When we think of the history of European art in the nineteenth century we are thinking almost exclusively of what happened in Paris. Goya had no worthy successor in Spain; Italian painting of the period is known only to specialists; Germany and the Low Countries are a blank page, and England’s Constable, Turner, and the enervate pre-Raphaelites cannot challenge the brilliance of the French makers and shakers—from David, Ingres, and Delacroix through Manet and Rodin to the Impressionists and the creative explosion of the nineteenth century fin de siècle and the beginning of the twentieth. And yet it was precisely in Paris that throughout the nineteenth century and beyond, painting, sculpture, and architecture were taught to men selected for their talent and supported by the state in an institution which for rigid didacticism, bureaucratic inflexibility, and sheer hide-bound conservatism can have had few rivals in the history of the arts.
The Ecole des Beaux-Arts was from the beginning of its long career an official artistic instrument of the modern state; it was the creation of Richelieu, Colbert, and Louis XIV. The Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture was founded in 1648; the Académie Royale d’Architecture in 1671; in 1793 they were both suspended by the revolutionary Convention, only to be reconstituted and combined under the First Empire in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The school carried on its recruitment and training uninterrupted except by administrative reform under the Second Empire in 1863, until its radical reconstitution in the aftermath of les évènements de mai, the student insurrection of 1968.
A fascinating glimpse at some of the products of these two centuries of academic art has recently been offered to the public in Paris, Athens, and the United States by two extraordinary traveling exhibitions. Paris–Rome–Athens closed in New York in March of this year; it was presented in this country by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Grand Prix de Rome was brought here by the International Exhibitions Foundation and is currently on view at Baltimore, Maryland, on its way to Phoenix, Palm Beach, San Antonio, and New Orleans. Both exhibitions, in spite of the difference in their titles, are devoted to the work of those students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts who won the highest honor and award it offered, the Grand Prix de Rome.
Rome, with its classical ruins and its wealth of Renaissance painting, was a mecca for both architects and painters. The French Academy in Rome, to which the winners of the Grand Prix were to be sent, had been founded at the suggestion of Colbert in 1666 for the cultivation of “good taste and the manners of the Ancients” in the arts. But it was not until after the reorganization of the Paris academies as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1797 that winners of the competitions in architecture and painting went regularly to Rome, with a government stipend, to spend from three to five years at the Villa Médicis, the building on the Pincio so lovingly recorded in the sketches of Ingres, who was a young Prix de Rome winner there in 1801 and served as director from 1834–1840.
The competition for the Prix de Rome was only the final hurdle of a long series of concours the student at the Paris Beaux-Arts had to face. Not everyone made it that far; the early competitions were elimination events. For both painters and architects there was the “perspective contest”; after that architects had to prepare sketches for prescribed building projects, first small units and then large complexes. The painters, meanwhile, entered the “expression contest” (Concours de la tête d’expression) with female models, and set subjects such as La Mélancholie, Le Dédain, La Terreur, and then the torso (demi-figure peinte) with male models, and, finally, a sort of dry run for the main event, an oil sketch (esquisse peinte) on a mythological or historical subject.
The finalists, restricted by elimination to eight (later ten), had still a few laps to go but their main concern was the peinture historique, a subject announced by the judges that might be historical (antique Greco-Roman or Biblical) or mythological (Greco-Roman). “The death of Cato of Utica” was the subject set for 1797. In 1801 it was “Achilles receives the embassy from Agamemnon”; the winner was Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, twenty-one years old. “The death of Demosthenes” was proposed for 1805, and for 1815 “Briseis weeps for Patroclus.” In 1827 the subject for the contest was “Coriolanus and the Volscian King” (repeated in 1859). In 1832 Flandrin’s version of “Theseus recognized by his father” was given the prize. For the years 1836–1839 Biblical subjects held the field but by 1844 the candidates were back in Greco-Roman antiquity—“Cincinnatus receives the envoys of the Senate.” They were there again in 1851 with “Pericles at the deathbed of his son.”
The candidate’s picture had to be completed over a period of seventy-two days during which he was separated from his fellow painters in his curtained loge at the Ecole; the final products were varnished and then displayed to the public, the newspaper critics, and finally the judges. After the winner was declared, the paintings were, most of them (a total of over two hundred), stored in the Ecole, where they lay, gathering dust, until they were disinterred for this show.
This exhibition,” as Jacques Thuillier of the Collège de France points out in his introduction to the catalog, “is unlike any other. Usually an exhibition…is…an anthology of works carefully chosen from among those most characteristic of a famous painter. In this case there is a complete series of paintings painted by young men in the course of becoming artists….” Furthermore, as Philippe Grunchec puts it in the foreword to his detailed discussion of the Beaux-Arts curriculum and the paintings, we are “faced with a selection of works which…we did not make but which was made for us by the 19th-century board of examiners….” What we can discover in it, to quote Thuillier again, is “the image of an institution.”
This is not to deny that the canvases are, many of them, splendid in their own right. Ingres’s Homeric scene, a panorama of male nudity, and Flandrin’s Theseus Recognized by his Father, against a background of the Acropolis and what was then thought to be the temple of Theseus, as well as Boulanger’s Recognition of Ulysses by Eurycleia, where Penelope gazes out of the window with her spiky crown looking like the model for the Statue of Liberty, are all dramatically effective compositions and their colors, discreetly restored, brilliant. But the institutional stamp is on every one of these canvases. They are compositions designed to please a professional jury which, to judge by the comments of contemporary critics (Grunchec supplies a liberal selection) was notoriously opposed to originality of any kind. The critics were not entirely wrong; Géricault, Delacroix, Moreau, and Degas, Grunchec tells us, “pulled out of the competition for the Prix de Rome at one level or another.”
What the jury was looking for, in fact, was evidence that the student had fully mastered the technical aspects of the training offered by the Ecole and so was a fit candidate for the demanding schedule of work that would be imposed on him at the Villa Médicis in Rome, where he would be expected to proceed along the same antiquarian lines. There the painters would work their way up to the fourth-year project: “a picture…with several life-size figures; the subject drawn either from mythology, literature or ancient history, sacred or profane….” The architects were expected to produce, in their final year, detailed plans of an ancient building in Italy or Sicily, and later in Greece, and also a restauration, a large-scale recreation of the building as it must have been in its original state.
This obsession with classical antiquity was not confined to the academy; it was characteristic of the age. As disgust with the cynicism and corruption of the ancien régime began to find expression in the arts and literature, the classical models of virtue and in particular of republican virtue, especially those available to the general public through the much translated Lives of Plutarch, served, not for the first or the last time in Western history, as a medium of expression for new ideas. “These subjects were used…as a means of exploring values in the political and social realm. Ultimately the same artists would paint in heroic guise with equally compelling implications such contemporary events as the Oath of the Tennis Court or the Death of Marat…. These heroic aspects of contemporary life became so closely identified with the achievements of antiquity that the two were at times interchangeable.”1
This was especially true of the revolutionary years, when one orator after another—Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, St. Just—cited Greek and Roman precedents for revolutionary action and the heroes of Plutarch as models of moral conduct. “La France,” as Jean Cocteau put it, “était plutarquisée.” The composition subjects for 1799 were “The oath of Brutus after the death of Lucretia” and “Manlius Torquatus condemns his son to death.” These are typical clichés of republican imagery. Later, under the restored Bourbon monarch, such resonance was avoided: the subject in 1816 was “Oenone refuses to help Paris”; in 1817 “Castor and Pollux rescue Helen”; in 1818 “Philemon and Baucis,” and so on for the next fifty years or more: mythological and Biblical themes predominate. Sometimes the subjects, like “Zenobia found by shepherds on the banks of the Araxes” (1850), have an exotic flavor that recalls the titles of Anthony Powell’s Mr. Deacon—By the Will of Diocletian, The Boyhood of Cyrus—and his characterization of his own paintings, in words drawn from Whitman, as “the rhythmic myths of the Greeks and the strong legends of the Romans.”
There is another feature of these Beaux-Arts paintings that brings Mr. Deacon to mind: the almost complete absence of female nudes. Mr. Deacon rigidly excluded the female form, draped or undraped, from his canvases; even his sphinxes and chimeras possessed “solely male attributes.” The Beaux-Arts painters, though they revel in male nudity, are not so exclusive. But their women stay resolutely clothed. Even bare breasts are a rarity (and the ladies seldom display more than one). That this is not due to the taste and temper of the age is clear from glance at nonacademic painting of the period. Regnault’s Judgment of Paris (1812), for example, and David’s Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces (1824) are crowded with luscious female nudes.2 There is no reason to think, either, that the Prix de Rome winners shared Mr. Deacon’s special sexual tastes. In fact, the reason why these canvases display so much male flesh3 but keep the female form divine under close wraps is the conviction on the part of the Ecole’s authorities that the students were indeed perfectly normal. The art critic in the Journal des Debats, discussing the results of the 1821 contest (subject Samson and Delilah), and remarking that everyone availed himself of a fine opportunity to paint a nude hero surprised in his sleep, went on to complain: “No doubt the same could have been said of Delilah if a prudent policy of the schools did not prohibit the use of female models in the pupil’s loges; they had to be content, for Delilah, with a draped dummy.”
These paintings are the entrance examination papers, so to speak, of the Prix de Rome winners in painting; those in the architectural exhibition Paris–Rome–Athens are final examination papers, the work completed in the last years of the architect’s stay in Rome and sent back to Paris (and so known as the Envoi).4
For both architects and painters the Prix de Rome was the high road to fame and a brilliant career, but life at the Villa Médicis was no bed of roses. The candidates, French citizens only, of course, had to be unmarried; if, once successful, they married during their tenure, their pay and all allowances were cut off. They could not leave Rome without the director’s permission; they ate all meals in common—no guests allowed. They were forbidden to keep anyone in the house overnight “whoever it might be and whatever the reason,”5 and the doors of the villa were locked at midnight. It sounds like the regime of a Cambridge college in the 1930s except that, unlike Cambridge undergraduates, the pensionnaires had a program of work laid out in detail for each year, and failure to complete any section of the program meant that money was held back until the work was done. But for the architects the third and fourth years brought an opportunity for release from this confinement; these were the years devoted to the study and “restauration” of an ancient site, in Italy (the Pantheon, Hadrian’s Villa, the Baths of Caracalla, and Pompeii) during the first part of the century and, after 1845, for one pensionnaire each year, in Greece or Asia Minor.
The Western discovery of Greece had, of course, begun long before 1845. Stuart and Revett published The Antiquities of Athens Measured and Delineated in several volumes from 1762 to 1794 (the French translation appeared during the years 1808 and 1822). French travelers and artists had explored the ruins of Athens and published accounts of their travels; there had even been, in 1829, a scholarly expedition to the Peloponnese “undertaken by order of the French government” which resulted in a splendid publication, the Expédition scientifique de Morée.6 The new interest in the original models, the true sources of the classical artistic canons, combined with the almost universal enthusiasm aroused by the Greeks’ heroic struggle for independence, finally achieved by 1833, might have been expected to affect the program at the Villa Médicis long before 1845. That it failed to do so was almost entirely the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, a gentleman with the awesome name of Antoine Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy.
His opposition stemmed partly from his distrust of the Romantic movement in art and literature (Greece in the early nineteenth century was thought of as an exotic if not Oriental country) and also from a bitter opposition to the consequences, for classicizing architects, of the discovery of color on ancient Greek architectural members. A sculptor himself, he accepted the evidence for polychromy on Greek sculpture but drew the line firmly on the architectural front. “Architecture,” he wrote in his Dictionnaire historique d’architecture (1825)…”insofar as its forms derive their value from an order of things independent of matter, has no need of colors in order to fulfill its true purpose….”
In 1828 Henri Labrouste, who was many years later to design the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, broke precedent by choosing a Greek temple complex at Paestum in southern Italy for his Envoi, but in 1833 Victor Baltard was refused permission to prepare his Envoi in Greece. In 1846, however, the French government, intent on establishing a French cultural presence in Greece, opened the Ecole Française d’Athènes for scholars and archaeologists, and in the following year a place was made available there for a student of architecture from the French Academy in Rome. This was the beginning of a long series of Envois—the last in 1936–1937—from Greece and Asia Minor.
The catalog Rome–Paris–Athens consists of a 215-page block of illustrations, color as well as black and white, of all the Envois that dealt with ancient Greek sites; this is preceded by lengthy and informative introductions, among them a remarkable long essay by Marie Françoise Billot on the poychromy controversy; it is followed by the original French text of three of the long explicatory mémoires which accompanied the Envois. The catalog reproduces with complete success the colors of the paintings but what it cannot do is convey any impression of their size. Tournaire’s restauration of the sanctuary at Delphi, for example, is six feet five inches high by almost twelve feet long; Hulot’s Selinus from the south is over three and a half feet by fifteen feet eight inches; Nénot’s panorama of Delos is four feet by thirteen feet six inches and Bernier’s façade of the Mausoleum is ten feet high and six and a half feet across.
Furthermore, when these huge drawings are washed in the startling colors that the architects favored more and more as the century moved on, the effect is overwhelming. In fact, faced with Loviot’s (1879) re-creation of Athena standing four feet high in a cross section of the Parthenon, looking for all the world like an odalisque in fancy dress posed against the décor of a Second Empire maison de passe,7 or his red, white, and blue version of a corner of the Parthenon entablature, complete with Lapith, Centaur, and winged gryphon—all the horns of Disneyland loudly blowing—the dazed visitor whose image of Greek art has been based on the texture of Pentelic marble gilded by time finds himself wishing he could recall the banished shade of Antoine Chrysostome Quartremère de Quincy.
Loviot, of course, went too far, as even his contemporaries realized, but that color was used on classic Greek buildings, as background for sculpture and in its own right on the entablature, no one now doubts. But no one can believe that it was laid on in such garish hues and with such a lavish hand. Martin Robertson speaks for informed modern opinion in his discussion of the use of color on the Parthenon frieze. “There is a world of difference between the schematic archaic colouring and the sophisticated pictorial treatment of the early Hellenistic reliefs but they have this in common, and the Parthenon frieze will have had it too, that the character of the marble is not obscured but glows through and harmonizes the colours.”8 In the restaurations of Loviot and still more in Blavette’s phantasmagoric vision of the Hall of the Mysteries at Eleusis (1844) with its frescoes of swirling serpents, the paint totally obscures the nature of the material beneath it; it might, for all the eye can see, be stuccoed brick or plywood.
It was, however, precisely these bizarre visions that caught the fancy and helped mold the taste of the Parisian nouveaux riches of the Second Empire. But they also had their effect closer to home. The red, vermilion, green, bright blue, and gilt on the classicizing façade of the Philadelphia Museum (1928) would never have seen the light of day but for the authority of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which, from the mid-Eighties on, attracted large numbers of American architects to its courses.
The polychrome extravaganzas of Loviot and company are certainly the most dazzling items in the exhibition. But they are not typical. Most of the Envois keep a fairly tight reign on the urge to leave no stone unpainted; they direct attention to the structural elements of the buildings as well as the ornamentation and, when they do use color, prefer dark Pompeian reds to the poster-palette of Loviot. Many pictures of unrestored sites, especially those drawn before the availability of photography, are valuable historical documents—Paccard’s 1845 drawings of the Parthenon, for example, or Boitte’s 1864 meticulously detailed studies of the Propylaea after Beulé’s 1853 excavations. The architects, in fact, had from the first worked hand in hand with archaeologists and when the great excavations began—Delphi and Delos were both projects of the Ecole française—the Prix de Rome architects were on hand to record the present and re-create the past.
Tournaire’s 1894 Envoi, nineteen items covering the great French dig at Delphi, is a treasure both from the historical and the artistic point of view. His surveys, though recently revised and brought up to date in Volume II (1975) of the Fouilles de Delphes, still remain, as the catalog puts it, “the necessary basis of any study of Delphi.” Two large watercolors offer a view of the excavations at different stages: November 1894 in plan, the same month in 1893 in elevation. In 1893 the work has gone far enough up the slope to uncover the base of the temple of Apollo; behind and above it are the still undemolished houses of the village of Castri. (The villagers, protesting so violently that at one point Greek soldiers with loaded rifles surrounded the site, had been given new houses, at French expense, on the site now covered with hotels and restaurants.) Among the scattered stones in the excavated area one of the two twins, Cleobis or Biton, is lying on the ground (the other was not found until the next year); the bronze charioteer had not yet come to light (he was much farther up the slope, north of the theater) but the general layout of the lower part of the sacred precinct is clear to see.
Tournaire’s restauration (reproduced in part on page 22), over six feet high and twelve feet long, is based on the excavations and the ancient authorities; it is perhaps the most convincing restoration of an ancient religious site ever attempted. With its buildings and statues crowding the zigzag path up to the temple, smoke rising from the great altar on one side of it and the threater’s row on row of stone benches rising behind the other, the painting reminds us forcibly how deceptive ruins can be, what false perspective moonlight and a broken column can create. This Delphi is bursting with human figures, a Cecil B. DeMille crowd scene, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that the figures are not human. The few human beings in the painting are members of a procession just starting on the way up through the sanctuary from the lower right; the figures that jam every pediment, roof, wall, and base are statues of gods and heroes.
Tournaire’s vision of a huge architectural complex filled to bursting with marble and bronze statues is a jarring reminder of one feature of ancient city life that we tend to underestimate. The unwary visitor to Barletta in southern Italy is apt to be disconcerted by the presence on the sidewalk of a larger-than-life bronze Roman emperor (identity unknown), but the ancient Greek or Roman city dweller spent his days in a forest of such statuary—gods, heroes, and, later, deified emperors watched his every move. “This place is so full of divine presences,” says the bawdyhouse keeper Quartilla in Petronius’ Satyricon, “that it’s easier to find a god than a human being.”
Delphi was not the only large complex site to attract the Prix de Rome architects. Defrasse (1891–1893) produced an impressive panorama of the great spa at Epidaurus; Laloux (1883) did the same for the German excavation at Olympia. With Pontremoli’s study of Pergamon (1895) the new emphasis on architectural organization of civic space rather than individual monuments came to full maturity. Pergamon was a carefully planned Hellenistic city, built on terraces descending from a hilltop. Temples, altars, and the agora were fitted neatly around a steeply banked theater that overlooked the plain; and much lower down was the largest gymnasium ever built in the Greek world.
Four of the last five Envois, completed between 1904 and 1937, show the same interest in town planning; they reconstruct (some of them with a large measure of creative imagination) ancient Selinus, Delos, Priene in Asia Minor (another planned Hellenistic city), and Lindos on the island of Rhodes. The one exception is a fresh approach to the Acropolis at Athens; it is mentioned here because Nicod’s delicately colored painting of Athens at the foot of its Acropolis, as it was in 1912, will both delight and sadden those who know only the sprawling, shapeless megalopolis that now spreads out from the Acropolis as far as the eye can see through the polluted air.
These Envois were, of course, only the beginning of an architect’s career; the Prix de Rome conferred enormous prestige and its winners returned to Paris destined for a successful career in both public and private building. Their thoroughly academic training, however, had not prepared them for the new building materials the nineteenth century was to provide—materials which, like cast iron and, later, steel, called for engineering skills that the Ecole, in true Aristotelian fashion, considered beneath the dignity of an artist. As a result the list of their commissions as fully fledged architects is limited, with few exceptions, to ecclesiastical and state buildings, especially to maintenance and restoration of historic monuments (the Louvre, Versailles, Fountainbleau, etc.). There are, however, some famous Paris monuments that were designed by Prix de Rome architects: Charles Garnier (1852–1853) built the Paris Opéra; Albert Thomas (1875) was responsible for the façade of the Grand Palais on the avenue d’Antin; Laloux (1883) for the Gare d’Orsay. All these buildings bear the stamp of the classical tradition to which their designers had devoted so much study and it is no accident that almost all of the Prix de Rome architects spent at least some and many of them all of the final years of their careers teaching at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
The gulf between architects trained almost exclusively in classical drawing and engineers who calculated weights and metal stress grew wider as the nineteenth century moved on; education at the Ecole tended to steer the student not so much to designing real buildings as to producing fancy projects that would catch the eye of the Prix de Rome judges. One Prix de Rome architect, in fact—Gauthier (1810)—was so negligent of purely material factors, so intent on “an order of things independent of matter,” that a church he designed in his native city of Troyes threatened to collapse as it neared completion. (He was unable to pay the huge fine imposed on him and died in prison.) But the new construction methods and materials could not be ignored forever; in the Paris of the Tour Eiffel even the commissions of the Prix de Rome winners could not be executed exclusively in the cut-stone masonry that was the only monumental building material the classically trained architect thought proper. When they did use metal, however, most of them managed to conceal it. Though Labrouste made brilliant use of metal structures on the interior of his Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Garnier saw to it that in the Paris Opéra the iron beams were masked by masonry; the only metal visible is that of the gates in the façade.
The Beaux-Arts Prix de Rome style, an eclectic classicism often dignified with the label Neo-Baroque, became the reigning fashion in Paris and remained so for most of the Second Empire and the Third Republic, but its influence can also be seen in New York—in the Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, and Grand Central Station. From the middle of the Eighties large numbers of American architects had followed courses at the Ecole, but the Beaux-Arts obsession with ancient Greece had been transferred to this continent much earlier. The architectural schools of MIT (1866) and Columbia (1881) both based their curriculum on the Ecole des Beaux-Arts model, and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, a panorama of classical fantasies, proclaimed the triumph of Greek architecture seen through the distorting lens of Paris.
It was in that same year and in the same city that Frank Lloyd Wright received his first commission; Le Corbusier, born six years earlier in Switzerland, was to settle in Paris in 1917; in 1919 Gropius founded the Bauhaus at Weimar and launched the International Style. By the third decade of this century the functional emphasis was dominant; the new builders of the house and the city had no place for ornamentation in their severe vision. The Beaux-Arts style was abandoned and though the Prix de Rome competitions were still held and the winners dispatched to Rome until the riots of 1968, the Envois lost interest for everyone except the academicians who had made them a requirement in the first place. The abolition of the Prix de Rome itself seemed to be the final slab closed over the tomb of that Greek ideal which through its Roman and Renaissance adaptations and finally through the rediscovery of its original forms had haunted the vision of Western builders from the moment the last stone of the Parthenon was put into place.
Reports of its death were, however, exaggerated; as Horace said of Nature, you can pitch it out with a fork but it will keep running back. The Beaux-Arts tradition is back in the limelight again; this exhibit is of more than antiquarian interest. Barbara Rose, in the introduction to the catalog, sums up the situation:
Obeying what Max J. Friedlaender, writing of style, referred to as “the grandfather principle,” Post-Modernism, in relation to the International Style, appreciates and emulates elements of the Beaux-Arts tradition, in particular its later historical eclecticism, in a manner that makes the drawings of the Prix de Rome winners especially relevant to the contemporary eye.
And just as one World’s Fair, that of Chicago in 1893, heralded the full emergence of the Beaux-Arts style in this country, its resurrection is signaled by another World’s Fair—New Orleans 1984. Charles Moore’s Wonderwall, which has been described by Paul Goldberger in The New York Times as a “2,400-foot-long, 10-foot thick, three-storey-high meandering collection of urns, towers, columns, domes, chimneys, gazebos, pediments, busts, cupids and animal sculptures…,” looks like classical ornamentation run riot.9 And another Moore creation at the Fair, the Centennial Pavilions, appears to the same critic as “a collection of gazebo-like pavilions that seem to float on a man-made lagoon. They are decorated in the ornate style of the Beaux-Arts but painted in a happy combination of purple and salmon, and so they become a kind of cartoon-like fantasy of a great Second Empire palace.” Although he might, to quote Housman, have felt like Sin when she gave birth to Death, Loviot, if he could see that happy combination of purple and salmon, would be forced to recognize his own progeny.
The nineteenth-century Prix de Rome painters have no such spectacular evidence of resurrection to show but they are nevertheless as timely in their reappearance as their architectural colleagues. The modern turn away from abstract form coincides with the revival of interest in nineteenth-century painting, which is reflected not only in exhibitions and scholarly studies but also in the art market, where even the soppy Hellenic daydreams of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema are now commanding robust prices.
Near the beginning of Anthony Powell’s Dance, four canvases of Mr. Deacon (long since deceased after falling down stairs at the Brass Monkey) are displayed for sale in a junk shop in north London. They all belong “to the same school of large, untidy, exclusively male-figured compositions, light in tone and mythological in subject….” One of them, upside down, exhibits “a forest of inverted legs, moving furiously towards their goal in what appeared to be one of the running events in the Olympic games….” They were “finally knocked down for a few pounds” but “bidding was reasonably brisk: possibly on account of the frames….” But in the final volume of Powell’s saga a young art dealer opens (in 1971) a Deacon Centenary Exhibition (the Boyhood of Cyrus is sold “within an hour of the show opening”) and a critic writes solemnly of “his roots…in Continental Symbolism” and the “seminaturalistic treatment of more than one of his favorite renderings of Greek or Roman legend.” As so often happens, Life is imitating Art, fact trailing behind fiction.
September 27, 1984
Frederick J. Cummings in French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution (Wayne State University Press, 1975), p. 32. ↩
French Painting 1774-1830, p. 221 and p. 279. The David is in Brussels, the Regnault in Detroit. ↩
Even so, full frontal nudity is fairly rare. Usually the male member is discreetly wound in a coil of ribbon coming from nowhere in particular or covered by the tip of a scabbard slung (apparently for this precise purpose) improbably high on the chest. In Flandrin’s Theseus Recognized by His Father the young hero stands behind a table laid for a feast, but the critic in the Journal des artistes was not pleased. He took pains to “point out” that “the plateful of roast ribs used to hide Theseus’ private parts is a rather ludicrous idea .” ↩
For a study of the architects’ “entrance exam papers”—the projects entered for the Prix de Rome competition—see D.D. Egbert, The Beaux-Arts Tradition in French Architecture Illustrated by the Grands Prix de Rome (Princeton University Press, 1980). ↩
From the Règles d’ordre of the Academy, reproduced (with much other interesting matter) in Georges Brunel, Correspondance des Directeurs de l’Academie de France à Rome, Vol. I (Rome: Edizioni dell’elefante, 1979), p.151. ↩
The principal illustrations were collected and issued separately in a magnificent, outsize edition by the Bank of Greece (Athens, 1975). ↩
For a colored, double-page spread illustrating the restauration, see The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, edited by Arthur Drexler (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1977), pp. 298–299. The exhibition on which the book is based was reviewed by Ada Louise Huxtable in The New York Review, November 27, 1975. ↩
Martin Robertson and Alison Frantz, The Parthenon Frieze (Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 10. ↩
The New York Times, May 13, 1984. ↩