Paris Salon des Refusés

Edouard Manet Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe Luncheon on the Grass 1863

Edouard Manet Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe Luncheon on the Grass 1863.

The Palais de l'Industrie, where the Salon des Refusés  took place
The Palais de l’Industrie, where the Salon des Refusés took place

The Salon de Paris was the only major art exhibition in France in the early 1800s, and it exerted a massive  influence on the career prospects of artists. The jury favoured traditional compositions with carefully finished images that looked realistic when examined closely. Colours were sombre and conservative, and traces of brush strokes were suppressed, concealing the artist’s personality, emotions, and working techniques.

However, by the mid 1800s a number younger artists were painting in a lighter and brighter and more unfinished manner than painters of preceding generations. They were also more interested in painting landscape and contemporary life than in recreating historical or mythological scenes. A group of young artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, had  become friends and often painted together. They gathered at the Café Guerbois, where the discussions were often led by Édouard Manet, whom the younger artists greatly admired. They were soon joined by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin.
Following the rejection by the Salon Jury of two thirds (3,000) of  the submitted paintings in 1863, including works by Manet, Whistler, Cezanne, and Pissarro, an uproar occurred. One work in particular which was rejected  and created a great deal of controversy was Édouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) primarily because it depicted a nude woman with two clothed men at a picnic, in a way that did not sit comfortably as a classical painting.
To pacify the critics and “to let the public judge the legitimacy of these complaints”,  Emperor Napoleon III ordered that artists whose works had been rejected by the Salon jury could exhibit their works in a show adjacent to the Salon.

The  ‘rejected’ works  which were displayed at the Salon des Refusés   were subjected to  great criticism by the art critics, but more than a thousand visitors a day visited the Salon (although many came only to laugh).

The official Salon des Refusés  which was held only 3 times – in 1863, 1864 and 1873 (it has now used as a term to mean any exhibition of work rejected by the jury of official awards)  was important for several different but related reasons:

  • It provided artists with an opportunity to demonstrate qualities of spontaneity and originality in painting, providing a venue for the avant-garde to showcase their work;
  • It undermined the prestige of the Paris Salon, in the eyes both of the public and of the artists, because it provided an alternative venue for artists to exhibit their work. After the Salon des Refusés artists began to arrange their own exhibitions (as the Impressionists did, for example, in 1874);
  • The  1863 Salon des Refusés was marked the debut of Edouard Manet as the leading young artist in Paris, taking over the position that had been Gustave Courbet’s (1819 – 77) for almost fifteen years. Manet, more than any of his contemporaries, was thinking in a new way about art – a way, moreover, which was recognisably modern.

This is an excerpt from my  online Introduction to Modern European Art art appreciation program

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