Guide Tour of Beaux-Arts de Paris, France

The National School of Fine Arts of Paris is a French grande école whose primary mission is to provide high-level arts education and training. This is classical and historical School of Fine Arts in France. Beaux-Arts de Paris, descendant of the Royal Academies of Painting and Sculpture, is both a teaching institution and conservator of 450,000 works of art, from the ancient to the contemporary. The school counts two exhibition spaces, a publishing house, and a library of contemporary art.

The l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris are both a place of training and artistic experimentation, exhibitions and conservation of historical and contemporary collections and a publishing house. Heir to the Royal Academies of Painting and Sculpture founded in the 17th century by Louis XIV, the National School of Fine Arts, placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, has the primary vocation of training high-level artists.

It occupies an essential place on the contemporary art scene. The Beaux-Arts de Paris are partners of the University of Paris Sciences & Lettres (PSL), a group of universities which includes 25 prestigious establishments in the capital. In accordance with the pedagogical principles that have always prevailed at the Beaux-Arts, training is provided in the studio, under the guidance of renowned artists. This workshop practice is supplemented by a range of theoretical and technical lessons which aim to allow students a diversity of approaches. They aim to provide them with a broad artistic culture, while promoting the multiplicity of fields of experimentation and transdisciplinarity.

The school was founded in 1648 by Charles Le Brun as the famed French academy Académie de peinture et de sculpture. It merged with theAcadémie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1793. The school offered instruction in drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, and engraving to students selected by competitive examination.

Beaux-Arts de Paris trains students destined for artistic creation at the highest levels. The five-year curriculum, which leads to a diploma that since 2012 has been recognized as a Master’s degree, blends the foundational elements of artistic expression with topics of current debate around contemporary art. The school offers the unique experience of framing its teaching with work in a studio coordinated by a renowned artist. Additionally, the school provides training in a wide variety of techniques, from the most traditional techniques that the school has sought to conserve, to the most modern.

Beaux Arts de Paris provides its students with an environment rich in historical heritage, including a collections of more than 450,000 works of art (second largest collection of drawings after the Louvre, photography, painting, sculptures, etchings, illustrated books) and one of the largest libraries in France dedicated to contemporary art (65,000 artifacts), as well as three public databases (Cat’zArts), including one that contains 80,000 works of art.

Beaux-Arts de Paris is home to two exhibition spaces open to the public, the Palais des Beaux-Arts and the Jean Bonna Cabinet des Dessins. Its full-service publishing house publishes approximately 20 publications per year, exhibit catalogs, artists’ writings, studio tour reports, critical analysis.

The art school, which is part of the Paris Sciences et Lettres University, is located on two sites: Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, and Saint-Ouen. The Parisian institution is made up of a complex of buildings located at 14 rue Bonaparte, between the quai Malaquais and the rue Bonaparte. This is in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, just across the Seine from the Louvre museum. In the city of Saint-Ouen, the school’s second location, students study in seven studios alongside the new Via Ferrata preparatory class.

The Parisian Fine Arts institution, located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is spread over two hectares. It includes numerous workshops, to which are added three amphitheatres, a library specializing in contemporary art, as well as two exhibition spaces, the Palais des Beaux-Arts and the Jean Bonna drawing room.

Since 2008, the Beaux-Arts de Paris have had a second location in Saint-Ouen. A vast space located in the Puces district, houses the workshops and practices of cutting, mosaic, modeling, molding, casting, forging, composite materials and ceramics. Housed in a former industrial building extending over nearly 1,000 m², the Saint-Ouen site makes it possible to develop large-scale projects.

The Beaux-Arts de Paris is the original of a series of Écoles des beaux-arts in French regional centers. Since its founding in 1648, the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture has had a school, France’s elite institution of instruction in the arts. The Beaux-Arts de Paris form a vast architectural ensemble whose buildings, distributed between rue Bonaparte and quai Malaquais, date from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The institution, direct heir to the Royal Academies of Painting and Sculpture, founded by Mazarin in 1648, was dissolved by the Convention in 1793. Under the Empire, the Academic School and the Academy of Architecture merged into a single institution, giving rise to the School of Fine Arts. It was successively installed at the Louvre, at the Collège des Quatre-Nations, rue Mazarine, then, on the site of the former convent of the Petits-Augustins, rue Bonaparte. The chapel and its adjoining buildings, erected at the beginning of the 17th century for the convent of the Petits-Augustins, constitute the oldest constructions of the School.

In 1790, Alexandre Lenoir, curator, set up the Museum of French Monuments there and brought together copies of the most beautiful buildings in the country as well as remarkable sculptural elements. During the Revolution, works and monuments in danger, threatened with destruction because of their marks of belonging to the religious or monarchical order, were repatriated there.

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the Académie Royale and the grand prix de l’Académie Royale were abolished, but only a few years later, in 1797, the Prix de Rome was re-established. Each year throughout the nineteenth century, the winner of the Prix de Rome was granted five years of study at the Villa Medici, after which the painter or sculptor could fully expect to embark on a successful official career.

In 1816, with the return of the monarchy, Louis XVIII closed the museum. The religious works are returned to the churches, some original monuments put back in place (Tombs of the Kings) and others left in place.

It was then that the premises were assigned to the School of Fine Arts which, since 1829, has occupied its current location. The installation of the School gives rise to an ambitious architectural project. The architect François Debret (1777-1850) was commissioned to build new premises there. He had the Loges building built to be used for competitions and designed the Palais des Etudes. Félix Duban (1797-1872), his pupil and brother-in-law, will complete his work. He completed the construction of the Palais des Etudes and built the exhibition building (including the Melpomène and Foch rooms) which overlooks the Malaquais quay.

Finally, he fitted out the entrance courtyards on the rue Bonaparte side, as well as the chapel and the cloister (courtyard of the mulberry tree) of the former convent. The Museum of French Monuments has deeply marked its time and is an important source of inspiration for Félix Duban, who reuses architectural and decorative elements, sometimes disparate, that remained in place after the dispersion of the museum’s collections. He thus designs an original set, whose attraction and curiosity are also due to its undeniable unity.

It was in 1883 that the School experienced its last major expansion with the purchase of the Hôtel de Chimay and its annexes from the 17th and 18th centuries, located at 15 and 17 quai Malaquais. It then finds its final form.

The program resulted in the accumulation of some great collections at the Académie, one of the finest collections of French drawings, many of them sent as envoies from Rome, as well as the paintings and sculptures, usually the winners, of the competitions, or salons. Lesser competitions, known as the petits concours, took themes like history composition (which resulted in many sketches illustrating instructive moments from antiquity), expressions of the emotions, and full and half-figure painting.

In its role as a teaching institution, the École assembled a large collection of Italian and French etchings and engravings, dating from the 16th through the 18th century. Such prints published the composition of paintings to a wide audience. The print collection was first made available to students outside the Académie in 1864.

Today, studies include: painting, installation, graphic arts, photography, sculpture, digital media and video. Beaux-Arts de Paris provides the highest level of training in contemporary art production. Throughout history, many world-renowned artists have either taught or studied at this institution. The faculty is made up of recognized international artists. Theoretical courses permitting diverse approaches to the history of the arts complement studio work, which is supported by technical training and access to technical bases.

The media center provides students with rich documentation on art, and organizes conferences, seminars, and debates throughout the year. The School buildings have architectural interest and house prestigious historical collections and an extensive fine arts library. The school publishes a dozen texts per year on different collections, and holds exhibitions ranging from the school’s excellent collection of old-master drawings to the most up to date contemporary works, in the Quai Malaquais space and the Chapel throughout the year.

The physical setting of the school stands on about two hectares in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés section of Paris. The main entrance at 14 Rue Bonaparte is flanked by colossal carved heads of Pierre Paul Puget and Nicolas Poussin (done in 1838 by Michel-Louis Victor Mercier).

Before 1816, Beaux-Arts students were taught elsewhere. This land had been the convent of the Petits Augustins, then the site of Alexandre Lenoir’s collection of architectural fragments from across France, the Musée des Monuments français (1795–1816), assembled here as a result of the destruction of churches and noble chateaux during the revolution.

In 1830, architect Félix Duban, a former student and winner of the Grand Prix de Rome, began a transformation of the site by demolishing a few existing houses, moving back the convent’s cloister on the right to produce a symmetrical courtyard, and designing the largest central building, the Palais des Études. Duban simply incorporated many of Lenoir’s historical fragments, notably the portal of the 1548 Château d’Anet, and in the courtyard a facade from the Château de Gaillon, since removed and returned to its original site in 1977.

In other ways Duban meant the entire complex as an open-air encyclopedia for artists and architects. The Palais des Études building features elaborate frescoes, the stairwells demonstrate various wall finishes, and the courtyard (glassed over by Duban in 1863) once held classical statuary and full-size copies of the columns of the Parthenon for study.

The core of the complex is a semi-circular award theater within the Palais, the Hémicycle d’Honneur, where the prizes were awarded. Duban commissioned Paul Delaroche to produce a great mural, 27 metres long, to represent seventy-five great artists of all ages, in conversation, assembled in groups. In the middle are three thrones occupied by the creators of the Parthenon: sculptor Phidias, architect Ictinus, and painter Apelles, symbolizing the unity of these arts. The mural took Delaroche three and a half years to complete, and it still stands as a powerful expression of the Beaux-Arts collaborative ideal.

Duban continued to expand and improve the complex for decades. Other major buildings include the 1820 Bâtiment des Loges, the modified cloister now called the Cour des Mûriers, the 1862 Bâtiment des Expositions which extended the campus to the Quai Malaquias, the Hôtel de Chimay built circa 1750 and acquired by the school in 1884, and a block of studios constructed circa 1945 in concrete by Auguste Perret.

The school owns circa 450,000 items divided between artworks and historical books, making it one of the largest public art collections in France. The collection encompasses many types of artistic productions, from painting and sculpture to etching, furniture or decorated books and from all the periods of art history. Many pieces of the collection are artworks created by students of the School throughout its history but former students and scholars also contributed to enlarge the holdings with many gifts and donations to the institution.

The collection consists in approximatively 2,000 paintings (including pictures by Nicolas Poussin, Anthony van Dyck, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Hubert Robert and Ingres), 600 pieces of decorative arts, 600 architectural elements, nearly 15,000 medals, 3,700 sculptures, 20,000 drawings including works by Paolo Veronese, Primaticcio, Jacques Bellange, Michelangelo, Charles Le Brun, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Gellée, Dürer, Rembrandt, Ingres, François Boucher or Pierre Alechinsky, 45,000 architectural drawings, 100,000 etchings and engravings, 70,000 photographs (mainly form the period 1850–1914), 65,000 books dating from the 15th to the 20th century (3,500 for the 15th and 16th centuries), and 1,000 handwritten pieces of archive (letters, inventories, notes…) and also 390 important fragments or complete illuminated manuscripts.

Although these collections are not presented on a permanent basis, they are the subject of regular exhibitions within the School or are the subject of loans. With regard to drawings, the Jean Bonna studio was inaugurated in 2005: two exhibitions are organized there each year from the School’s collection, while a third is devoted to a contemporary artist. The School’s students, as well as students from the 3rd cycle and researchers in art history, have the possibility of consulting the documentation and communicable works, by appointment, in the reading room.

Moreover, the majority of the works are described in the Cat’zArts, which is a digitized catalog of graphic works, manuscripts, paintings and sculpture. This database already includes nearly 80,000 records, of which approximately 48,000 are illustrated. Some collections are also described in the Joconde database of the Ministry of Culture, and an integration into the Collections search engine of this same ministry is updated.

The Cat’zArts-Livres catalogue, also accessible via the Internet, allows you to consult the references of printed books and periodicals. As part of its partnership with the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA), the references of the works of the collections department can be consulted through the collective catalog of the INHA; they are eventually returned to the national SUDOC catalogue.

Since the origin of the School, there was no room to allow students to consult the books, manuscripts, prints, academic or architectural drawings that the School possesses. They were placed in the attic located above the gallery of models or in cabinets. The sendings from Rome were archived in the library of the Institute. Ernest Vinet was appointed librarian on December 17, 1862. Félix Duban was responsible for carrying out this transformation with his advice. This creation is contemporary with the reform of the School of 1863. The new library opens its doors to the pupils on January 25, 1864. It is a rectangular room of 20 m by 8.

The new library and in particular the furniture which had to be created to receive certain large documents and placed in two large spines in the median axis of the room: “The School has a large number of drawings of architecture which form one hundred and sixty folio volumes. It is one of those volumes that are no less than 1.70 m high. This forces us to dedicate furniture to them on purpose”. Shelving is placed against the wall facing the windows. Tables are placed in the middle axis, between the furniture, to accommodate twelve to fifteen readers. Under the windows were placed mobile lockers with glazed medallions. Paintings from the former Royal Academy of Painting are placed on the walls.

In the 1940s, it became clear that the library needed to be expanded. In 1967, the library was enlarged with a room for periodicals and a library for elementary studies placed in the north gallery of the Palace of Studies. The library was renovated in 1975. In the 1990s, the Greek patronage of the “Friends of Stratis Andreadis” allowed the transformation of the library into a news media library bearing his name, which opened its doors in 1994.

The Stratis Andréadis news media library
Housed in the glazed courtyard of the Palais des Études, the Media Library of the École des beaux-arts de Paris has met the requirements of artistic education, until then only enriched and documented by the activities of the CID (1974). Created in 1983 under the name Salle d’actualité/CID on the initiative of Mathilde Ferrer and a group of librarians from the Institute of the Environment, thanks to the support of the director F. Wehrlin and some teachers such as than Georges Jeanclos, this service filled a gap, that of up-to-date information on contemporary art and artistic education.

The media library includes a fund made up of books, exhibition catalogues, artist monographs, French and foreign periodicals, thematic files, audiovisual documents, digital photographs of student work. The collection is freely accessible for the most part and is intended primarily for students and teachers of the School, but is accessible to any outside person who can justify research work, students, academics, critics, artists.

Between 1975 and 1985, the Ministry of Culture, giving priority to heritage, had numerous restorations carried out on historic buildings, given the important remains of the former museum of French monuments and the Museum of Fine Arts. As part of an upgrade to accessibility standards for people with disabilities, the School of Fine Arts has also renovated its buildings with the installation of several lifts in the school’s historic buildings.

Restoration works include: the Cour Bonaparte comprising a number of architectural museum elements; the Palace of Studies, where a good part of the Museum of Studies was located, its large glass roof, the painted walls of the two masterful staircases and the large corridors; the Cour du Mûrier and its galleries; the courtyard of the Hôtel de Chimay; and the chapel which, during the 1970s, contained part of the former Museum of Fine Arts in reserve.