What was the Academy?

In Europe, the Academic system was a method of training artists.  Each country had its own institution-- in France it was the Académie française-- but the method was the same: younger artists studied with older, established artists, initially learning basic skills such as the depiction of anatomy and perspective, before progressing to entire compositions.  The students would compete for prizes, preparing them for their professional careers which would see them competing for spaces in the annual exhibitions.  The Académie française essentially controlled the Salon exhibitions, guaranteeing the continuation of the Academic system.  According to the Academy, art was divided into levels of status, where history paintings were the pinnacle of the field, with landscapes below that, and still life painting at the bottom of the hierarchy.  The Academic program controlled the art world in Europe for over a hundred years, until artists such as Cezanne and Matisse popularized new, less structured ways of painting.