L'art pompier, literally "Fireman Art", is a derisive late-nineteenth-century French term for large "official" academic art paintings of the time, especially historical or allegorical ones. It derives from the helmets with horse-hair tails, worn at the time by French firemen, which are similar to the Attic helmet often worn in such works by allegorical personifications, classical warriors, or Napoleonic cavalry. It also suggests half-puns in French with Pompéin ("from Pompeii"), and pompeux ("pompous"). Pompier art was seen by those who used the term as the epitome of the values of the bourgeoisie, and as insincere and overblown.
L'art Pompier (a term supporters mostly avoid) has enjoyed something of a critical revival in the last twenty years, partly caused by the new Musée d'Orsay in Paris, where it is displayed on more equal terms with the Impressionists and Realist painters of the period.
The Manifeste Pompier (Fireman Manifesto) by Louis-Marie Lecharny, was published in Paris in 1990. He also wrote L'art Pompier (1998).
- Harding, 7, quoting the definition of Pompier in the Dictionnaire Larousse
- Harding, 14-22
- Harding, James. Artistes pompiers: French academic art in the 19th century, New York: Rizzoli, 1979.
- Article on Peut-on parler d’une peinture pompier?, by Jacques Thuillier, www.dezenovevinte.net (in French)