After several failed efforts and even a suicide attempt, now-famed French artist Jacques-Louis David finally won the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture’s top prize in 1774 for his richly hued painting of “Erasistratus Discovers the Cause of Antiochus's Disease,” his dramatic depiction of an episode from Plutarch's “Lives.”
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is bringing the contest tradition from one of Europe’s most acclaimed and influential art academies into the modern era — hopefully, without David’s potentially fatal level of drama.
On Tuesday, the museum and So6ix Magazine are launching a photography contest to find Oklahoma’s most beautiful male torso and most expressive female face. The contest is inspired by “Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris,” a special exhibition of more than 140 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings from one of Europe’s most renowned art schools.
“We wanted to take that contest (concept) and try to bring it to life in some of our programming ... to get this exhibition outside of the walls,” said Bonita James, OKC Museum of Art marketing and communications associate. “Instead of it being a drawing or a painting contest as it was at the Ecole, it’s a photography contest. We’re really encouraging people to take these photos — and we’ll have an online submission form — and to share them with us socially, of course.”
Born out of the legendary Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, founded in 1648 under King Louis XIV, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts was a competitive, government-run school that trained artists to meet the needs of royal, state, and church patrons from the late 17th through the mid-19th centuries. “Gods and Heroes” features works by renowned artists such as David, François Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Charles Le Brun, and Nicolas Poussin.
The traveling exhibit is starting its four-city U.S. tour in Oklahoma City, and most of the works have never before been shown outside of the school, which continues to train artists. The show’s title comes from the epic stories in the Bible, Home, Plutarch and other classical sources that the student artists were assigned to depict in their paintings, said OKC Museum of Art curator Jennifer Klos.
She said “Gods and Heroes” tries to give art lovers a behind-the-scenes look of the Ecole’s heyday, from displaying the paintings salon-style so they’re hung floor to ceiling without labels to grouping contest entries so that museum-goers can see how different students approached the same competitive assignment.
“You will be able to tell how they studied movement, how they studied musculature, the body in different settings, to master not only these parts of the curriculum but elements that also became competitions,” Klos said.
By the 19th century, Ecole students were competing in various contests that pushed the aspiring artists to master aspects of anatomy, perspective and landscape compositions. The contests prepared them to vie for the prestigious prize David finally won: the Prix de Rome, whose winners earned a scholarship to study the ancient and Renaissance masters in the Villa Medici in Rome for as long as five years.
With the local contest, the OKC Museum of Art is recreating two of the school’s fiercest competitions — the most beautiful male torso and most expressive female face — but in the more modern-day medium of photography.
Ecole students would experiment with dramatic male poses and animated female facial expressions, James said, and local participants — the photographers as well as their models — are encouraged to get creative, too. Whether they use a camera phone, digital camera or old-fashioned film camera, contestants are urged to try a variety of light sources, angles, backdrops, filters and editing software.
“We really want people to have fun with this. It doesn’t have to look so historical, if you will,” she said.
While Ecole students often depicted women topless and men bare below the waist in their works — as patrons can see in the exhibit — the local photo contest prohibits such nudity.
Entries in the most beautiful male torso category must picture a posed male torso, either shirtless or draped, that doesn’t show more than 1 inch below the belly button and is somehow inspired by “Gods and Heroes.”
In the most expressive female face category, entries must depict an expressive female visage, must not show lower than the 3 inches below the shoulders and must somehow be inspired by the exhibit.
A panel of judges will choose the victors in each category, but People’s Choice awards also will be given, with winners determined on the number of likes each image gets on Instagram. Entrants can tag @OklahomaCityMOA and @So6ixMag on Instagram using the hashtag #GodsandHeroes.
“It’s a fun social media way for people to interact and really just try to experience and be inspired by the contests that represented in the exhibition,” James said.
The deadline for entries is July 24.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art ‘Gods and Heroes’ Photography Contest
Categories: Most beautiful male torso and most expressive female face.
When: Tuesday-July 24.
Entries and information: www.okcmoa.com/godsandheroes.
People’s Choice: To compete for the People’s Choice awards, tag @OklahomaCityMOA and @So6ixMag on Instagram using the hashtag #GodsandHeroes.
‘Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from
the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris’
When: Through Sept. 14.
Where: Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive.
Information: 236-3100 or www.okcmoa.com.
To see a video about “Gods and Heroes:
Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts,
Paris,” scan the QR code or go to NewsOK.com.