The Salon and the Impressionists
An ambivalent relation
The Paris Salon is considered as the most important place for an artists to find his buyers (R3,p56). The eight ‘impressionist’ expositions were independent of this Salon and meant to be an alternative way to find buyers. In most books and on most websites it is suggested that the ‘impressionists’ were opposed to the Salon. Our impression is that it is better to speak of an ambivalent relationship with the Salon. It is also suggested that the Salon only exhibited and awarded Neo-Classical paintings. But this isn’t true either. For the general references see .
The cycle of rejection, acception and honour:
In 1885 Duret published his ‘Critique de l’avant-garde’, a collection of his reviews on art. In one of his reviews (in 1865?) he described the cycle of rejection and honour. Everything that is new and original first is ridiculed, but later on people get used to it. Duret writes: Yesterday people scorned Courbet, but today they praise him. And today Manet is ridiculed, because his drawing is bad (something they said 30 years ago of Delacroix), because his work is not finished (yesterday they said this about Corot), because his models are ugly (something they still say about Millet). Duret predicts that later on Manet will be accepted, because the people get used to him, but by than another new painter will be ridiculed (R5,p145). And indeed in 1881 Manet received at the Salon a second-class medal and was admitted in the Legion d’Honneur (R3,p677). And indeed after Manet the Impressionists often were ridiculed and rejected, which stimulated them to organize their own expositions, see. And again in 1884 Seurat and others are rejected and established the Salon des Indépendants (R3,p696).
This cycle had taken place earlier as Duret suggested. In 1836 Rousseau was rejected by the Salon and would so again in 1837 and 38. After that he stopped submitting his paintings (until 1849; R59,p103). Dupré formally protested against this rejection, organised an association of ‘réfusés’ at his home, and also stopped submitting his paintings as did many of his colleagues . The organisation of an independent exhibition (in 1847) didn’t succeed (R59,p109). After the Februar Revolution in 1848 the Salon jury was abolished and Barbizon-painters like Corot, Daubigny and Troyon received prices (R59,p132/6). After this the Barbizon-painters, including Rousseau, received more prices, were several times member of the Salon-Jury and received high revenues for their paintings, see .
But it is not accurate to pretend that this cycle always starts with rejection or ends with acception. Two years before his rejection, that is in 1834, Rousseau was awarded with a third class medal (R59,p103). Already in 1824 the English landscapists Bonington and Constable were rewarded with a golden medal (and their works were quite new and original!). The Impressionists weren’t only rejected and ridiculed. In 1866 Monet and in 1868 Renoir were praised for their submitted paintings (R5,p39+48). In 1879 Renoir was highly praised for his Charpentier painting. But in 1894 their was a lot of resistance, headed by the conservative Gérôme, against accepting the Legacy of Caillebotte, with many impressionist paintings. At last in 1896 56% of the paintings were accepted to be hung in Musée du Luxembourg (R5,p197/8). This cycle of rejection and acception was also influenced by the circumstance that the government and the Jury was more conservative or progressive in the sense of opposing to avant-garde artists or sympathizing with them, see also .
The ambivalent relationship of the Impressionists:
All the Impressionists first tried to be accepted by the Salon. Sometimes they were rejected, sometimes they were accepted. When they were accepted sometimes they received praised, more often they were neglected or received scorn. So the Salon didn’t give them much success and most of all it stayed very uncertain if they were accepted. This stimulated them to organize their own expositions and in this sense they opposed to the Salon, see . It was Degas who invited artists that had earned reputations at the Salon (R2,p105), see also. On the other hand it was this same Degas who in 1878 introduced the rule that one who had submitted to the Salon, was not allowed to join the ‘impressionist’ exposition (R2,p244), thus pleading for a continued opposition to the Salon.
On the other hand Renoir and Sisley (in 1878) and Monet (in 1880) started submitting again to the Salon. As Sisley wrote in 1879: ‘It is true that our exhibitions have served to make us known… but I believe we must not isolate ourselves too long.’ (R2,p246). In 1881 Renoir wrote to Durand-Ruel (about his return to the Salon): ‘There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval. There are 80.000 who will not buy an inch of canvas if it is not in the Salon… My submitting to the Salon (again since 1878) is entirely a business matter.’ (R2,p308).