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The Artist and the Studio
Alongside the Académie, the artist’s studio provided a space of instruction for young painters. Where the Académie’s rigorous program of instruction would introduce students to the principles of drawing, the practice of painting was often refined in the master’s studio.
Entry into studios was highly competitive, with ambitious young artists from all over the country actively seeking positions with the best painters of their time. Just as artists in the marketplace needed to find ways of distinguishing their work from that of their competitors, the notion of the artist as an original genius – of art as something given or innate to individuals, not something that could be taught in an institution – was increasingly employed to distinguish between prospective members of a studio.
Jacques-Louis David was one of the period’s great teachers. David’s studio trained the country’s most important artists, including a precocious group of young painters who joined his studio in the early 1780s. Many from this group, including François-Xavier Fabre and Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Troison, and later Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, would go on to win the Prix de Rome and make significant contributions to French painting.
Rome had been in the middle of an archaeological fever following the rediscovery of the ancient city of Pompeii in 1748. This discovery enabled scholars and artists to make accurate depictions of classical life based on archaeological evidence. Classical architecture and mythology played a vital role in Neo-classical painting, where it provided a monumental and ascetic context for directly stated moral and social tales. As David had done, many of his students, such as Girodet, went to Rome to study the lessons of the Italian masters, and returned to France to make brilliant careers as painters in the newly instituted Republic of France.
But equally, a number of artists did not return to France. The Revolution had made it difficult for the French to remain in Rome, where concern over the secular nature of the Revolution inspired antagonism. Further, a return to Paris was impossible for those artists like Fabre who had so eagerly supported the Monarchy and its Académie. In this context the northern Italian city of Florence became something of an artistic centre. Indeed, artists such as Fabre and Louis Gauffier moved to Florence and established flourishing careers as portrait and landscape painters, often for the city’s large population of wealthy English and European expatriates.
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