From an Art Historian

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From an Art Historian


Published before 2005

To whom it may concern,

My name is David, I am a 25 years old spanish Art Historian and during this last week I've happily discovered your website. I've studied Art History at university and I've always felt fascinated by Humanist or Traditional Art. For this reason I was very surprised when, in 19th Century Art classes, my teacher never said a word about geniuses like Bouguereau or Gerome. Well, the only thing he said once was that they were labelled as "Pompier" and that they didn't add anything important nor interesting to Western Art History.

Many of my colleagues never heard a word about all those artists before, so the vast majority of them finished the Art History degree without knowing a thing about those who were hands down the best painters of the 19th Century. Or, at least, they only know that they were absolutely bad, petty and irrelevant to our History.

As I am working as hard as I can to become a teacher, I am already collecting documents and stuff in order to help my future pupils not to fall in the vile speech of this exclusive, disrespectful Modernism. The same speech that I had to suffer during the last two years of the degree.

For this reason, I would like to ask you if it would be possible to use some of your articles as sources for my future lessons. I've managed to translate a little part of them, but of course I would like to have your approval.

Last but not least, I want to congratulate you for this amazing project you work in, as it is one of the best tools in the Internet to fight against the imposed speech of Modernism.

Sincerely yours,

David Villalta

Kara Lysandra Ross, ARC's Chief Operating Officer responded:

Hi David,
Yes please do share it with your students. I had the same experience when I majored in art history. I just wrote a chapter for a book on 19th century painting being put out by the University of Liverpool that focuses on French and English 19th century Academic Art. I made sure to address some of the miss information being taught about the art of the period. I have included a short excerpt from it below. I remember taking a entire course on 19th century painting that only mentioned a few of the most famous artist's names in one class and only showed an example of one Rosa Bonheur painting to encapsulate all of academic painting , describing it as "a painting created for the upper class to make them feel better about the over work and under pay of the poor peasants." The course was just so wildly in accurate. I would say that most 19th century courses don’t really educate students on academic paintings of the period even though they were the vast majority of what was being done at the time. How can anyone teach a proper course on a period of art and exclude not only the type of art that was the majority of the work being produced, but also what at the time was considered the best work being done?!

All the best and best of luck,

Kara Lysandra Ross
Art Renewal Center
Chief Operating Officer

The Da Vinci Initiative
Chief Executive Officer

"In many art books throughout the twentieth century the academic paintings discussed in this chapter were often referred to as the art of the bourgeoisie. It is an elitist type of terminology used by writers emerging from the onset of modernism in the early twentieth century to insult the work of the Academic painters that the modernists were rebelling against. The term was embraced by the Modernist movement and remained dominant throughout the twentieth century in critical discourse. The term is still used among modernists today, though in the twenty-first century there is a growing body of scholars who have gained some distance from the Modernist movement of the twentieth century and recognize the term as invalid.

In the twenty first century we can see how this term is insulting to the common man because in this context, calling the art 'bourgeoisie art' is stating that the newly growing middle class, since they had just emerged from poverty themselves, was uncultured and had bad taste. The term bourgeoisie art literally means middle class art. Ironically the term as it is still used by modernists today has been interpreted to mean that the paintings of this period were only painted for those wealthy enough to afford them. For this reason the term bourgeoisie is often misunderstood by students to mean the upper class, but in fact, when used to talk about nineteenth century paintings, it is meant as a direct attack on the middle class. The art referred to as the art of the bourgeoisie was not only collected by the middle class but also by the upper class and aristocracy. Although the lower class could not afford original paintings, many still purchased prints of these works and other forms of reproductions that existed at the time. The term also implies that the middle class was wealthy, when in fact they were only relatively wealthy when compared to the poor, but not wealthy when compared to the aristocracy. Just as with any commerce, artists need to be able to sell their work to make a living and since the purchase of art is a luxury item, the originals tend to be purchased by those with extra money to spend. This is as true of realist-based work as it is for modernist work. This does not mean that the images created and disseminated to the people were not loved by the lower class every bit as much as the wealthy."

1Academic refers to art coming out of the academy and atelier schools i.e. the Royal Academy Schools in England, Academy Julian in France, etc.