Salon des Indépendants

 Pavillon de la Ville de Paris 1900

In 1882 a new journal was founded with the specific aim of informing artists about the range of exhibitions, competitions and other events that were open to them, such were the changes that had been occurring over the past few decades. By this time artists had come to be regarded as independent professionals.  They could choose between Salons in which to exhibit and were understood to be dependant on both the public and the favours of the State (which was still an important promoter of contemporary art through commissions and purchases) in order to make living.

In 1885, Republican apologist, L. de Rochaud, had written:

“The State needs to work with art in order to foster the education of public taste and intellect, and to allow the appreciation of beauty and spirit of peace, of order and progress, to the penetrate the breast of the masses.”1.

A more liberal approach towards exhibitions, combined with support for individualism, was accompanied by the State’s intention to use art to help forge a new national identity. By studying art and learning to draw, it was believed that citizens could learn to organise their thoughts in an ordered and coherent manner, and thereby contribute to the building of a sound, rational and prosperous democracy. (As a result there was an expansion of art education programs in schools, and the development of Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs and the promotion of the Ecole Nationale de Dessin pour les Jeunes Filles.)

As well, the buying and selling of art was seen to be appropriate in a free market economy, so whilst the State supported art, it was also happy to withdraw the level of control that had been exercised over the Paris Salon up until 1880, and it acted more an umbrella organisation (with an interest in acquisitions, bursaries and awards etc).

It was in this environment that the Salon des Indépendants (Societe des Artistes Independants) was founded in 1884 (with the advent of Post Impressionism) by Odilon Redon, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and others.

Whilst it was established by the artists themselves it was endorsed the by the Republican administration whose Ministry of Fine Arts representatives attended the opening. Parisian municipal authorities provided an exhibition venue. It was therefore not created as a ‘rebellious gesture’ against the Paris Salon, but rather as a way to allow artists to present their works to the public with complete freedom, under the slogan “No jury, nor awards” (Sans jury ni recompense).

The first exhibition of the Salon des Indépendants duly took place from May-July 1884 at the Pavillon de la Ville Paris, with a total of 5000 works by more than 400 artists.

Two years later the Society staged a second, even larger exhibition, after which the Salon des Indépendants established itself as a major art event in the Paris calendar.

One of the most famous art exhibitions held at the Salon des Independants took place in Salle 41, in 1911. The exhibition brought Cubism to the attention of the general public for the first time and caused a scandal due to fractured nature of many of the artworks. Even the artists were shocked by the reactions that their works generated.

This society continued to exhibit during the period of the Modern Art movement, and continues to showcases art and artists across the broad spectrum of contemporary styles. It remains one of the leading Salons in Paris.

  1. 1. Moniteur des arts, no. 1627, 11 December 1885, p.378

Juan Gris, 1913, Man in a Café

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

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