Academicist Architecture – What it is, Characteristics and Representatives


What is Academicist Architecture?

Academicist Architecture refers to the style that was taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. It results from the strict and iron instruction of the Royal Academy of Architecture and then from the revolution of the Academy of Fine Arts. It is characterized by a specific protocol to be followed in the application of it in constructions. This school greatly influenced the architecture of the United States. It imprinted aesthetic codes and continued without major modifications until 1968. One aspect that marks this architecture is the use of traditional artistic resources established as a rule of the Academy of Fine Arts related to the treatment of light, color, perspective, drawing, among others.

This architectural current defended the possibility of teaching artistic creation by means of communicable norms, discarding the idea of genius moved by divine inspiration or by intuition and individual talent. Likewise, it breaks with the vision of art as craftsmanship. Therefore, academicism flees from naturalistic realism, that is to say, from the most unpleasant aspects of reality. Thus, this architecture was aimed at the aristocratic taste and followed the ideals and principles of the ruling classes. Therefore, almost all the architects of that time, who are valued today, had some academic training. Thus, in the 1970s, when reviewing the history of art, this position revalued the concept defending academicism as a creation subject to pre-established rules and tastes.

What is Academicist Architecture

How did Academicist Architecture develop?

The instruction and teaching from the Academy of Fine Arts was based on two principles that systematized the character of artistic instruction: visual education to achieve mastery of repetition, and the representation of the artistic repertoire of Greek and Roman cultures as the new formal vocabulary. Therefore, the academicism or eclecticism, taught with firmness and emphasis the intellectual element combined with aesthetics, containing the works, a noble and altruistic message. The most representative artists and architects are: Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Jean-Antoine Gros (1771-1835), among others. Thus the French academy with this formation gained official approval through the political authority of the King, since its foundation in 1648, imposing the teaching, production and exhibition of works, although later criticized by the current of Fauvism. Thus, from the 19th century on, artists such as Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, ignored its guidelines and revolutionized the theory and practice of art.

How is Academicist Architecture classified?

It evolves as in two stages, a first stage at the beginning of the XIX century, sober, of fine features and proportions, accompanying the incipient Republics of America, product of its transfer in the construction of cities, government buildings, churches, hotels and other aristocratic centers, which derived in exultant, worldly and ostentatious expressions. Although superficially the architecture of the beautiful art of the 20th century could be considered out of context in the modern age, the constructions of steel frames and other innovations of modernism in the engineering of the materials had as principles the constructions of 1914 to 1916, whose maximum representative was the Architect Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908) who became famous for the vaults of bricks without covering and mortar, carried out in different cities of the United States.

In a second stage with the agro-exporting trend, particularly in America, within the first decades of the 20th century, the classicist forms are evidenced, with a preference for ornamental sobriety, but monumental and grandiloquent at the same time, obeying the influence of ideologies of strong national and centralist tendency. This last style Architecture was called Late Academic, and developed approximately beyond 1940, being one of its main and most versatile creators in Argentina, South America, the architect Alejandro Bustillo. The works that best reflect this stage of Academic thought in this environment are: The neoclassical hull of the “Abril” ranch that belonged to the Pereyra Iraola family in the Province of Buenos Aires. The Casino and Provincial Hotel of Mar del Plata.

What is the legacy of this architecture

What is the legacy of this architecture?

The legacy of this architecture is scattered mostly in Europe where it began and in America where it continued later.

One of these important academies of Fine Arts is that of Venice, created on September 24, 1750, when its foundation was approved by the Senate. It consisted of 36 professors, from which four teachers were elected once a year to cover the following disciplines: Figure, Portrait, Landscape and Sculpture. The disciplines of perspective and architecture were introduced in 1768 with a course taught by Francesco Costa, then renewed every year.

The French Academy of Fine Arts is divided into eight sections such as: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Engraving, Musical Composition, Free Members, Artistic Creations in Cinema and Audiovisual (created in 1985), Photography (created in 2005).

Types of this Architecture, the most representative examples

The style of the beautiful art, approaches from the regenerative spirit within the traditions towards a system of motifs of adornment, whose main characteristics are summarized in: Symmetry.  Hierarchy of spaces, replacing the noble spaces, grand entrances and staircases with more utilitarian ones.  References to a synthesis of historicist styles with a tendency towards Eclecticism. An architect is expected to work fluidly with different forms following the client’s requirements and the designed plans. Precision in design and execution with plenty of architectural details: balustrades, pilasters, bas-relief panels, figure sculptures, garlands, cartouches, with voluminous rivets (agrafes) and supporting cornices, as well as the subtle use of polychrome. Some emblematic buildings are placed below:

The Palais Garnier

It is one of the emblems of Bello Arte architecture.  Its construction was ordered by Napoleon III, in the transformation of Paris under the Second Empire. It is Charles Garnier, an unknown architect of 35 years, who carries out the construction project of the palace, which will take his name. Its construction lasted 15 years (from 1860 to 1875), and was interrupted several times (particularly by the Franco-German war of 1870 and the fall of the First Empire). It was finally inaugurated on January 15, 1875.

The Alexander III Bridge

It is a bridge based on the academicist architecture and the beautiful art of the third French republic, which crosses the Seine River as it passes through Paris and connects the esplanade of the invalids with the monumental complex of the great palace and the small palace.

The Chaillot Palace

The palace consists of two pavilions in neoclassical style, with two curvilinear wings of 195 m down to the Seine.

The Bank of Vigo Building

It is a monumental building designed by the architect Manuel Gómez Román, located in one of the most central corners of the city of Vigo.