The Paris Salons
Salon de Paris
In the middle of the 19th century, as Emperor Napoleon III rebuilt Paris and waged war, the Académie des Beaux-Arts dominated French art.
The Académie was the preserver of traditional French painting standards of content and style.
Historical subjects, religious themes and portraits were highly regarded, while landscape and still life were considered of lower value, and the Académie preferred carefully finished images that looked realistic when examined closely. Colours were sombre and conservative, and traces of brush strokes were suppressed, concealing the artist's personality, emotions, and working techniques.
The Académie ran schools of instruction and had an annual, juried art show, the Salon de Paris, and artists whose work was displayed in the show won prizes, garnered commissions, and enhanced their prestige. The standards of the juries represented the values of the Académie.
The Salon was the only major art show in France, and it exerted a massive influence on the career prospects of artists. Commercial galleries were very limited, so being shown at the Salon was critical to an artist's success, as exhibitions were visited by serious art collectors, dealers, curators and patrons.
The first 'Salon' exhibitions were held at several venues, and only members of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture) or its school (Ecole des Beaux-Arts) could exhibit. The exhibition moved to the Salon Carre in the Louvre in 1725, at which time it became known as the Salon de Paris. From 1737 any artist could exhibit, if approved.
In 1748 a jury, typically recruited from members of the Academy, was introduced to determine which paintings and sculptures would be exhibited, further enhancing the Salon's stature. Artists who did not conform to the artistic conventions and expectations of the French Academy were rarely if ever approved by the jury, and as a result found it almost impossible to make a successful career.
The French revolution opened the Salon to foreign artists, making it even more prestigious, if somewhat crowded. For more than three hundred years, the Salon had practised the same hanging procedures: paintings were hung in a series of horizontal rows reaching far above the heads of Salon visitors. This arrangement overwhelmed many Salon visitors and was a source of consternation for artists whose works were displayed in the upper rows.
By 1820, the Salon had become a major annual event. It was now staged in large commercial halls, packed floor-to-ceiling with paintings, a feature which itself led to the formation of a 'Hanging Committee' to determine which canvases were displayed at what level, and viewed by thousands of ticket-bearing visitors.
In 1849 a number of medals and awards was instituted, while art critics in the Parisian Gazettes and other newspapers ran numerous reviews and articles on the works of art displayed. The mid-19th century was probably the highpoint of the Salon's influence on European art. Thereafter, the conservative philosophy of the Salon succeeded in progressively undermining its reputation.
By the mid 1800s a number younger artists were painting in a lighter and brighter and more unfinished manner than painters of preceding generations. They were also more interested in painting landscape and contemporary life than in recreating historical or mythological scenes.
A group of young realists, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, who had studied under Charles Gleyre, became friends and often painted together. They gathered at the Café Guerbois, where the discussions were often led by Édouard Manet, whom the younger artists greatly admired. They were soon joined by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin.
The Salon jury consistantly rejected their works in favour of works by artists faithful to the approved style.
An uproar occurred in 1863, following the rejection by the Salon Jury of two thirds (3,000) of the submitted paintings, including Dejeuner sur L'Herbe by Edouard Manet, and works by Whistler, Cezanne, and Camille Pissarro.
To pacify the critics and "to let the public judge the legitimacy of these complaints", Emperor Napoleon III ordered that artists whose works had been rejected by the Salon jury could exhibit their works in a show adjacent to the Salon. The show became known as the Salon des Refuses (exhibition of rejects), a name subsequently applied to any exhibition of artworks rejected by the jury of the official Paris Salon, notably shows in in 1874, 1875, and 1886.
In 1880 the French government turned the Salon administration over to the Society of French Artists (Societe des Artistes Francais). The group aimed to maintain the general conservatism of the French Academy, which reintroduced the Jury system (members being drawn from the previous year's exhibitors) and rejected the avant-garde. Membership in the Societe des Artistes Francais was dependent solely on whether an artist had been admitted to the Salon in the past. Any artist whose work had passed jury inspection automatically became an associate member.
All members of the societies voted upon administrative issues, including Salon jury selection. While this method was democratic in nature, many noted that it hampered change in the huge Societe des Artistes Francais. An important consequence of this was that the same members were inevitably elected to Salon juries year after year. jury members were inundated with works to judge. The jury was forced to review thousands of works and decide what to accept and what to exclude. In addition, forty medals had to be awarded and paintings that were in the running for first-place medals had to pass the jury's eye three times. Once a work was approved by the jury, it would either be hung 'on the line' or 'skied', depending on the number of jury votes it had received.
Thus, a given artist's works could not be grouped, and each painting had to stand on its own in the vast multitude of canvases.
It has been argued that the Salon stagnated after the 1890s and that it faded into obscurity as it was supplanted by more progressive Salons (such as the Nationale), group shows and private exhibitions.
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This website has a detailed history of the Paris Salon
Salon des Refusés
In 1863 the 'rejected' works which were displayed at the Salon des Refusés were subjected to great criticism by the art critics, but more than a thousand visitors a day visited the Salon.
However, many of the entries in the were indistinguishable from that in the official Salon - worthy but uninspired landscapes, portraits and figure subjects, painted for the most part in rather dark, dull colours.
Yet the Salon des Refusés was important for several different but related reasons:
It provided artists with an opportunity to demonstrate qualities of spontaneity and originality in painting, providing a venue for the avant-garde to showcase their work;
It undermined the prestige of the Paris Salon, in the eyes both of the public and of the artists, because it provided an alternative to the large overcrowded) mixed annual exhibition. After the Salon des Refusés the situation was never the same. Artists began to arrange their own exhibitions, as the Impressionists did, for example, in 1874;
Artists were seeking greater independence
At first artists were still prepared to accept the judgement of their fellow practitioners but submitting one's work even to a jury (even of one's peer) became intolerable, which partly accounted for the outburst in Paris in 1863.
Artists increasingly demanded greater freedom in both subject matter and style;
Perhaps the most fundamental reason for the particular importance of the Salon des Refusés was that it marked the debut of Edouard Manet as the leading young artist in Paris, taking over the position that had been Gustave Courbet's (1819 – 77) for almost fifteen years. Manet, more than any of his contemporaries, was thinking in a new way about art - a way, moreover, which is recognizably modern.
The official Salon des Refusés was held on only three occasions, 1863, 1864 and 1873.
The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe)
Édouard Manet, The Luncheon on the Grass,
(Le déjeuner sur l'herbe), 1863
You may wish to watch this video about Manet's painting; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb_4nEFyeGk
In 1863, the jury rejected Édouard Manet's The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) primarily because it depicted a nude woman with two clothed men at a picnic. His harsh frontal lighting and elimination of mid tones were not part of traditional academic training. Manet was not intending to shock - he considered that he was presenting a classical scene in a modern world.
While the Salon jury routinely accepted nudes in historical and allegorical paintings, they condemned Manet for placing a realistic nude in a contemporary setting - one of the features that was most disturbing was the way in which the nude woman looks directly at the viewer. The jury's severely worded rejection of Manet's painting appalled his admirers, and the unusually large number of rejected works that year perturbed many French artists.
After Emperor Napoleon III saw the rejected works of 1863, he decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work themselves, and the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized.
While many viewers came only to laugh, the Salon des Refusés drew attention to the existence of a new tendency in art and attracted more visitors than the regular Salon.
During the latter part of 1873, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley organised the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) to exhibit their artworks independently due to their frustration and their ambition to show the world their new, light-filled images.
Members of the association, which soon included Cézanne, Berthe Morisot, and Edgar Degas, were expected to forego participation in the Salon.
They all had experienced rejection by the Salon jury in recent years and knew waiting a whole year in between each exhibition was no longer tenable. They needed to show their work and they wanted to sell it. So, in an attempt to get recognised outside of the official channel of the salon, these artists banded together and held their own exhibition. They pooled their money and rented a studio that belonged to the famous photographer Nadar.
The organisers invited a number of other progressive artists to join them in their inaugural exhibition, including the older Eugène Boudin, whose example had first persuaded Monet to adopt plein air painting years before.
Édouard Manet refused to participate. He had set up his own pavilion during the 1867 World’s Fair, but he was not interested in giving up on the Salon jury. He wanted Paris to come to him and accept him - even if he had to endure their ridicule in the process as he sought continuing recognition from the Salon.
In total, thirty artists participated in their first exhibition, held in April 1874 at the studio of the photographer Nadar. However, the first exhibition didn't repay them monetarily and it drew the critics who decided their art was abominable, as it was too 'sketchy and wasn’t considered to be finished. Dubbed the Impressionists by the critics that year, the group did not adopt the name until 1877.
The Impressionists held eight exhibitions from 1874 through 1886.
The idea of exhibition independently was radical. No group of artists organised a self-promoting show outside of the official French Academy's annual Salon or the short lived Salon des Refusés. Their first exhibition marks the turning point for art marketing in the modern era.
Widely regarded as one of Monet’s most significant paintings, Impression, Sunrise, was completed in 1872.
The painting is credited with giving the Impressionist Movement its name. When the painting was first shown to the public many critics were extremely disapproving of the group’s work, especially that of Monet.
In the April issue of Le Charivari, a critic named Louis Leroy judgmentally entitled his article “Exhibition of the Impressionists,” thereby coining the term inspired by the title of Monet’s work.
Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise, 1872 (exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874)
Salon des Independants
In 1882 a new journal was founded with the specific aim of informing artists about the range of exhibitions, competitions and other events that were open to them, such were the changes that had been occurring over the past few decades. By this time artists had come to be regarded as independent professionals. They could choose between Salons in which to exhibit and were understood to be dependant on both the public and the favours of the State (which was still an important promoter of contemporary art through commissions and purchases) in order to make living.
In 1885, Republican apologist, L. de Rochaud, had written:
"The State needs to work with art in order to foster the education of public taste and intellect, and to allow the appreciation of beauty and spirit of peace, of order and progress, to the penetrate the breast of the masses."
A more liberal approach towards exhibitions, combined with support for individualism, was accompanied by the State's intention to use art to help forge a new national identity. By studying art and learning to draw, it was believed that citizens could learn to organise their thoughts in an ordered and coherent manner, and thereby contribute to the building of a sound, rational and prosperous democracy. (As a result there was an expansion of art education programs in schools, and the development of Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs and the promotion of the Ecole Nationale de Dessin pour les Jeunes Filles.)
As well, the buying and selling of art was seen to be appropriate in a free market economy, so whilst the State supported art, it was also happy to withdraw the level of control that had been exercised over the Paris Salon up until 1880, and it acted more an umbrella organisation (with an interest in acquisitions, bursaries and awards etc).
It was in this environment that the Salon des Indépendants (Societe des Artistes Independants) was founded in 1884 (with the advent of Post Impressionism) by Odilon Redon, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and others.
Whilst it was established by the artists themselves it was endorsed the by the Republican administration whose Ministry of Fine Arts representatives attended the opening. Parisian municipal authorities provided an exhibition venue. It was therefore not created as a 'rebellious gesture' against the Paris Salon, but rather as a way to allow artists to present their works to the public with complete freedom, under the slogan "No jury, nor awards" (Sans jury ni recompense).
The first exhibition of the Salon des Indépendants duly took place from May-July 1884 at the Pavillon de la Ville Paris, with a total of 5000 works by more than 400 artists.
Two years later the Society staged a second, even larger exhibition, after which the Salon des Indépendants established itself as a major art event in the Paris calendar.
One of the most famous art exhibitions held at the Salon des Independants took place in Salle 41, in 1911. The exhibition brought Cubism to the attention of the general public for the first time and caused a scandal due to fractured nature of many of the artworks. Even the artists were shocked by the reactions that their works generated.
This society continued to exhibit during the period of the Modern Art movement, and continues to showcases art and artists across the broad spectrum of contemporary styles. It remains one of the leading Salons in Paris.
The Nationale -
(Salon du Champ de Mars, or the Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux–Arts)
Palais des Beaux-Arts
The National Society of Fine Arts (Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts) was established in 1862. In 1864, it organised a retrospective exhibition of 248 paintings and lithographs by Delacroix, just after his death, but then temporarily ceased its exhibitions.
Then, in 1890, under the leadership of Ernest Meissonier, the Société began to hold annual exhibitions. These were sometimes referred to as Salon du Champs de Mars, or Salon de la Nationale, but soon became known as the Nationale, at Champ de Mars. Other key committee members were Puvis de Chavannes, Jules Dalou, Auguste Rodin, Carolus-Duran, Bracquemond, and Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse.
Membership in the society was gained only through official invitation. Founding members of the Nationale selected artists to become societaires. These members, in turn, invited associate members. (In contrast, membership in the Société des Artistes Francais was dependent solely on whether an artist had been admitted to the Paris Salon in the past. Any artist whose work had passed jury inspection automatically became an associate member.)
The Nationale committee rethought everything from jury selection and awards to the decoration of the exhibition hall and the appearance of catalogues. It created a rotating jury system so that the same jury members wouldn't be elected year after year.
It also aimed to create a Salon that was more selective, prestigious and noticeably more modern than that of the Paris Salon, administered by the Société des Artistes Francais from 1880.
The exhibition space at the Palais des Beaux-Arts on the Champ de Mars was divided into a series of small galleries where paintings were hung at eye-level, reaching only half-way up the walls. Artists could submit as many works as they like, which were often grouped in a complementary fashion. This enabled visitors to gain a much better overall view of an artist's stylistic range and ability.
As the London Times reported, 'the [Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts on the] Champ de Mars is a true artistic exhibition, contributed to by most of the recognised masters of the French School, while the exhibition of the [Societe des Artistes Francais on the] Champs Elysees is an arena open to the crowd.'1.
The Salon of the Nationale was a modern and responsive institution which looked to the growing dealer-critic system and private exhibitions to find new ways to adapt and improved its exhibitions. As a result it provided many significant artists with a prestigious venue in which to show their works in a more sympathetic setting than the Paris Salon, and was less open to criticism than other Salons of the period, and remained among the most important art venues in France well into the twentieth century.
1. The Times, 15 May 1890, p. 5, column 2
The Union of Women Painters and Sculptors
The Union of Women Painters and Sculptors, founded in 1881 by sculptor Hélène Bertaux, was the first organisation of women artists in France. Bertaux believed that women artists could achieve together what few could achieve as individuals.
Although the Union was committed to exhibiting members' work in the same manner as other emerging societies, it also intended to provide a context for 'feminine' art, and to support younger and struggling women artists by representing their interests.
It campaigned to have women artists written about in the press and admitted to the Paris Salon jury as well as the prestigious state funded Ecole des Beaux-Arts (this was achieved in 1903 - although special classes had first been opened for women in 1896).
The Union held the first French women only exhibition in 1882. The layout of the Salon des Femmes was non-hierarchical and the range of works broad - including drawings, oils and watercolours, as well as sculptures, miniatures, enamels, fans, earthenware and porcelain.
From 1895 a room of decorative arts was also included.
The works displayed at its annual exhibition rose from 94 submissions by 38 artists in 1882, to 942 by nearly 300 artists in 1897. The Union had 450 members by 1900, and its exhibitions benefited from Bertaux persuading officials who purchased artwork for State collections to add the Salon des Femmes to the roster of the shows they visited.
In the earlier exhibitions the Salon was decorated with pots of flowers, walls were repainted and carpet laid. Professional decorators and exhibition installers were hired, and the installations became more grand and luxurious with time, which was quite different from the conventions of Salons at the time. Each wall was hung separately and the criteria for placement included themes, sizes and shapes and how works hung together - so that the exhibition could be considered as a whole. For many critics, who were more used to commenting on individual artists, this was frustrating.
Although the Union was generally quite conservative politically, socially, and stylistically, it believed that women had a special gift that would enhance France's cultural reputation and maintain the uplifting moral-cultural position that seemed to some to be in jeopardy at the turn of the century.
The earliest Union participants were also committed to creating a separate feminine art that would preserve the conservative values of the French academic tradition. Noted for their depiction of traditional subject matter such as landscapes, portraiture, still lifes (such as flower painting) and the occasional idealised female nude, these women's works were generally realist in style.
By 1931, a new group, Femmes Artistes Modern (FAM) tired of the conservative nature of the Union, provided an alternative exhibition forum for modern, independent female artists.
source: Garb, Tamar; Sisters of the Brush, Women`s Artistic Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994
The Autumn Salon was established in 1903 as a progressive alternative to the official Salon, and a more discriminating alternative to the Salon des Independants.
The aim of the salon was to encourage the development of the fine arts, to serve as an outlet for young artists of all nationalities, and a platform to broaden the dissemination of Impressionism and its extensions to a popular audience. Choosing the autumn season for the exhibition was strategic in several ways: it not only allowed artists to exhibit canvases painted outside (en plein air) during the summer, it stood out from the other two large salons (the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and Salon des artistes Français) which took place in the spring. The Salon d'Automne was distinguished by a multidisciplinary approach, open to paintings, sculptures, photographs (from 1904), drawings, engravings, applied arts,
Its early exhibitions helped to establish the reputations of both Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), while its 1905 show became famous for its launch of the revolutionery colourist style known as Fauvism, featuring Fauvist painters such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Andre Derain (1880-1954) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958).
Other famous artists associated with the Salon d'Automne have included painters such as Renoir (1841-1919), Picasso (1881-1973), the Montparnasse group including Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985), and sculptors like Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), and Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967).
Decorative art was also shown, including Art Nouveau glassworks by the French jeweller Rene Lalique (1860-1945) and architectural designs by Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret) (1887-1965).
Why is the history of the Paris Salons important? It's because the most important salons dictated what was considered to be in good taste for such a long period. Artists who wanted to be successful needed to comply with the jurys' requirements or become members of sociétés in order to have their work shown. As there were few commercial galleries as we know them now, there weren't many other opportunities to sell works, or to find patrons.
Once the Salon De Refusés showed works by avant-garde artists, and this was followed by other break-a-way group exhibitions, artists had a greater chance of establishing a career outside of the mainstream, and reaching a wider audience.
It is no accident that these changes co-incided with the emergence of modern art.
a) Design a layout for a gallery space which would appeal to you, or
b) Design an exhibition flyer for a gallery which you think would entice you to visit the exhibition.