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Controversy about French Influence: Nineteenth-century American Artists in France, 1850-1900

Provencher, Jessica Provencher
While it is well-known that many nineteenth-century American artists were encouraged to travel to the art center of Paris to study, there were also many critics and artists who opposed this idea. Through exploring both primary and contemporary sources related to nineteenth-century American artists studying in France, I argue that there was a clear division throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century among artists and art critics about whether it was beneficial or harmful for American artists to seek training in France. Those in support of study in France had many reasons to believe the experience would be beneficial to American artists since France had better organized art academies, more alternatives to the academy, a good art market, finer museums to study at, more competitions for students, and the Salon, where artists could demonstrate their abilities and gain more exposure. Conversely, those in opposition condemned all French influence and believed American art and its institutions were superior to that in France. They claimed artists could receive all of the training they needed in America, despite the fact that many of its own artists found it lacking. While the reasons many nineteenth-century American artists studied in Paris has already been discussed by numerous art historians, the intriguing division that developed between American artists, critics, and collectors has yet to be explored. This paper affords the attention that this topic deserves and offers a new understanding of the phenomenon of American artists studying in France.