The Salon System and Alternatives in Early Modern French Art

Salons (art shows) timeline in late 19th century and early 20th century French art

The Salon system and the academic tradition in French art stifled creativity. Find out how artists such as Monet, Degas, Renoir and Pissarro set up an alternative exhibition. The Impressionists were followed by the Independents show, featuring such artists as Cezanne Gauguin and Toulouse Lautrec. The Fauves and Matisse chose the Autumn Salon to showcase their work. These were all alternative circuits to the traditional conservative Salon.
Alternative circuits for artists who did not conform to the rigid Salon system slowly developed in the later 19th and early 20th century.

If you are using a mobile device on the walk and for some reason the image has not loaded or become inaccessible, here is the text from the Salon infographic timeline:

The Salon since 17th century:

– The official state authorised arts exhibition
– For the students of the Académie des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Academy)
– Long established going back to 17th century
– Becomes a conservative inflexible institution
– Accepts only highly technical and finished academic art; refuses evolution or progression in artistic expression
– Refuses exhibition space to many now famous painters

Salon des Refusés 1863 (Exhibition of rejected (artists)):

– For those artists whose works were rejected at 1863 Salon; authorised by Emperor Napoleon III
– Takes place in same building as official Salon
– Manet shows Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (The Lunch on the Grass)
– Mixed critical reception and some public laughter

The Impressionist Exhibition 1874:

– Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Berthe Morisot; set up first rival regular show to Salon 1874
– First 1874 show takes place 35 Boulevard des Capucines in Paris
– Monet’s painting Impression, Rising Sun
– Some critics call work unfinished sketch or impression
– Comes to be known as the Impressionist’s Exhibition
– Meets 8 times last show 1886

The Salon des Independants (Independents’ Show) 1884:

– Set up 1884 by Seurat, Signac, Cezanne, Gauguin and Toulouse Lautrec
– Open platform new art no jury
– Important challenge to official Salon
– Two influential works for modern art premiered here by Matisse:
– 1905 Luxe Calme et Volupte (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure)
– 1906 Le Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life)

Amplifiers and influencers; new art galleries from 1870:

Paul Durand-Ruel from 1870
– Shows Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot, Renoir
– Galleries also in London, Brussels later New York
Ambroise Vollard opens gallery 1893
– Shows Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso
– The Steins and Barnes among his clients
Berthe Weil shows Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso
Père Tanguy a colourist and arts supplier 1870s – 1890s
– Helps, encourages especially Cezanne and Van Gough in lean times
– Takes paintings as credit for colours saves many Cezannes
– As for most of artist’s life no market for Cezanne at that time

The Salon d’Automne (Autumn Arts Show) 1903:

– Set up in 1903 by Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain
– Stage for modern innovative artists has jury
– Features the Fauves (Wild Beasts) Exhibition of 1905
– Other retrospective exhibitions important for the development of modern art:
Manet retrospective show of 1905
Gauguin homage 1906
– Extensive Cezanne exhibition 1907

The stylistic and technical innovations of artists showcased in these Salon d’Automne retrospectives help set the agenda in the development of modern art.

The Salon: artistic conformity and official good taste

The Salon in France was an official exhibition for the students of the Académie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) in Paris. Its roots go back to 17th century royal patronage. Acceptance by the jury of the salon meant an official seal of approval in terms of artistic merit, quality and taste. Receiving a prize could mean official commissions from the French Government, public recognition and possibly patronage. Most aspiring artists strove to be accepted by the Salon and so churned out art acceptable to the jury.

The Salon and its jury, by the mid 19th century, had become a very conservative institution. It tended only to accept paintings of a certain genre conforming to strict technical conventions, for example, mythological allegories or historical recreations painted in as technically pure a way as possible. Technique was more important than originality or any kind of dialogue or engagement with the viewer.

Pompous, academic, unrealistic, studio-bound art

For the jury of the Salon and the Academy the idea was to try to mirror nature by perfectly representing it. This meant perfecting design and perspective, working in the optimal conditions of the studio, accurately translating anatomy, correcting and finishing every detail on the canvas. The doctrine of polished technical perfection shared by the jury of the Salon and the Academy framed the restrictive template of the approved art of the period.

The challenge to official artA vertical infographic timeline giving text details of the major artists and artistic movements leading up to and including Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon

Major French artists and artistic movements leading up to Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon painted in Montmartre 1907.

Impressionism: here’s how we see it

Impressionism tried to break the circle. It experimented with colour and much freer brushwork so the hand of the artist was made more apparent. The Impressionist artists appealed to the connection between the senses and experience of the spectator and the personal vision of the artist.

The Impressionists often painted in the countryside; they aimed to capture the feel of natural light in paint. Whilst Impressionism was going on the Salon as an institution remained stuck in an academic loop; teaching a certain type of art at the Academy then rewarding it with admittance to the Salon.

The paralyses of the institution and the system meant that artists such as Manet, Monet or Pissarro were regularly rejected. These artists had chosen to explore alternative means of artistic expression and so did not conform to the narrow technical filter of the jury’s criteria.

The conservatism of the Salon system and the genre of painting it approved needed challenging. The resistance to change of the Salon actually helped draw artists together. It encouraged them to protest and finally forced them to organise their own alternative events and networks outwith the official Salon.

Salon des Refusés

In 1863 at least half of the paintings submitted to the Salon were rejected. Emperor Napoleon III decided to allow those artists whose works had been rejected an exhibition space. This was the Salon des Rufusés (Exhibition of rejected (artists)). It was here that Manet showed Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Impressionist’s Exhibition

By 1874 a collective of painters including Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro and others set up an independent show which came to be known as the The Impressionist’s Exhibition. The first show took place at 35 Boulevard des Capucines. It featured Monet’s work ‘Impression, Rising Sun’ to be seen in the Monet Marmottan Museum in Paris. The title eventually gave the entire movement its name – the Impressionists.

Eight exhibitions took place the last being in 1886. Critics influenced by the Salon system considered these works to be unfinished sketches; others saw them as a necessary renewal in style and subject matter. Appealing to the viewer to share the artist’s sense of joy and wonder before common experiences such as a sunrise or the shimmer of light reflected on water, was not considered serious art.

Salon des Independants 1884

The Salon des Independants (Independents’ Show) was started in 1884 by among others Seurat, Signac, Cezanne, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec, it had no jury and awarded no medals. The Salon took place in the spring. Whilst the quality of the exhibitions was variable the guiding precept was to encourage artistic freedom and give artists a platform.

It was at the Independents’ Show of 1905 that Matisse showed his striking Luxe Calme et Volupte (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure). He again chose the Independants’ exhibition of 1906 to showcase his Fauvist masterpiece Le Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life).

Salon d’Automne 1903

The Salon d’Automne (Autumn Arts Show) which had its first edition in 1903 was again a stage for independent and especially modern artists. The guiding force behind this event was the Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain. It was an inclusive and eclectic gathering featuring not just painting but also sculpture, engraving, architecture and the decorative arts. This organisation did have a jury. The Salon is probably best known for the ‘Fauves‘ (‘Wild Beasts’) Exhibition of 1905.

Important precursors of Modern Art at the Salon d’Automne: retrospectives of Manet, Gauguin and Cezanne

Several very extensive and important retrospectives took place at this Salon in the early 1900s, these were: the Manet and Ingres retrospectives at the ‘Fauves’ show of 1905; a vast Gauguin homage in 1906, which Picasso probably visited, and the showing of many of Cezanne’s works in 1907, one year after the artist’s death.

What these timely retrospectives did was to finally secure and greatly amplify the reputation of the individual artists who featured. Manet, Gauguin and especially Cezanne were innovators; modern painters investigating new ways of representing nature, people and narrative.

These shows brought them to the centre of the stage and allowed other artists the opportunity to examine closely their technique and style. Matisse and especially Picasso were distorting and would eventually break the rules of conventional visual representation in painting. The timing of these retrospectives and the originality of the painters featured energised and accelerated that process