The Origins and History of the Paris Salon
“The Salon (French: Salon), or rarely Paris Salon (French: Salon de Paris), beginning in 1725 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Between 1748–1890 it was the greatest annual or biannual art event in the Western world…
In 1725, the Salon was held in the Palace of the Louvre, when it became known as Salon or Salon de Paris. [Held annually] and public, the Salon’s status was “never seriously in doubt” (Crow, 1987). In 1748 a jury was introduced. Its members were awarded artists. From this time Salon got its undisputed influence.
Prominence (1748–1890): The Salon exhibited paintings floor-to-ceiling and on every available inch of space. Printed catalogues of the Salons are primary documents for art historians. Critical descriptions of the exhibitions published in the gazettes marks the beginning of the modern occupation of art critic.
In the 19th century the idea of a public Salon extended to an annual government-sponsored juried exhibition of new painting and sculpture, held in large commercial halls, to which the ticket-bearing public was invited. The vernissage (varnishing) of opening night was a grand social occasion, and a crush that gave subject matter to newspaper caricaturists like Honoré Daumier. Charles Baudelaire, Denis Diderot and others wrote reviews of the Salons.
The increasingly conservative and academic juries were not receptive to the Impressionist painters, whose works were usually rejected, or poorly placed if accepted. In 1863 the Salon jury turned away an unusually high number of the submitted paintings. In order to prove that the Salons were democratic, Napoleon III instituted the Salon des Refusés, containing a selection of the works that the Salon had rejected that year. It opened on 17 May 1863, marking the birth of the avant-garde. The Impressionists held their own independent exhibitions in 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886.”
Paris Salon Caricatures by the famed Honore Daumier:
“In 19th-century Paris, weekly journals employed teams of artists to churn out popular caricatures of Parisian life. The art world was a common target of satire for these publications, and the Salon—the annual juried art exhibition, sponsored by the French government—received special attention. This immense exhibition served as a kind of proving ground for artists and visual entertainment for the public.
Caricatures of the Salons appeared in abundance from the 1840s to about 1900. These Salon reviews in pictorial form poked fun at the yearly exhibition, from its dizzying display of thousands of paintings and sculptures, to the self-importance of viewers, to the prevailing mediocrity of the works. Much of the humor results from the clash between the Salon’s growing irrelevance to contemporary life and the edifying role accorded to the fine arts in French culture.
The Comedy of Reception
A common target for ridicule in the caricatures of the Salon was the socially diverse public who attended the event. [French caricaturist, social critic, painter and sculptor] Honoré Daumier became the master of satirical images of the Salon public. He lampooned the public’s various misreadings of art, their social pretensions and affectations, and their view of art as entertaining spectacle.”
In nineteenth-century Paris, weekly illustrated journals published scores of caricatures of both Parisian everyday life and special events. The exaggerated language of caricature and its satirical bite were integral to the modernity of the visual culture of the big city and the definition of its characteristic social types. The art world was a frequent target of these humorous publications, especially the annual Salon—the huge juried art exhibition sponsored by the French government. Salon reviews in pictorial form poked fun at the yearly exhibition, from its dizzying and massive display of paintings and sculptures, to the self-importance of viewers and the prevailing mediocrity of the works.
View Daumier’s Caricatures of the Paris Salon: