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Women of the Académie Julian: The Rise of the Female Art Student

Katherine Amato

Art History 156

Professor Karen Linehan

April 22, 2010
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Katherine Amato

Professor Karen Linehan


22 April 2010

Women of the Académie Julian: The Rise of the Female Art Student

Women have faced many challenges in the battle for equal rights, including the

battle for an equal artistic education. While men were allowed to enter premier art

schools such as the École des Beaux-Arts, females were barred from entering such

academic environments. The

alternative for those females

seeking an artistic education was

to study under a master, however

this option was expensive and

some masters chose not to have

female students to prevent any

kind of impropriety. Rodolphe
Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881, Oil on Canvas
This painting, by Marie Bashkirtseff, shows one of the
female ateliers of the Academie Julian, one of the first art Julian and the Académie Julian
schools to allow female students.
offered women one of the first

opportunities to study, exhibit, and pursue a career as an artist on a more equal level with

male art students than most other art academies of the time.

The Academic tradition began in France, in the middle of the seventeenth century

with the Académie Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture. This Académie was established

with the purpose of professionalizing artists working for the French court and giving
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these artists government approval that could not be obtained from other popular art guilds

of the time. Students during this period attended the Académie des Beaux-arts and were

educated in drawing, painting, sculpture, engraving, architecture, and other media,

females were not accepted. Following the French Revolution, the Académie Royal de

Peinture et de Sculpture and Académie des Beaux-Arts were renamed the Académie de

Peinture et de Sculpture and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, reflecting that these entities were

now independent of the French government. Also, the Institut de France was established,

which consisted of five different Académies. The Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture,

Académie de musique and Académie d’architecture were combined in 1795 to form the

Institut’s Académie des beaux-arts. (Institut de France)

During this time, individuals achieved artistic success by studying diligently,

entering salon shows, winning prizes and competitions, and finally being accepted as

members of the Académie. Students were expected to either study with a master, or to

enter into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. However, enrollment in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts

was very competitive amongst men and not available to women. Instead, women either

belonged to artistic families or had a wealthy family that could pay for them to study

under a master. (Fehrer 752)

The Académie Julian was founded by Rodolphe Julian in 1868. Julian, who was

an artist himself, had moved to Paris as a young man with few resources. Because of this

lack of resources, he had never been able to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Instead,

he had been independently trained by Cabanel and Cogniet, teachers at the Ecole. The

challenges that he faced when attempting to enroll led him to found the Académie with

the purpose of preparing students for entry to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. (Fehrer 752)
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Julian observed that women ““were given none of the opportunities which each male

artist [claimed] as his right’ and that ‘few artists [cared] to have the responsibility of

taking ladies into their ateliers”” (Fehrer 752). Therefore, it was decided to allow women

to attend the Académie Julian, unlike most other schools of the time.

Initially, the Académie had men and women in the same ateliers, until around

1876 when separate studios were established for women. Initially, a few select women

were allowed to continue studying with the men but Julian found that “it was extremely

awkward and disagreeable and…to get my own countrywomen to work with me, I should

have to make different arrangements” (Fehrer 753). Therefore, women were no longer

allowed to study with men in mixed ateliers. The establishment of gendered ateliers was

also done to appease “bourgeois families who felt that the study of art was essential for

the education of their daughters but were fearful of mixed classes” (Fehrer 753). Marie

Bashkirtseff, an early student at the Académie Julian, described the school as “the only

serious training for

women in Paris. She

could if she wished

have chosen to work

with the men but

elected to enter the


atelier…she felt that

there was no The women’s anatomical studio of the Academie Julian. Photograph.
Reproduced from The Sketch. 1893.
essential different Julian was one of the first schools to offer women and men similar course
options, including life study, where the female students would draw from
nude male models, something which was discouraged throughout much of
traditional French society
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between the classes, since the women also drew from the male nude” (Fehrer 753).

The Académie Julian was established with the goal of launching students on an

independent career. Therefore, it was extremely important that all students, including the

females, received proper attention and guidance from their professors. Students could

choose to study under one professor or under several, whichever they preferred. Marie

Bashkirtseff and Cecilia Beaux both studied under Tony Robert-Fleury. Another student,

Alice Kellogg, actually left the academy after her preferred professor died. (Fehrer 754)

Students had to work hard in order to be noticed by their professors, “‘if a pupil had little

talent…no notice was taken of her, everything was done to discourage her…there would

come a day when she would not be in her accustomed place. No one knew what

happened, but whatever it was, it was kindly done and effective’” (Fehrer 755).

Another way in which the Académie worked to prepare its students was through

its establishment of:

An elaborate system of concours involving both the men’s and women’s

ateliers…once a month all students competed together and the examining

professors were not told the name or the sex of the competitors till the results

were declared. Julian himself remarked that it was astonishing “how often

women have the best of I tin these trials. Especially is this true of portraiture

which is generally supposed to be a man’s specialty” (Fehrer 754).

Julian also worked hard to have his students work exhibited in the Salon. Many

of the professors that he selected for his school were chosen for the “influence

that they might be able to exert on their students’ behalf” (Fehrer 754). Some

students resented the amount of pull that Julian had in having work selected for

the Salon, noting the “all-powerful potency of ‘influence’ and wire-pulling [and]
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that going in a pupils of Julian did more than half towards gaining [their]

admission” (Fehrer 754)

Much of the work done by students of the Académie was “‘technical, with long

sessions of life classes…[as well as]… ‘a course of lectures on anatomy and perspective

given by an assistant of Mathias Duval, Lecturer at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts’ and there

also appear to have been ‘dissections on dead bodies performed in the students’

presence’” (Fehrer 755). This technical work was balanced by work on developing ones

individual style, a modernist view in the academic art world.

There were some complaints from females about the Académie Julian. One

complaint concerned the quality and overcrowdedness of the ateliers that were opened to

women. The first women’s atelier was “‘located near one of the principle boulevards…a

small door opened

into a moderate

sized room with a

skylight, a stove in

the corner, an

evident lack of

ventilation and a

platform on which

sat a draped

model.’” (Fehrer

Womens Studio at the Academie Julian, Paris. Photograph. 1889.
755) Soon, due to the
One of the main complaints of women who attended the academie was the
overcrowded classroom setting growing number of female
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students and the first studio being extremely overcrowded, a second studio was opened

which was described as “‘a huge brick-floored room whose one light from the sky-

window filtered down upon the model’s head as through the bung-hole of a

hogshead…our rivals…they secretly thanked their stars that they were not under it’”

(Fehrer 755). This atelier was eventually closed and replaced with other ateliers. After

the creation of the separate ateliers for women, the fees for female students were adjusted

to be almost double those for men.

The placement of women in their own separate ateliers served as an important

step in uniting female artists: it helped female artists “to fight discriminatory education,

in opposition to many male art students as well as academicians” (Radycki 9). It also

helped to begin organizing women into organizations such as the Union des Femmes

Peintres et Sculpteurs, which had several goals including:

First, to mount annual exhibitions of members’ work; second, to represent and

defend the interests of its members’; third, to establish a sense of solidarity

among women artists; fourth, to contribute to raising the artistic level of

women’s work; fifth, to nurture to the best possible advantage the innate and

acquired talents of women artists (Radycki 9).

The Union des Femmes helped achieve many rights for women artists in France,

most importantly opening up admission to the École des Beaux-Arts to women for

the first time in history (Garb 63).
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Despite the challenges faced by female artists who attended the Académie Julian,

several were able to achieve fame. These famous women artists included Elizabeth









Louise-Catherine Breslau, Les Gamines, 1890. Oil on Canvas

Nordgren, Mme Real Del Sarte, Marie Del Sarte, Jenny Zillhardt, Victorine Meurent,

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, and Marie Bashkirtseff to name a few. Amélie Beaury-Saurel

would later marry Rodolphe Julian and “achieve considerable success as a portrait painter

while continuing to take an active part in the administration of the women’s ateliers.”

(Fehrer 757)

The attention given to students by their professors, the quality of lectures and

lessons, and the monthly concours in which women and men competed against one

another helped many of the female students to succeed in the professional art world. By

1887, “many of [the Académie Julian’s] students, including women, were exhibiting in

Paris and had embarked on careers as artists; their success served to undermine the

prestige of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which had lost much of its exclusive power by the
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time it finally admitted women in 1897” (Fehrer 757). The training of students and high

quality work produced by both genders at the Académie “helped prepare the way for the

artistic diversity of the twentieth century, in which women artists came to be major

players” (Fehrer 757).
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Works Cited

Fehrer, Catherine. "Women at the Academie Julian in Paris." Burlington Magazine Nov 1994:

752-757. Web. 14 Apr 2010.


Garb, Tamar. "Revising the Revisionists: The Formation of the Union des Femmes Peintres et

Sculpteurs." Art Journal 48.1 (1989): 63. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 27

Apr. 2010.

"Institut de France." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition (2009): 1. Academic Search

Premier. EBSCO. Web. 27 Apr. 2010.

Radycki, J. Diane. "The Life of Lady Art Students: Changing Art Education at the Turn of the

Century." Art Journal 42.1 (1982): 9-13. Web. 10 Apr 2010.


Weisberg, Gabriel, and Jane Becker. Overcoming All Obstacles: The Women of the Academie

Julian. United States of America: The Dahesh Museum and Rutgers University Press,

1999. 13-41, 57-59. Print.

Zimmerman, Enid. "The Mirror of Marie Bashkirsteff: Reflections about the Education of

Women Art Students." Studies in Art Education 30.3 (1989): 164-175. Web. 10 Apr

2010. <>.

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