Prix de Rome: Behind the Scenes

Andre Castaigne, from "Paris of To-day" by Richard Whiteing
This illustration from 1900 shows an art student using a lay figure as a model for a Prix de Rome competition painting. Prix de Rome paintings were based on an assigned subject from history, mythology, or the Bible. Richard Whiteing, an observer of the day, described how the competition worked:

"The first heat is a sketch in oils, and the result, of course, leaves many out of the race. The second is a figure in oils. For the third, the few left standing are sent to paint against one another for their lives on a subject given by the school."
"Now, there are all sorts of possibilities of unfair play in a competition of this sort, and against them authority has taken due precaution. A man may get outside help, and bring in a work that is only half his own; and even if he does every bit of it, he may still have fed his invention on the contraband of borrowed ideas. So, to prevent all that, they put him in a kind of monastic cell in the school itself, and there for three mortal months, until his task is done, he has to live and work, with no communication from the outer world. He is what is called en loge. He brings in his own traps, and he is as effectually under lock and key as any Chinese scholar competing for the prize of Peking. The moving-in day for the Prix de Rome is one of the sights of the Latin Quarter, with its baggage-trains of personal gear ranging from the easel of study to the fiddle of recreation."
"When it is all over, and the best man has won, he settles for four years in the capital of Italy to rummage at his ease in its treasure-houses of the art of all time. Of course he has to rummage on a plan. Paris requires of him a work every year, to show that he has been making good use of his time. If this is of unusual merit, it is bought by the government."

Free download from "Paris of To-Day" by Richard Whiting (1840-1928)
Previously on GurneyJourney:
En Loge Competition
Is competition a good thing in art education?
Artists' Lay Figures
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