Ecole des Beaux-Arts founded in a former convent
The Ecole des Beaux-Arts is formerly known as Académie des Beaux-Arts or Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.
It is the most prestigious art school in France, with branches in 6 other major French cities.
The school was founded in 1816 in the buildings of the Couvent des Petits-Augustins.
The convent was built in the early 17th century at the initiative of Marguerite de Valois, the first wife of King Henry IV.
It became State property at the beginning of the French Revolution and the monks were expelled.
Its location, right in the heart of Paris, and amazingly its extensive monastic outbuildings, saved it from destruction!
A museum founded at the French Revolution!
Alexandre Lenoir even chose it in 1795 to found the Musée des Monuments Francais.
The museum exhibited vestiges of the religious buildings destroyed during the Revolution.
These vestiges, though, were returned to the clergy during the Bourbon Restoration.
The convent was demolished in the 1830s, with the exception of the hexagonal chapel, the church, the sacristy and the small cloister.
These were converted in order to accommodate the ’Ecole Royale et Spéciale des Beaux-Arts – Royal and Special School of Fine Arts.’
New premises were also built:
Bâtiment des Loges, Palais des Etudes and the exhibition building that overlooks the Quai Malaquais.
The Ecole des Beaux-Arts was enlarged in 1883 with the acquisition of the 16th-18th century Hôtel de Chimay and its annexes on Quai Malaquais.
The Ecole des Beaux-Arts today spreads over 2 hectares; it was classified Historical Building in 1972.
Some sculpture workshops were decentralised to a building located in the heart of the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in 2008.
Ecole des Beaux-Arts – Cour Bonaparte
The Cour Bonaparte, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts’s main courtyard is accessed on… Rue Bonaparte.
This is where you’ll find the convent’s church, which was converted in order to accommodate the Musée de Moulages du Moyen-Age et de la Renaissance (medieval and Renaissance plaster casts).
The church’s main facade is adorned with a stunning portal recovered from the Château d’Anet.
The architect Philibert de L’Orme built this castle for Diane de Poitiers, the favourite of Henry II.
The 22m high portal bears the three architectural orders, Tuscan, Ionic and Corinthian, and the entwined emblems of Diane and Henri II (D and H).
The interior of the church is entirely dedicated to plaster casts, original sculptures and paintings.
These cover the walls from floor to ceiling; it’s quite impressive!
It is impossible to mention all the stunning exhibits.
However, the first that immediately catches the eye is a cast the pulpit of the Cathedral of Pisa.
The second is the cast of the Colleone, the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni (the original is in Venice).
The windows located on the flat roof let a soft light pour in the nave.
The church is directly linked to the small hexagonal chapel built by Marguerite de Valois.
The Chapelle des Louanges was one of the first in Paris to be topped with a dome.
It now serves as an exhibition room for the casts of some of Michelangelo’s works.
Replicas of paintings created by artists who won the prestigious Prix de Rome adorn its walls.
Ecole des Beaux-Arts – Cour du Mûrier
The church’s back door opens on Cour du Mûrier, an elegant and peaceful courtyard laid out around a fountain.
The former cloister’s courtyard today serves for the outdoor display of statues.
It was named after the Chinese mulberry tree planted by Alexandre Lenoir in 1816.
It is difficult to believe, when strolling through the Cour du Mûrier, that we are in the heart of busy and noisy Paris.
This is indeed an unexpected little oasis of greenery!
The foliage of the trees muffle the sounds of the city.
The facades of the arched galleries surrounding the courtyard are painted in ocher and vermilion and recreate the atmosphere of a village in Provence.
Time stands still!
Ecole des Beaux-Arts – Cour Vitrée in Palais des Etudes
A tiny passage leads back to the Cour Napoleon and the Palais des Etudes.
This where you’ll discover the Cour Vitrée, a stunning illustration of 19th century glass and metal architecture!
Félix Duban, the architect of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, purposely built this enclosed courtyard in the 1830s as an exhibition hall for the many sculpture casts from the Louvre Museum.
The glass roof was built in 1863 to protect them from the weather.
If you want to see these plaster casts, you’ll have to visit the Petites Ecuries du Château de Versailles, where they were transferred in 1970.
The Palais des Etudes‘ inner facades were painted at the same time with a polychrome decor of Italian inspiration.
The stunning oval-shaped Cour Vitrée has an area of 800m2; it is now used to exhibit the works of the students of the Fine Arts school.
Ecole des Beaux-Arts – Amphithéatre d’Honneur
Félix Duban also built the Amphithéatre d’Honneur, another landmark of the school.
Completed in 1839, the amphitheatre was originally used for lessons and prizes awarding.
It is a little jewel renowned for its mural realised by the painter Paul Delaroche.
The single mural indeed depicts 75 life-size figures representing painters, engravers, sculptors and architects.
All these artists, mainly Italians and French, represent the four major periods of art: Greek, Roman, Gothic and Renaissance.
The Ecole des Beaux-Arts is not open to the public.
However, you can visit it once a year, during the European Heritage Days each 3rd weekend of September.
Directions: 6th district – 6 Rue Bonaparte
Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Line 4
Coordinates: Lat 48.857214 – Long 2.334857