In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ecole des Beaux-Arts

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Origins of the École des Beaux Arts Buildings in the Musée des Monuments français
  • Design History of the École des Beaux-Arts Buildings
  • Countercurrents: Reform and Resistance at the École, 1863
  • “Beaux-Arts” and “Beaux-Arts Classicism” in the United States
  • Women at the École des Beaux-Arts
  • Provincial Branches: The Écoles Régionales d’Architecture
  • Global Impacts of the École des Beaux-Arts—China, Latin America, and Beyond
  • Afterlife of the Système des Beaux-Arts: Studio, Charrette, and Jury; Rome, Thesis, and Beaux-Arts Ball

Architecture Planning and Preservation Ecole des Beaux-Arts
Lauren M. O'Connell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0016


The term “École des Beaux-Arts” refers to a French arts institution and the building that housed it; the name also refers to its Curriculum and Pedagogy, and the impact of both on the teaching and practice of architecture—in its day and to the early 21st century. Originating in the royal academies established in the 17th century, the École des Beaux-Arts evolved through multiple iterations over the course of two centuries. Its architecture section, the focus of this bibliography, dates to 1671, the year of the founding of the Académie Royale d’Architecture. It was temporarily suppressed during the French Revolution (1793), resumed in altered form under the aegis of the Institut National in 1795, and definitively reestablished under Louis XVIII, who granted it permanent quarters on the Rue Bonaparte in 1816 and formally articulated its new mandate and structure in 1819. A major reform was attempted amid pitched debate in 1863 and a decree of 1903 decentralized the architectural education it purveyed by establishing a system of Écoles Régionales d’Architecture. The architecture section of the Paris École was ultimately dissolved by ministerial decree on 6 December 1968 in the wake of the revolutions in May of that year. The ensuing reorganization of architectural education created autonomous but coordinated unités pédagogiques, which are now gathered under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, under the rubric École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture (ENSA). Today’s École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) at the Rue Bonaparte location is devoted to the nonarchitectural fine arts. Originally housed in an old regime convent reclaimed in the 1790s by arts aficionados to hold spolia of the Revolution, the École compound was expanded by one of its star progeny, Félix Duban, in the 1830s and became the center of an arts neighborhood, heartbeat of artistic production later in the century. The instructional core of the school, the so-called système des Beaux-Arts, featured an atelier structure, with students clustered in studios run by influential patrons; and a competition-based model of practice, with all exercises culminating in multiphased contests pitting students against one another for coveted prizes. The ultimate prize, the annual Grand Prix de Rome, won the laureate several years residency at the Villa Medici, headquarters of the French Academy in Rome. The Beaux-Arts education bore a distinctive relationship to drawing, to history, and to design values exemplified in antiquity. The stylistic impact of its architectural taste in France took a variety of forms, from a revivified classicism to eclectic recombinations of historical precedent and protomodern experimentations in space and light. In the United States, “Beaux-Arts” style came to be characterized by the sumptuous civic creations of a flush late-19th-century Gilded Age and, in the 20th century, by its opposition to modernism. The École’s most profound and wide-ranging influence lies in the particularities of its approach to the teaching of design—at once rigorously systematic and flexibly adaptable to circumstance.

Reference Works

The broadest sources for the school’s history and legacy fall into four principal categories: archival documents held at the French Archives Nationales, graphic materials held at the library of the ENSBA, early accounts compiled in the late 19th century, and synthesizing studies by French and American scholars over 1969–2015. The first three of these categories will be discussed in this section; for the recent secondary scholarship see General Overviews. Archival documents pertaining to the administrative history of the École and documenting the careers of its students are held at the Archives Nationales and presented in learned finding aids by its curators (see AJ/52/1 – AJ/52/1415). The dossiers pertaining to individual students are now available on-line through a rich and exhaustive online dictionary sponsored by the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Dictionnaire des élèves architectes de l’École des beaux-arts de Paris (1800–1968); it incorporates the foundational work gathered in Penanrun, et al. 1907, the first published history of École students. The online Dictionnaire des élèves is hosted on the INHA’s AGORHA portal, launched in 2011, which allows interface with other Ministry of Culture architecture databases. It also includes an online bibliography of the French architectural book, pertinent to the study of École “studio libraries,” the Bibliographie du livre d’architecture français (1512–1914). (On these libraries see Garric, et al. 2011 cited under Curriculum and Pedagogy: Overall Structure). Graphic materials (student competition drawings, travel sketches, etc.) held at the library of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts are also catalogued in Cat’z’Arts, a searchable database sponsored by the ENSBA, with some links to images. Scholarly studies and exhibitions of these materials are described under Drawings, Competitions, and Prizes/Prix de Rome. In-depth research on the École would also include consultation of the Base d’Antin, included in the online database of the collections of the Académie de France à Rome at the Villa Medici (consult as well as for the École’s relationship to its governing body, the Académie des Beaux-Arts) and the collections of the library of the Institut National (successor to the Academy): digitization of its catalogues and materials is in progress and the majority are only consultable in situ by recommended scholars.

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