The role of the Académie des Beaux-Arts was to safeguard and develop France's artistic heritage in all its forms. It was made up of members who were elected for life, and who were usually chosen for their adherence to traditional values. Some of these academicians made up the juries who controlled the Salon, the Prix de Rome, and the nominations for public commissions.
In L'Oeuvre, Emile Zola looked at the work of the jury: "Every day the gallery attendants put out an endless row of paintings on the floor, propped up right across the rooms on the first floor [...] They made decisions without much thought, getting the job done as quickly as possible, rejecting the worst paintings without a vote; Yet sometimes the group would stop to discuss something, and would argue for about ten minutes [...]."
From 1851 to 1867, these exhibitions were organised alternately by England and France who imposed their hegemony on the rest of the world. The first Universal Exhibition, in 1851, was held at the Crystal Palace in London. Paris hosted the next one in 1855 at the Palais de l'Industrie. Fifty three countries took part, with some including their colonies. Then came the Universal Exhibitions of 1867, 1878 (construction of the Trocadero Palace, destroyed in 1937), 1889 (erection of the Eiffel Tower), 1900 (building of the Petit and Grand Palais, and the Gare de Lyon and the Gare d'Orsay).
At the Universal Exhibition of 1855, the building for the Fine Arts section (painting, engraving, lithography, sculpture and medals, architecture) welcomed 2176 artists of whom 1072 were French. Their works were seen by a million visitors.
The painters Eugene Delacroix, Dominique Ingres and Ernest Meissonier were among the French prize-winners, whereas Gustave Courbet got himself noticed by exhibiting his works at the "Pavilion of Realism", outside the official exhibition.