Courbet: Stone Breakers
Courbet: Stone Breakers

What is art? I know the statement sounds cliche, but seriously: who is to judge what is considered “good art” and what is garbage? We see throughout history that artists worked toward mastering the ideal and then the real. Conventions were made, measurements were taken, perspective created. All to accomplish what? Honestly I do not have an answer, just more questions. Why did no one question this? Well that is where late 19th century France becomes extremely important. What I believe is the turning point for art.
The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was the place to study if you were an artist. The first “Salons” were held through this organization and only featured students of the school. The most popular of these exhibits was known as the Salon de Paris in the Louvre. In 1737 it was established that any artists could have worked displayed if they were approved. By whom? I am not too sure because the official jury was not
established until 1748. This jury was populated with members of the academy, supplying a serious bias towards art. Even so, the Salon had a reputation unmatched by all other exhibitions. Serious art critics, dealers, curators and patrons visited from far distances.
Following the French Revolution, the opportunities for foreign artists to submit work increased, increasing the prestige of the organization. The walls were covered floor to ceiling, literally. A Hanging Committee was created to decide what artworks are hung where. The high point of the Salon de Paris was the mid 19th century. So what changed?

Manet: Luncheon on the Grass

The American Civil War, the patent for four wheeled roller skates, the military draft, the rolling printing press… 1863 was a busy year! And a momentous one for art history. The Salon de Paris was still high functioning and so was there jury. In the year 1863 3,000 submitted paintings were rejected by the Salon. Included in this pile was the popular Dejeuner sur L’Herbe by Edouard Manet, and pieces from Pissaro, Whistler, and Cezanne. These pieces were
Cezanne: Mon Sainte Victoire

each rejected for different reasons, like Manet had the skill of the academy painters but his subjects caused a lot of controversy. For the others listed their painting style was certainly experimental and therefore unapproved by the academy. Naturally artists, and the public were upset with this mass rejection; Napoleon III established a new Salon for these artists and for the public to see. Quickly the salon became known as the
Salon des Refuses, but later it would be recognized as the birth of modern art.

The Salon des Refuses is credited for the rise of “Impressionism.” The term created in mockery of Monet’s early piece Impression: Sunrise. This salon showcased pieces
Monet: Impression: Sunrise
Monet: Impression: Sunrise

from Monet’s circle of friends (Pissaro, Renoir and Sisley). Quickly the popularity of the salon increased introducing new names and ideas to the display featured in the Salon des Refuses, with no jury there were no rules or regulations. Here artists organized their own exhibitions, like the Impressionists did. This second Salon undermined the exclusivity of the one held by the Academie. With the
Matisse: Woman in a Hat
popularity of the Salon des Refuses rising the credibility of the academy also was r
apidly declining. In 1881 the French Academy gave up the salon which eventually became known as the Nationale under its new ownership. The other two popular salons of the time were the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Independants. The Salon d’Automne was different for their fall displays (most shows were held in spring and summer, hence the name). Salon d’Automne was best known for the fauvist movement, featuring artists like Henri Matisse, Andre Derain; it also established the reputations of Cezanne and Gauguin.

Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

The Salon des Independants was formed by the society of Independent Artists in 1884. The group founded by Odilon Redon, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac. Here any artist could hold a show as long as they paid a small fee. This salon held many show of individual styles of those like Archipenko, Kandinsky, Malevich; and became the principal showcase for Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impression. Still today it is one of the leading Salons in Paris.

Van Gogh: Starry Night

So why is this important? Salons and exhibitions are not a new concept. What was so revolutionary was the independence, the freedom to create art just for the sake of it. Impressionism was all about expressing ligh, expressionism: emotion, futurism: machinery, surrealism: dreams and the imagined; there are so many styles that
emerge in about a hundred years. They all follow these salons.
Until the economy and technology of Europe provided for a middle class; “the arts” were a trade, artisans would sculpt, paint, or build things for the wealthy class or the community. Few people were renowned for their incredible skills for the time period, while the rest seemed to just try and learn from those people to better their own profession. Come the nineteenth century, the middle class started to emerge and so did the idea of art for decoration. Influences of Japanese prints and textiles were distinct in these new artists pieces. But still true “artwork” or “masterpieces” seemed to follow strict guidelines and conservative principles.
As time carried on the term “artist” and “revolutionary” seemed to mold together. Still holding onto their artistic conventions they painted pieces that made people think, and get them angry about the world they live in. Artists like Goya and Delacroix depict events that need to be addressed, Courbet and Millet exposed economic problems. They all wanted change.

And yes this is where the Salon becomes this turning point for people. I explained the purpose of the salon and things that came from it, but honestly it was just the right thing at the right tim
e. People were riled up, artists had many new ideas and now they had the opportunity to be taken seriously.
Since the Salon was established in 1863 art became less of an occupation and more of a passion, a means of self expression. Changing the face of art for so many new discoveries in the hundred and fifty years to follow.

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Guilat, Yael. "20th Century Art's Turning Points." Oranim
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"The Paris Salon (Founded 1667) "Salon Des Refuses" - "Salon Des Independants" - "Salon
D'Automne"" Paris Salon. Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d. Web. 29 May 2015.