinking from a Flask’ (1905) as seen above, were images which depicted peasants as clean, innocent and hardworking, even though their lives were often harsh and dirty. These paintings became very popular with the wealthy industrialists who purchased them.

The Barbizon School, Ecole des Beaux -Art and other prestigious art schools in Europe, used rigorous skill drills in order to develop top artists. The schools used the Baroque methods of drawing and painting to develop their artists, and only allowed the best to get into the official exhibitions or salons. Academic art was first established in Renaissance Italy in the 19th and 20th century. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) believed the brushstroke should not be visible, as it called attention to the process instead of the thought. The so called ‘licked’ finish or in French, f ire became the hallmark of Academic art. The smooth finish was the obvious difference between Academic and Naturalism or Impressionism. The initial procedure for painting academic art was loose brushstrokes known as esquisses, then many layers painted on top gave it a polished look that was clearly defined.

To learn the process of painting, artists spent years in rigorous training at the academies. Procedures were clearly defined.

One of the greatest artists out of the Academic schools was William Bouguereau (1825-1905)

william bougereau

He graduated as a top Academic and his works are well known, as is his use of polished brushstrokes as seen in his ‘Little Girl Holding Apples’.

bougeureau little girl holding applesAt the same time, Bastien Lepage, Lhermitte and Dagnan-Bouveret were also creating genre paintings, but their brushstrokes were visible so their style was termed Naturalism. At the time, there were many artists from other countries painting in this style (feel free to refer to Gene Prokop’s biography for the names of some of these artists).

Gerome was also a naturalist and orientalist who taught many artists and was part of the Baroque drawing method. Bastien Lepage taught many of the American Impressionists such as Eakins, Ridgeway-Knight (refer to his painting below titled “Hailing the Ferryman”), and Theodore Robinson during the period of the American Impressionists movement in 1900-1930. As Thomas Eakins said, “it takes time and patience to become an artist, and that is why so many academic realists and naturalists spent months and years on masterpieces”.

As galleries became greedier, they no longer waited for a Dagnan-Bouveret painting, even though he had won the prestigious Prix de Rome, but they moved towards Picasso or the modern artists who could whip up paintings quicker. Many believe that galleries were telling people this was “the new art” just so they could increase sales. In this way galleries were allowed to re-define the very nature of art. The skill, discipline and talent of an artist was now taken out of the hand and brush and put into the mouth of the artist.

Picasso said he praised and always wished he could paint like Bouguereau. A quote from Picasso: “From the moment that art ceases to be food that feeds the best minds, the artist can use his talents to perform all the tricks of the intellectual charlatan. Most people can today no longer expect to receive consolation and exaltation from art. The ‘refined, the rich, the ‘do-nothings’, the distillers of quintessence desire only the peculiar, the sensational, the eccentric, the scandalous in today’s art. I, myself, since the advent of Cubism, have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my mind. The less they understood them, the more they admired me. Through amusing myself with all these absurd farces, I became celebrated, and very rapidly. For a painter, celebrity means sales and consequent affluence. Today, as you know, I am celebrated. I am rich. But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the word: Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya were great painters. I am only a public clown, – a mountebank. I have understood my time and have exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries. It is a bitter confession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But at least and at last it does have the merit of being honest.” – Pablo Picasso, 1952

Van Gogh dedicated a section of his gallery to Lhermitte as he thought he was the greatest artist alive. Van Gogh wrote of Lhermitte, that he was a painter who “knows the sturdy, stern figure of the daniel rigdeway knightworking man, through and through, and who draws his subjects from the very heart of the people.” Van Gogh praised Lhermitte in a letter to Theo, his brother, comparing his treatment of light to that of Rembrandt. For many years some universities and art schools were teaching no disciplines in perspective, portrait rendering and drawing. For 60 years charlatans threw paint and conned people as did galleries. The world’s public is quickly tiring of no meaning or skill in paintings. It is time to get back to the basics, where devotion, patience and talent are involved.

The Philosophy of Pro’s Art School is to continue teaching towards Academic Realism, Naturalism and Impressionism following the traditions of the Barbizon School and Ecole Des Beaux-Arts. We will continue to develop artists that are disciplined and skilled in mastering brush strokes to create great paintings. Our approach is attention to the skill of drawing and painting, good composition and perspective.

For me, I now know my job is to teach others that were never taught academic painting; how to use a brush, to paint with understanding the concept of composition.
I am determined to make a school where students develop the skills to use the brush to give paintings texture and life. A lot of the top artists/teachers have similar beliefs – Richard Schmid, Pino DeAngelo, Dan Gerhartz, David Leffel and Sherry McGraw, etc.

lepage girlThe Art Renewal Centre, having the world’s largest internet gallery, are seeing more people wanting to invest in Bouguereau and other artists, as I stated in my web page biography. www.artrenewal.org

Hirschl and Adler Gallery in New York, Gallery Michael in Beverly Hills, California, also have stated they are seeing a return to representational imagery and art of the Barbizon era. The Dahesh Museum in New York sees itself devoted to academic art of the late 19th Century and early 20th, especially French, British and American art. Waterhouse Gallery in Santa Barbara, California also displays great representational art.

All the top art magazines and periodicals are pushing towards classical realism to plein-air paintings such as: Art Connoisseur, The Art Collector, International Artist, American Artist, and Whistlepik.