The Académie was founded in Paris in 1868 by the artist Rodolphe Julian (1839-1907) and developed from a teaching studio — one of many he owned — that had been opened in 1868 in La Passage des Panoramas off the Boulevard Montmartre. It became a major alternative training centre to the official École des Beaux-Arts, especially for women who were not admitted to the Beaux-Arts until 1897.By 1890 it boasted more than 600 pupils. Probably almost unique for the period, women were also permitted to draw from the nude male model at the Julian. For a monthly fee of about forty francs male and female students were provided with both tuition and access to a model. High standards were maintained and among the visiting tutors were artists of the calibre of Bouguereau, Boulanger, Constant, Lefevre, and Robert-Fleury.
The students, many of whom were English, were prepared for entry into the École des Beaux-Arts and encouraged to submit works to the Paris Salon. The Académie established its own competitions, awarding medals to prize winners. In 1888-89 Pierre Bonnard and Eduard Vuillard were students there and together with some others formed the Symbolist group the Nabis. Other illustrious students include Boris Anrep, Jean Arp, Thomas Hart Benton, Maurice Denis, Marcel Duchamp, Anthony Gross, Childe Hassam, Fernand Léger, Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Matisse, James Wilson Morrice, Robert Rauschenberg and Jacques Villon.