The Salon des Refusés

In 1863 for the first time ever an exhibit was created in Paris from the artwork which was rejected by the jurors of the Salon of the French Academy.

The French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was founded in 1648.  The Academy set a very high standard for artists and had a specific set of guidelines for students to follow.  French artists of that period sought to create art in the manner of Ancient Classical works, Raphael and Poussin (1594-1665).  There was a strict hierarchy in the importance of a painting based on subject matter, the apex being history painting and still-life painting was at the bottom (still-life in French is "morte nature" or dead nature).

 In 1666 the French Academy in Rome opened, and then a century later the British Royal Academy in 1768.  The Academies provided a place to train artists worthy of royal commissions.  Because of its association with royalty and the upper classes in society, the Academy was closed by the public during the French Revolution in 1789.   

 The Birth of Venus, Alexandre Cabanel, 1875 copy of his 1863 painting

In 1795 the academy was re-opened as a state school under the name of École des Beaux-Arts.  In the École students learned drawing, anatomy and perspective.  The new Academy, which was opened again as a branch of the school in 1816, also taught history painting.  The tradition of a strict hierarchy of work continued, painting in a classical tradition or history painting was still considered the highest form of art.

Besides being an art school, the French Academy also held regular "Salons" or art exhibitions, biannually and later annually of both students and members of the art world who wanted to exhibit their work and attract the attention of possible patrons.  Since the hierarchy and guidelines at the Academy were so rigid, there were hundreds of artists who were rejected from each of the Salons by the jury. 

Of the works that were accepted to the 1863 Salon, Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus (above) was the recipient of much acclaim and was even purchased by Napolean III.  Cabanel made several copies of this painting which was influenced both by ancient art and the Renaissance.

Luncheon on the Grass, Manet, 1863, Musee D'Orsay, Paris

However in 1863 more than half of the works of art, over 2,000, that were submitted by artists were refused. Which is why in that same year the first "Salon des Refusés" was held, giving those artists another chance to exhibit their work.  The idea for this alternative Salon was that of Napolean III who felt that the jury was much too strict and that the public should have a chance to decide for themselves.

As Robert Rosenblum writes in the book 19th-Century Art:

"Napoleon III himself, having seen samples of the rejects, could find little difference between them and those selected for the official Salon, and the temporary exhibition space seemed a happy compromise.  This so-called Salon des Refusés, however, immediately took on the stature of a counterestablishment manifestation, where artists at war with authority could be seen and where the public could go either to jeer or to enlarge their ideas of what a work of art could be.  The counter-Salon opened two weeks after the official one, on May 15, and immediately attracted hordes of Parisians, who numbered as many as four thousand on a Sunday, when admission was free."*

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Not every artist wanted to be part of a "reject's gallery of art", but Édouard Manet submitted three paintings which he displayed as a triptych.  The centerpiece of this, and perhaps one of the most well known works of the 19th century is his Luncheon on the Grass, a work that also reflected Italian Renaissance ideas but with subjects shown in a modern setting.

While it was ridiculed by some critics at the time, it was also praised by writers such as Emile Zola.  The Luncheon on the Grass was instantly an influential painting and many artists were to be influenced by Manet's contemporary style, broad brushstrokes, modern figures and flattened areas of color.  It appeared to many to be a painted sketch that would have later been turned into a finished painting.  Manet was influenced quite a bit by the Old Masters in much of his work, in particular this work shows influenced by Titian and Raphael.
 Manet's favorite model Victorine Meurent, the same model who posed nude in Luncheon in the Grass,was also featured in his Mademoiselle V (above) showing her dressed as a traditional matador.

 Symphony in White no 1: The White Girl - Portrait of Joanna Hiffernan,  
James Abbott McNeil Whistler, 1862, National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)

Manet was not alone in presenting unknown subjects using loose brushstrokes.  James Abbott McNeil Whistler's painting known as The White Girl, was more focused on all the different colors that white can appear in a work than on its subject, who was his mistress.  In this painting we see a work with no story or historical reference, in this sense neither Manet's nor Whistler's paintings would have been considered hierarchically important enough to have been chosen for the Salon.  Whistler was more concerned with light and shadow and the composition of the subject.  In fact it was Whistler who coined the phrase "art for art's sake" which was not a common concept in the mid-19th century.

Art was created for many reasons through the centuries: to memorialize an event, to teach, as political propaganda, for prayer and devotion, to pay honor to someone, but the idea of creating art for art's sake was relatively new.

Homage to Delacroix, Henri Fantin-Latour, 1864, Musee D'Orsay, Paris

Another artist who showed in the Refuses, Fantin-Latour, painted the above group portrait in 1864 as a reaction to the idea of the Salon des Refuses and the rigidity of the Salon jurors, it was an homage to the Romantic painter Delacroix who died shortly after the Salon opened.  

Henri Fantin-Latour  was born in Grenoble and began his studies with his father who worked in pastels. After he studied with Lecoq de Boisbaudran, and later under Couture.  He befriended Whistler who introduced him to English painters, and he lived for some time in England.  He had a successful career in both France and England.

Fantin-Latour painted a variety of subject matter including still-lives and several group portraits of the leading avant-garde artists of the day.  However he is perhaps best known for his still lives of flowers.  Though he was friends with many of the avant-garde artists, his own style was extremely realistic and highly traditional.  However in 1863 he exhibited several of his works in the famous Salon des Refuses when they were not accepted into the Salon, he was uncertain about including them but Whistler talked him into it. 

The next year he painted his group portrait, Homage to Delacroix as the famed Romantic painter died in 1863.  The artists in the portrait were all fans of Delacroix's style and several were artists whose work had been featured in the Salon des Refusés.  Included in the portrait was a self-portrait (in white), a framed portrait of Delacroix, Manet, Whistler and Charles Baudelaire as well as other painters and writers.

With both the death of Delacroix and the new ideas of modernity in painting that were excluded from the official Salon, the year 1863 and the Salon des Refusés proved to be a turning point in French 19th century art.

For more information on the subject of The Salon des Refusés read-  
The Judgement of Paris by Ross King. 2006

For more information on the subject of 19th century painting read-
19th-Century Art. by Robert Rosenblum and H.W. Janson. 1984.
*Rosenblum, Robert. and H.W. Janson. 19th-Century Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1984. p. 281.

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