Quick History of the Salon

Salon Style

We are reaching the end of our summer salon season. Three thoughtfully curated exhibitions that featured our gallery artists and really engaging contemporary artwork now moves back into themed show season. Below you will find a very condensed statement on the history of the salon-style exhibition - a rich and fascinating story.

Rooted in prestige, the first semi-public Salon originated in 1667 in France through the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (“Royal Academy of Painting and of Sculpture”). A conservative jury held the power to decide which of its graduates were good enough to show. This exhibition featuring artworks steeped in traditional subject matter and executed in realistic style, hanging floor-to-ceiling, took place in the Louvre and could make or break an artist’s career. More critical works were hung ‘on the line’, or rather, at eye level. Only very successful and celebrated pieces received such placement. Pieces deemed less important were installed toward the top and bottom portion of the walls.

In order to prove that the Salons were democratic, Napolean III inaugurated the Salon des Refusés (or literally the ‘Exhibition of the Rejected’), including a selection of works rejected by the Salon that year of 1863. This bold move marking the birth of the avant-garde and the ‘satellite show’, represented the first groundbreaking step for the development of contemporary art, encouraging free individual experimentation of style and theme.

Eleven years after the Salon des Refusés, several artists who we know as the Impressionists, (originally the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs “Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers”) - banded together and held their own exhibition, subverting the traditional salon altogether. This act of a submission-free show that was curated by the Impressionists, shifted the power away from the elite to control what was important art and what was not.

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