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The History of the Paris Salon

Art creation & appreciation is a passionate calling that often leads both the artist and the visitor to stir up their emotions. Artists grow eager to display their artwork for people to admire and cherish.

The Paris Salon (gathering) was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris that started in 1667. From the 17thcentury to the 18th it was arguably the greatest annual or biennial art event in the Western world.

Initially, the salon was meant for the graduating students of Ecole des Beaux-Arts, to display their work. However, over time, with popularity & the French revolution, things changed quickly.

The Early Days

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The first 'Salon' exhibitions were held in many places where only members of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture or its school (Ecole des Beaux-Arts) could exhibit. It moved to the Salon Carre in the Louvre in 1725. Hence, the name Salon de Paris!

With regular annual or bi-annual events, the Salon gained fame unmatched by any similar art exhibition. It was visited by all serious art collectors, dealers, curators, and patrons. In the mid-17th century, the members of the academy formed a jury to determine which paintings and sculptures should be exhibited, further enhancing the Salon's stature.

The Paris Salon was the one and only art show in France that had an absolute influence on the artists’ career prospects. If the artists did not conform to the artistic standards of the jury it was impossible for them to make a successful career. This led to several breakaway Salons.

International Acclaim

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The French revolution opened the Salon to foreign artists which led to international fame. It was now staged in gigantic commercial halls that were completely packed floor-to-ceiling with paintings. A hanging committee was formed to determine which canvases were displayed and in which part of the hall.

In 1849, a number of medals and awards were instituted. This is also when the art critics in the Parisian Gazettes and other newspapers ran numerous reviews and articles on the works of art displayed. This created a culture of art critique and its importance.

The mid-19th century was the year of super success for the Salon's influence on European art. It brought artists from different nooks and with requests of enlisting their artwork for display. The demand from artists grew so exponentially that the jury had to reject a lot of artwork.

Salon des Refuses

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The French Emperor Napoleon III announced that rejected artwork will be exhibited in a venue next to the Salon. The show famously became known as the Salon des Refuses. Although in 1863 the rejected works were subjected to greater criticism by the art critics, the very existence of this 'alternative' exhibition undermined the exclusivity of the official Salon.

Henceforth, artists began organizing their own shows. Prominently, the Impressionists in the 1870s and 1880s were considered the ambassadors of Modern Art that began from the Salon des Refuses.

The Impressionists successfully exhibited their works outside the traditional Salon beginning in 1874. Notable examples of this salon were Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, Symphony in White no 1 among many more.

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