An Art Academy is Born

King Frederik V set up The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts to consolidate his absolute rule and to enable Denmark to produce enough skilled artists and craftsmen at home. King and country were to be strengthened
through “good taste”

The academy at Charlottenborg was officially founded on 31 March 1754 as Det Kongelig Danske Skildre- Bildhugger- og Bygnings-Academie i Kiøbenhavn (The Royal Danish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Copenhagen). King Frederik V wanted to “advance the spread and flourishing of the useful and fine arts” in order to reaffirm his absolute monarchy and make Denmark capable of producing its own artists and skilled craftsmen.

The official date is not entirely accurate: Frederik V had actually already founded a Copenhagen art academy six years earlier, installed the academy at Charlottenborg several months before and carried out its inauguration the day before the new academy was officially founded. To confuse matters even more, the academy’s charter was not available in print until 1 July, but even so the new academy celebrated its founding on the king’s birthday: 31 March 1754.

An academy for
"fine and useful arts” 

The early stages of the academy’s history were characterized by great attention to the needs of craftsmen and to promoting good taste; both were recurring themes in the academy’s statements of purpose. The distinction between fine art and applied art was a key reason behind the formation of Renaissance art academies in 16th century Italy, which would go on to become role models for other academies in Europe – with the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (1648) as the most famous example. In this sense the academies differed from the guilds, which had served as organizational rallying points for architects, painters and stonemasons since the Middle Ages.
As artists grew in esteem and self-esteem, the fine arts became classified as “liberal arts”. Accordingly, the Charlottenborg academy’s charter devoted itself to the promotion of “the fine” and “the useful” (applied arts) – of artes liberales and artes mechanicae. The academy’s statement of purpose was revised after the death of Frederik V in 1766; it now placed particular emphasis on improving and furthering the cause of craftsmanship and employment in addition to educating artists. Headed by Jacques-Francois-Joseph Saly, the academy became more of a school for craftsmen than for the artes liberales.

Promoting “good taste” 

In order to improve the quality of craftsmanship, the matter of “good taste” was included in the academy’s statement of purpose. Master craftsmen were required to send their apprentices to the academy in order to learn how to draw. The art of drawing (disegno) had served as the basis for the academies since the Renaissance, and the term “disegno” was taken to mean more than simply the process of drawing: it meant artistic creativity. 
To Saly the art of drawing was the foundation of all sciences and disciplines. He wanted the academy’s free drawing classes to improve the craftsmen’s skills, thereby “forming the nation’s taste.” Better craftsmanship would also strengthen the quality and competitiveness of factory manufacturing in Denmark.

J.F. Struensee’s ascension to power in 1770 brought changes to the academy regulations in the form of major budget cuts, and in 1771 Saly withdrew from the academy’s activities.
The issue of “good taste” is widely discussed. Prompted by a discussion on whether lectures on mathematics should be compulsory for students, professor N. Abildgaard declared, in 1801, that “good taste” was the academy’s main purpose. He believed that rather than teaching mathematics, it was more important to “to guide students on matters of Beauty and to encourage good taste, something that can neither be counted nor measured.” 

An academy of “fine art”  

In 1814 the academy changes its name to Det kongelige Academie for de skiønne Kunster i Kiøbenhavn – literally “The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.” Its objective is very clearly defined:

1) Educating artists 
2) “Safeguarding good taste”, and to serve as
3) “a body for the promotion of artistic taste”. 

At this point the academy is not just a place of education, but a temple to good taste – underpinned by political arguments about improving the quality and competitiveness of industrial production. 
The issue of good taste does not disappear from the academy’s regulations until the twentieth century; the issue of drawing as the foundation of all teaching remains the subject of heated argument from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. 

-    Salling, Emma and Smidt, Claus M.: ”FUNDAMENTET – De første hundrede år”; in Fuchs, Anneli & Salling, Emma (eds.) KUNSTAKADEMIET 1754-2004, Det Kongelige Akademi for De Skønne Kunster & Arkitekturs Forlag 2004, vol. I, pp. 23–117