Licked: The Academic Ideal

June 3, 2013

Left: Alexandre Cabanel (French, 1823–1889). Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1828–1887), 1876. Oil on canvas; 67 1/2 x 42 3/4 in. (171.5 x 108.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887 (87.15.82). Right: Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883). Madame Manet (Suzanne Leenhoff, 1830–1906) at Bellevue, 1880. Oil on canvas; 31 3/4 x 23 3/4 in. (80.6 x 60.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1997, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1997.391.4)

«Impressionist paintings are so beautiful, emotional, and colorful, yet in the nineteenth century, they were considered laughable; at the time, people favored meticulously realistic, "licked" paintings over the Impressionists' "broken brushstrokes." The term "licked" refers to paintings that shine like someone has licked them to even out any trace of brushstrokes, and "broken brushstrokes" refers to thick dabs of paint on a canvas.»

When the 1863 Salon, a huge painting exhibition in Paris, rolled around, I imagine it played out a little like this: "Hah!" the Lickers spat. "Your pieces are sketches, not paintings. They're unfinished! You Broken Brushstrokes are not worthy of being displayed on the same walls as us!"

"Well then!" retorted the Broken Brushstrokes. "Go ahead and stamp the backs of our canvasses with red Rs. Reject us from your official Paris Salon."

Undefeated, the rejected artists opened their own gallery: the Salon des Refusés—the Exhibition of Rejects—right next door to the academics' exhibition. It was packed! Everyone wanted to see the scandalous broken-brushstroke painters rebelling against the academic ideal. The Impressionists had captured the press. People were laughing, but they knew the names of the Impressionists and that they were here to stay. And stay they did! No longer are they considered rejects; they are celebrated artists whose works grace the walls of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Considering the Impressionists' fame today, I think the "licked" academic ideal of the nineteenth century was, well, licked!

Related Link
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: "The Salon and The Royal Academy"

Kristen undefined

Kristen is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.