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Academicism is a term used by art critics to explain what happens when an artistic movement either meticulously clings to the rules of a movement or becomes unable to leave the standard elements of that movement. Some art historians try to apply this rule to the academies of art that started in Europe in the sixteenth century, such as the Academia of Saint Luke in Rome, the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp or the painters and sculptors of Paris formed a group in the thirteenth century. This later became the Academy of St. Luke that Simon Vouet oversaw. Charles Le Brun and others formed the Academy of Royal painters and sculptors in 1648. The term "academy" has another meaning; it explains the differences between the colorists and draftsmen or the artists who followed either Poussin or Reubens. The Paris Academy became the model for other cities' academies, such as the Antwerp Academy, the Berlin Academy, the San Fernando Academy in Madrid and the Royal Academy in London.

The Paris Academy at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was hesitant in accepting Romanticism or Realism due to the widespread acceptance of Neoclassicism. In the second half of the nineteenth century the Academy rejected such painters as Monet and Cezanne, because they refused to adhere to the academy's strict standards. These painters refused to adhere to the strict standards set by the Academy. They formed a group called "peintres maudits" or "pariah painters". The Academy gave conventional painters all the awards and honors of the Academy. It also taught new painters to imitate their works. This way the paintings that hung on the walls of the Society of French Artists were similar to those painted by artists like William Bouguereau and Leon Bonnat. The School of Fine Arts (Ecole des Beaux-Arts) was, during those times, an excellent example of the term historic academicism. However, that period of art does not merit the exclusive use of the term academicism.

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