Sunday, November 13, 2011

The American Pupils of Jean-Léon Gérôme

It seems as if every serious American art student in the last half of the 1800's went abroad to study. Among those more than one hundred fifty of them enrolled in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme, the leading teacher at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1853 to 1904. Not a few returned to the States as masterful painters and teachers themselves. A book I finished recently, The American Pupils of Jean-Léon Gérôme, (1984) by H. Barbara Weinberg, takes a look at some of Gérôme's most famous American students, their experiences with him as a teacher, and his influence on their lives and their art.

The Ecole des Beaux-Arts
"The principal and most distinguished French institution for artistic study was the government school, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which accepted students (men only until 1897) tuition-free, without regard to nationality. Until 1863 the only practical instruction offered was in cast and life drawing supervised by a rotating faculty of twelve critics. The student learned all other techniques in the independent atelier of a master who might or might not have been a member of the Ecole's faculty.

 The Glass Court of the Palais des Etudes
École des Beaux-Arts, 1884

In 1863 that changed. In addition to an expanded curriculum, three ateliers for painting under the direct administrative domain of the Ecole were set up:

  • the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • the atelier of Alexandre Cabanel
  • the atelier of Isidore Pils
"A student gained admission to one of the Ecole's three ateliers by personal application to the chef d'atelier. The chef would often require the student to undergo a period of supervised work as an aspirant, drawing from casts in the gallery of antiques, before he would certify him for admission to the studio itself. If the student wished he could compete in the rigorous concours des places for matriculation into the Ecole itself. The competition included tests in anatomy, perspective, cast or life drawing, and after 1883 in the principles of sculpture and architecture. Admission was limited to only seventy students until 1883, and eighty thereafter."

The Anatomy Class at the Ecole des Beaux Arts
by Francois Sallé, 1888

"The typical student in one of the Ecole's ateliers could expect to work from October to July, six mornings per week, first at drawing and then at painting from life, with one week each month devoted to study from the antique. His afternoons might be spent in sketching paintings or sculpture in the Louvre or Luxembourg galleries. Evenings were devoted to the Ecole's drawing course. The ambitious student would squeeze in attendance at lectures and library research. This routine was punctuated by numerous studio competitions, and others in compositional sketching, historical landscape or 'expressive heads', which were open to all students in the Ecole. Additionally, the student had to undergo the semi-annual concours des places if he wished to matriculate."

Then there were the semi-weekly studio visits of the chef d'atelier.
More of that next time in A Visit from the Maitre, Jean-Léon Gérôme.

* All quotes are from The American Pupils of Jean-Léon Gérôme by H. Barbara Weinberg

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