The Prix de Rome competition

The Prix de Rome competition

  • The drawing workshop at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

    LEASE Antoine Jean (1830 - 1918)

  • Theseus recognized by his father Aegeus.

    FLANDRIN Hippolyte (1809 - 1864)

  • The resurrection of Lazarus.

    BONNAT Léon (1833 - 1922)

  • Adam and Eve finding the body of Abel.

    HENNER Jean-Jacques (1829 - 1905)

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Title: The drawing workshop at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Author : LEASE Antoine Jean (1830 - 1918)

Creation date : 1855

Date shown: 1855

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Gadagne Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 97-015613

The drawing workshop at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

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Title: Theseus recognized by his father Aegeus.

Author : FLANDRIN Hippolyte (1809 - 1864)

Creation date : 1832

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 50 - Width 39

Technique and other indications: Pencil, ink (drawing), squaring, tracing paper.

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 03-002155 / RF52629Folio7

Theseus recognized by his father Aegeus.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

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Title: The resurrection of Lazarus.

Author : BONNAT Léon (1833 - 1922)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 112 - Width 145

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Bonnat Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 94-050163 / Inv. 548

The resurrection of Lazarus.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

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Title: Adam and Eve finding the body of Abel.

Author : HENNER Jean-Jacques (1829 - 1905)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 30 - Width 24.5

Technique and other indications: Sketch painted for the 1888 Grand Prix competition.

Storage location: Jean-Jacques Henner Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Picture reference: 07-502438 / JJHP90

Adam and Eve finding the body of Abel.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Publication date: February 2011

Historical context

The history of the Prix de Rome for painting

Established in 1663 in order to select the artists who would be admitted to stay at the Académie de France in Rome, the competition was divided into several categories, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, music and painting, the latter being the most prestigious. After the renovation of the former Petits-Augustins convent, the École des Beaux-Arts moved there in 1829, and this is where the annual competition takes place, still under the supervision of the Academy.

The tests are open to any competitor who is male (women will not obtain the right to compete until 1903), single, under the age of thirty and already admitted to the School of Fine Arts. Finally, for the remaining candidates, the third test consists of making a sketch and a large canvas on an imposed historical subject, isolated for seventy-two days in a box.

Image Analysis

The competition and the winning works

The practice of drawing is of paramount importance in the genesis of the paintings presented for the Prix de Rome competition. The only subject taught at the École des beaux-arts before the reform of 1863, drawing constitutes the very essence of student training, in the purest academic tradition.

The pupils devoted themselves to drawing from nature or from the hump, that is, from casts of ancient statues, as shown in the table A drawing workshop at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts painted in 1855 by Antoine-Jean Bail (1830-1918). A nude professional model poses on a stage for students to practice painting under the supervision of a teacher. Lit by a large glass roof, this workshop on the ground strewn with working instruments, books, papers and various rubbish houses numerous plaster casts.

In the third stage of the Prix de Rome painting competition, the participants fixed the lines of the composition of the large painting which they then had to perform. At the end of the allotted time, a professor collected the sketches of which the candidates received layers. This sketch on tracing paper gives an already fairly accurate idea of ​​the final work of Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864) who, with Theseus recognized by his father Aegeus, won the grand prix for painting in 1832. This student of Ingres follows in the neoclassical lineage of his master. Devoid of any artifice, his composition, inspired by a mythological scene, is distinguished by the balanced arrangement of the figures in space and by its linear and refined line.

In 1857 and 1858, religious subjects were put forward for the competition, respectively "The resurrection of Lazarus" and "Adam and Eve finding the body of Abel".

Candidate for the competition, Léon Bonnat (1833-1922) proposed in 1857 a painting which won him a second prize. Resulting from the careful observation of Italian masters, the realistic treatment of the heads of the figures announces his taste for the art of portraiture which he subsequently successfully developed, abandoning the historical genre.

Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) received the grand prize in 1858 for Adam and eve. His painted sketch is very close to the final canvas. It is a testament to the artist's passion for the sfumato of the Venetian masters, as well as for the nudes that made him famous. Camped with vigorous brushstrokes, Adam and Eve, stunned and overwhelmed by pain, gaze at Abel's corpse. The naked bodies, treated in chiaroscuro, stand out against a rocky and wooded landscape. Of great dramatic eloquence, this painting is reminiscent of the famous painting Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808, Musée du Louvre) painted by Prud’hon, an artist much admired by Henner.


An official career

The artists who won the Grand Prix de Rome became residents of the Académie de France in Rome for four or five years, depending on the specialty they chose, landscape painting or historical painting. It was an opportunity for them to become familiar with the works of Greek and Latin Antiquity, as well as those of the Italian Renaissance. During their stay, they had to carry out a number of works: copies from life or after the antique, painted sketches, and historical or landscape paintings.

Once back in France, the winners of the Grand Prix de Rome were assured, in most cases, of a career crowned with honors. They exhibited regularly at the Salon and received orders for paintings and wall decorations for individuals and public authorities, for which they decorated national palaces, churches, etc. Most often, too, these artists, to whom the critics gave the nickname of "firefighters", were appointed to official positions, becoming members of the Academy then, the supreme reward granted to some, professors at the School of Fine Arts.

Well established, this official system of cooptation, where academicism exercised an undivided domination, administrative as well as aesthetic, was not without arousing virulent criticism. These led in 1863 to a reform of the School of Fine Arts intended to emancipate it from the tutelage of the Academy and to open it up to artistic modernity.

  • French Academy in Rome
  • Acadamy of Arts
  • artist workshops
  • School of Fine Arts
  • myth
  • rome price


Philippe GRUNCHEC, exhibition catalog The Prix de Rome competitions, 1797-1863, École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, October 8-December 14, 1986, Paris, É.N.S.B.A., 1986.Fine Arts, from the Académie to the Quat’z’arts, historical and literary anthology established by Annie Jacques, Paris, É.N.S.B.A., 2001. Anne MARTIN-FUGIER, The Artist's Life in the 19th Century, Paris, Hachette, 2008.Cécile RITZENTHALER, The 19th century School of Fine Arts. Firefighters, Paris, Mayer, 1987.Harrison WHITE, The career of painters in the 19th century: from the academic system to the impressionist market, Paris, Flammarion, 2009.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "The Prix de Rome competition"


  • Academy of Fine Arts: Created in 1816 by the union of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648, the Academy of Music, founded in 1669 and the Academy of Architecture, founded in 1671. Institution which brings together artists distinguished by an assembly of peers and usually working for the crown. It defines the rules of art and good taste, trains artists, organizes exhibitions.