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Brief History of the Atelier Movement

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was considered the finest painter of his era in Europe. Heavily influenced by Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665, and the founder of the French Classical tradition), David carried forth their skill and passion. He had many students over a long career, including Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835). Gros studied with Jacques-Louis David beginning in 1785. Gros later became a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts and a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There he taught many students including Paul Delaroche (1797-1856). Delaroche’s work came to be appreciated as a combination of the emotions of Romanticism along with the pragmatic realism of the French academic tradition. Delaroche eventually became a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts also (1833) and mentored many notable artists including Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904). Gerome went to Paris in 1840 and studied with Delaroche in his studio, which was the most prominent atelier in Paris at the time. 

Jean-Leon Gerome

In 1869, Gerome was named the head of one of three studios at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, with his atelier accepting a limited number of students. Gerome was considered one of the most important painters from the French academic tradition, which was characterized by realistic representation, rigorous discipline and applied technique. The teaching of this tradition was a high calling and one  Gerome took very seriously. In the ensuing 40 years, the best students competed for a spot to study with him, and acceptance was considered an honor. Gerome’s students began with drawing and were not permitted to paint in oils until sketching was mastered. Tone and value studies were pursued only after students could draw correctly.

Gerome's Students

During Gerome's later years, the art world was undergoing a dramatic shift. A parallel art world began to develop and spread, one that would ultimately reject the skills-based training that had been the core of Western art. The academic approach and emerging Impressionism sadly could not reconcile to one another. Instead of gaining value from each other, the two movements went to war and a giant chasm opened between them. The academic tradition sneered at the Impressionists with Gerome himself contributing to the fray. A daily political newspaper named L’Eclair (1888-1926) published Gerome’s passionate rail against Monet. Gerome reportedly said, “This Monet, do you remember his cathedrals? And that man used to know how to paint!" For the traditionalists, there was no room in the world of painting for the experimentation of the Impressionists.


As a result, many artists began to reject the strict academic style, seeking out education that veered far from the approach they considered too rigid. Gerome stayed the course with the traditional skills-based approach and taught thousands of students in his atelier, including Americans who traveled to Paris specifically to study with him, notably, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Kenyon Cox (1856-1919), George Bridgman (1864-1943) and William Paxton (1869-1941). Over time the divide between the two approaches widened, and as impressionism, modernism, cubism and other alternative art approaches began to dominate the art world, critics, historians and museum curators pushed Gerome and other traditionalists out of relevance to the general public. His name has all but been forgotten, overshadowed by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Matisse and others.

New York and Boston

About 150 Americans traveled to Paris to study with Gerome throughout the second half of the 1800's including Thomas Eakins, Kenyon Cox and George Bridgman who all returned to the States to teach at the Art Students League in New York City. They had studied with Gerome years apart (Eakins in 1866 and Cox in 1877), and it was another six and 12 years before Bridgman (1883) and Paxton (1889) arrived at Gerome's studios. Paxton returned to Boston, and along with Edward Tarbell (who studied in Paris under Bouguereau) and Frank Benson created an art style later dubbed "American Impressionism" which contained the academic precision of form along with the captivating color and light play of Monet and the other Impressionists.


Paxton and the Boston painters were able to bridge the two worlds that held such enmity for each other. Paxton was young enough to be taught by Gerome in his older years and to embrace classical principles and skill-based form development, yet old enough to be captivated and entranced by the freeing of color brought forward by the Impressionists without despising them. In Boston, Paxton mentored R.H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981), who had entered the Boston Museum School in 1911 at the age of 18. By this time, art education in the U.S. was well on its way to rejecting traditional representational training in favor of developing self-expression, and even after visiting Paris, Gammell was discouraged in his pursuit of a skills-based education. In the late 1920's, he knocked on Paxton's door and asked to be trained. 

The Modern American Atelier 

In 1946, discouraged over the state of art in the world, Gammell wrote a book called Twilight of Painting, in which he theorized how modernism and avant-garde art had not only destroyed the 19th century academic traditions, but had set the stage for art education that could not equip artists with the foundations they needed to reach their potential. In the opening chapter, he wrote: 


“The ultimate importance of Modern Painting in the history of art will be seen to lie in the fact that it discredited and virtually destroyed the great technical traditions of European painting, laboriously built up through the centuries by a long succession of men of genius. The loss of these traditions has deprived our potential painters of their rightful heritage, a heritage without which it will be impossible for them to give full scope to such talent as they may possess.”


After the book's publication, Gammell began his own Atelier in Boston, determined to preserve the classical tradition he had inherited from Paxton and Gerome. Art students from all over the country who were increasingly dissatisfied with available university programs flocked to Gammell’s Atelier after reading his book. Richard Lack (1928-2009) was among them. 


Lack studied with Gammell from 1950-1956. In 1957, Lack returned to his hometown of Minneapolis, eventually opening his own Atelier in 1969. Atelier Lack ran a full-time studio school and trained students in accordance with Gammell’s approach. 


Lack is also credited for coining the term Classical Realism. In 1983 he was asked by a museum director to offer a phrase that would differentiate his work and that of the other Boston painters from other representational artists. Though apparently reluctant to assign any labels, his phrase has come to be accepted and understood as art that essentially drew upon the fine craftsmanship and discipline of the academic tradition while incorporating the color and artistic freedom celebrated by Paxton and the other American Impressionists. 

At this time in the U.S. as well as throughout Europe, the centuries-old tradition of the disciplined and rigorous academic approach to realistic representational art was holding on by a few slender threads, two of which were the Art Students League in New York and Atelier Lack in Minneapolis. Throughout the WWII era and even up to the 1970's, representational artists had difficulty getting shows. Their their work was rejected as old, uninspiring and decidedly unmodern. University programs no longer practiced copying the Masters, emphasizing instead the development of one's own inner voice over a "programmatic" approach. Yet the Art Students League and Atelier Lack held fast, and offered instruction for art students seeking out traditional representational art and willing to put in the work to create it. Ted Seth Jacobs (1927-2019) attended the Art Students League in 1943 after graduating from high school in New York at the age of 16. By 18, he was subbing for his instructor. Jacobs taught in New York and ultimately opened his own atelier in France in 1987. 

The Realism Renaissance

Ted Seth Jacobs and Richard Lack were contemporaries who shared a passion for representational art and for passing their knowledge on to future generations. Between them, it is fair to say that they trained and mentored most of the artists who have become influential leaders and teachers of the present day classical tradition. Many of their students opened their own ateliers and continue to pass on what they learned including Daniel Graves, Anthony Ryder, Jacob Collins, Juliette Aristides and Michael Grimaldi, among many others. Today we have the great benefit of a resurgence in traditional representational art being taught in many small ateliers across the country. 


Daniel Graves (1949-), founder of the Florence Academy of Art, studied with Richard Lack and then taught at Atelier Lack before returning to Europe and establishing the Florence Academy (1991). Ted Seth Jacobs taught Jacob Collins (1964-) who has founded not one, but two ateliers in New York--the Water Street Atelier and the Grand Central Atelier, a larger art school for "ambitious students seeking an authentic classical art education." Juliette Aristides (1971-) artist, author and instructor, studied with Lack very early in her career and then also with Collins in New York. She was a founding member of the Water Street Atelier before moving to Seattle and starting her own atelier at the Gage Academy of Art. Aristide's student Tenaya Sims (1978-) began his own Atelier in Seattle, the Georgetown Atelier (now merged with Gage Academy) after graduating from Aristide's program. 

The Hill Country Atelier

This is the direct atelier lineage down to the Hill Country Atelier, founded in 2017 by Holly White-Gehrt (1963-) who graduated from Sims' atelier and also from Aristide's 4th year graduate program. White-Gehrt is yet another master artist fully committed to passing on her knowledge and skills to future artists in the atelier tradition. 

You won't find the skills-based training offered in our Atelier in most university programs and even art schools simply because those institutions no longer value skills-based education. They haven't valued it for over 100 years. R.H. Ives Gammell's warning from over 75 years ago has proven to be a prediction: many aspiring artists today are not fully able to express themselves because they've never had the opportunity to learn foundational drawing and painting skills upon which to build their own expressive voice. 


Not only will atelier training provide the student with foundational skills, it is far more affordable. Atelier tuition is less than half of public university tuition and far less expensive than private art school tuition. Additionally, the learning environment of the atelier is more sanctuary than classroom; the studio space itself is motivating and inspiring. If you are interested in learning the techniques and methods of the Old Masters and long to express yourself with accurate drawing and realistic depictions, we welcome you to join us. 

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