Neo-classicism may be defined as a controlled academic approach to art. Classicism is used as the opposite of Romanticism, characterising art in which adherence to recognised aesthetic ideals (the work of Raphael was frequently used as the yardstick by which students would be measured) is accorded greater importance than individuality of expression. Allegiance is to clear and precise form, balanced compositions, and idealised beauty.
The word often implies direct inspiration from antique art, but this is not a necessary part of the concept, and according to context the word might be intended to convey little more than the idea of clarity of expression, aversion to innovation, or alternatively of conservatism. [Ed. note: The terms Classicism and Neo-classicism are often used interchangeably, but Classicism refers either to the art produced in antiquity or to later art inspired by that of antiquity; Neo-classicism always refers to the art produced later but inspired by antiquity.]
Neo-classicism revived the ordered and rational forms of antique art. The work of artists like David and Canova was passed on to the masters of academic art in the next century, who became the leaders of the artistic conservatism that followed.
In 1737 the Academy, which held history painting - grand pictures of historical, biblical, or mythological narratives - in the highest esteem, began to stage annual Salons, or exhibitions, open to the public. These Salons spawned the careers of professional art critics, who offered opinions, evaluations, and interpretations for the art-going public.