French Art and the Louvre
France has a rich art history, from the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux to some of the most important movements in modern art, including Impressionism, Fauvism, Art Nouveau, and Surrealism. The center of this history is Paris, which, at the time of Jackie's visit, was home to unparalleled museums, art schools, and galleries.
The École des Beaux-Arts
The École des Beaux-Arts has been one of Europe's top art schools for centuries. Founded in 1648 as the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the public institution is still one of the most prestigious schools in Europe. Located across the street from the Louvre, it boasts a strong collection of its own.
The most important art event in the Western world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the Salon de Paris, the official exhibition of the École des Beaux-Arts. The Salon was so influential it was practically impossible for an artist to become successful without its support.
The architecture program attracted students from all over the world. American graduates of the school would go on to design many famous buildings, including the Boston Public Library, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Grand Central Terminal, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
SHE SAID …
“I loved it more than any year of my life. Being away from home gave me a chance to look at myself with a jaundiced eye. I learned not to be ashamed of a real hunger for knowledge, something I had always tried to hide, and I came home … with a love for Europe that I am afraid will never leave me.”
The painting curriculum was rigid, and all students had to study drawing in a very specific order — first engravings, then plastic casts, and finally using live nude models. Only after they mastered those skills were they allowed to begin painting.
Attending the École des Beaux-Arts was an important step in becoming a professional artist; because the school prided itself on accepting only the most promising students, its entrance exam was extremely difficult. Aspiring artists prepared for the exam by studying with established artists. Today the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts has an enrollment of around 500 students.
SHE SAID …
“Newport … I knew I didn't want the rest of my life to be there. I didn't want to marry any of the young men I grew up with — not because of them but because of their life. I didn't know what I wanted. I was still floundering.”
THEY SAID …
“For her, French culture meant mostly French art. She had been in Washington and New York … however, she realized that nothing was comparable to what she would see there in French museums. She realized France was the place where she could see the best of the arts she loved — even of Italian and German and Dutch.”
— Claude de Renty, in As We Remember Her
The center of Paris's artistic culture is the Louvre, the most visited museum in the world. The original structure was built on the banks of the Seine in the twelfth century as a fortress to protect Paris, then Europe's largest city, from invasion. Later, it became a royal palace for Philip II. Some of the halls are so big that the King used to ride his horse through them.
In 1791, after the French Revolution toppled the monarchy, the Louvre and the adjacent Tuileries Palace were designated national palaces where important works of art and science would be housed. Two years later, the Louvre opened as a public museum. Since then, the museum has undergone numerous additions and redesigns, becoming a complex series of connected galleries and buildings.