‘The fault of being purely French’ : the practice and theory of landscape painting in post-revolutionary France
For much of the nineteenth century, landscape painting was seen as the vehicle for an avant-garde keen to assert art’s freedom. The Académie des beaux-arts was seen, in turn, as a harbinger of tradition, bent on the regulation of creative autonomy. What preceded this well-worn modernist binary? Focusing on the Academy’s first attempt to regulate landscape with the formation of the Prix de Rome for historical landscape painting in 1817, this article sets out to map a set of essentially pre-modern cultural conventions and practices around landscape and to explain them in terms of the seismic demographic shifts brought about by the French Revolution and its aftermath. Landscape painting was shaped by two, hitherto largely unexamined, imperatives: a deregulated market fuelled by bourgeois consumption and a fretful conservative art establishment desperate to find a way to preserve the nation’s cultural identity. Using hitherto largely unexamined primary sources, the article reconstruct a view of academic art and academic landscape painting that sidesteps modernism and anchors artists production within the specific political and cultural contingencies of Restoration France.