the Salon


The Salon

des Beaux-Arts in Paris

1667 – 1879



The 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions were independent of the Paris Salon. The Paris Salon was the most important exhibition in those days. In most books and on most websites it is suggested that the ‘impressionists’ were opposed to the Salon. That there were mainly Venusses and other Classical paintings exhibited. Wikipedia writes ’the Impressionist painters, whose works were usually rejected, or poorly placed if accepted’ (iR3). And that the Impressionists were laughed at. But is this true? My impression is, that it is better to speak of an ambivalent relationship of the Impressionists with the Salon.

The Salon, general information:
The Salon was first held in the ‘Salon Carré’ of the Royal palace the Louvre in 1667 (R88II,p387;R3,p56). The Louvre had been a royal palace since 1190 and through the ages has been extended (R97,pvi). Untill 1791 only students and professors of the ‘Académie royale de peinture et sculpture‘ exhitibed at the Salon (R88II,p387;R5,p20). From 1737 till 1750 the Salon was organised on a more irregular bases, from 1751-1795 on a biennial basis, from 1796 till 1831 on an irregular basis, from 1833 till 1850 yearly, from 1852 till 1861 biennial and 1863 onwards yearly. 1848 was the last year that the Salon was held in the Louvre (iR1;R97,p2). 1855 onwards the Salon was held in the ‘Palais de l’Industrie’ at the Champs Elysées, also mentioned as the ‘Palais des Champs-Élysées’ (iR1;R5,p25).
The Salon in the 1870s was organised by the ‘Ministère de l’Instruction publique, (des Cultes) et des Beaux-Arts. Direction des Beaux-Arts.’ (Eng.: Ministry of Public Instruction, Cults and Fine Arts. Direction of the Fine Arts.; iR1). Exhibiting ‘artworks of painting, sculpture, architecture, engraving and lithography of living artists’ (iR1).
The Salon was the most important exhibition in France in the 19th century. It was the place to acquire recognition, where art-critics might review your work. It was the place to find private buyers. It was the place that the French state made its purchases. After success at the Salon an artist would more easily receive private and public commissions. (R3,p56;R5,p20/21;R1,p79)
The Salon mostly started in May and lasted 6 weeks (iR1;R88II,p396;R5,p20).


The Salon was a large exhibition:
The Salon was a very large exhibition. At the Salons of 1874-1886 there was an average of 3468 partakers and 5033 exhibited works. Varying from 2157 partakers with 4874 works in 1874 and 3701 partakers with 7339 works in 1880 (with the start of the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français). (iR1) Note: in total from 1874-1886 there were about 2000 art-works exhibited at the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions. In 1874 there were 24 rooms in which the art-works were exhibited. Also the amount of visitors was very high. In 1875 on the sunday when there was free entrance there had been 30.000 visitors and the other days about 8 à 10.000 (R88II,p396). In 1876 there was a total of 518.892 visitors, including 333.892 with a free admision on sundays and Thursdays (R231/1878;R5,p21).
In many Salons the paintings were hung in several rows above each others from the floor up to the ceiling. Often artists complained they were hung badly. In 1859 Diaz complained about backlighting which does not do justice to the colour range (R290,p208). In 1874 the paintings were hung in two rows (R88II,p396).

Were there mainly classical paintings exhibited at the Salon?
The art-critic Théophile Gautier surnamed the Salon of 1863 as a ‘Salon des Vénus’. This is affirmed by the caricature of Daumier on the Salon of 1864: ‘More Venuses! Always Venuses!’ This suggests that the Salon hang full of mythological themes, added by other Neo-Classical historical and religious themes. But when we look at the titles of the paintings exhibited at the Salon, we discern many landscapes, maybe even more than Neo-Classical titles (iR1). Between 1830 and 1848 1/3 of the exhibited works were landscapes (R290,p54+65). These titles of landscapes often render an indication of the location and more than once also of atmospheric conditions, like ‘un soir d’automne’, ‘effet de matin’ and ’temps gris’. This suggests a painting style with (Pre-)Impressionist tendencies. (iR1)


The Jury of the Salon:
Not everybody was accepted to exhibit at the Salon. Since 1798 there was a jury nominated by the government, that would judge the admissions of the artists. Since 1831 the jury was dominated by members of the ‘Institut’. Except in 1848, when there was no jury and 1849 when it was elected by the artists. From 1850 till 1857 part of the jury stayed elected by the artists. In 1857 under Van Nieuwerkerke the Institut became dominant again in the nomination of the jury (R88II,p387). In 1866 the number of members of the jury was raised to 24 (in stead of 12). 6 were nominated by the state and 18 by a selection of the artists (that earlier received medals). In 1867 and 1869 2/3 of the jury was chosen by all the artists. In 1872 only awarded artists had the right to vote for the jury. In 1874 3/4 of the jury was appointed by artists that had received medals and decorations and by members of the Institut. In 1876 only 246 artists had a right to vote for 15 members of the jury. The government appointed 5 members. In 1879 (and 1880) 10 members judged the historical and figure paintings and 5 members the landscapes and still-lifes. (R88;R3,p56)
Some artists didn’t have to be judged by the jury, they were exempted (‘exempté‘) or they exhibited ‘hors concours‘, which ment they also didn’t join the competition (iR1;R88II,p397;R3,p56). Since 1803 these were also the Académiens (members of the ‘Institut’), artists that had received medals and decorations.
Since 1863/01/25 the number of admissions was reduced to 3 art-works (R116I,p114;R88;iR5). Later on it was limited to 2 art-works and in 1874 increased again to 3. (R88)

The members of the jury of the Salon:
Regular members of the Jury were: Baudry, Bonnat, (Jules) Breton, Cabanel, Fromentin, Henner (since 1874),  (J.-P.) Laurens (since 1874), Lefebvre (since 1874), Robert-Fleury and Vollon (since 1870). Less regular members were: Bernier, Bida, Bouguereau, (Gustave) Boulanger, Busson, Cabat, Cogniet, Corot, Daubigny, Delaunay, Dubufe, Français, Gérome, Gleyre, Hébert, Meissonier, Pils. In 1881 many new commers were part of the jury. I like to emphasize that also Barbizon painters and other landscapists had been part of the jury and not only Neo-Classical painters. (R88II,p386-403;R1,p80+139+169+194;R3,p694;R5,p63;R22I,p77+80;R31,p295;R287,p413+417+419;R290,p132)


The Salon des Refusés:
In some years the artists who had been refused by the jury had the oppertunity to exhibit  their rejected works in a Salon des Refusés. This was held in 1863, 1864, 1873, 1875 and 1886. See the link for more info.

Prices at the Salon:
Since 1791 at every Salon medals were awarded by an awards jury. See link to the page Awards for more info.

The Salon de la Société des Artistes Français (=SdAF):
Since 1880 the Salon was organised by the ‘Société des Artistes Français’, see link for more info.


Were the Impressionists mostly rejected by the Salon Jury?
Many participants of the ‘impressionist’ expositions (regularly) exhibited at the Salon, before and after they exhibited with the ‘impressionists’. When we look at the main ‘impressionists’ we see that Degas and Morisot every year they submitted they also were accepted. Others some years were accepted and some years rejected before 1874: Pissarro 7x accepted versa 3x rejected, Renoir 5x vs 4x, Monet and Sisley 3x vs 3x. Cézanne and Guillaumin always were rejected.


Were the Impressionists only ignored or laughed at?
It is true that the key Impressionists never received medals at the Salon. Sometimes there works were hung in a high place, like Monet (in 1880). But sometimes they received positive reviews, like Monet in 1865 and 1866 and Renoir in 1868 (R5)

The Impressionists had an ambivalent relation to the Salon:
As already mentioned, many participants of the ‘impressionist’ expositions exhibited again (regularly) at the Salon after they had joined the ‘impressionists’. But also many of the key Impressionists after 1877 submitted again to the Salon. Sisley did so, but never was accepted again. He motivated his choice in a letter to Duret (1879/03/14) ‘we still have a long way to go before we can afford to disregard the prestige gained from official exhibitions’ (R166,p267; R7,p149). Cézanne only was excepted in 1882. Monet only submitted in 1880 when one work was accepted and one rejected. Renoir had more success, he exhibited at the Salon of 1879 + 80 + 81 + 82 + 83 + 90. Renoir motivated his submissions to the Salon in a letter to Durand-Ruel (March 1881): “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 is entirely a business matter.” (R2,p308;R5,p20/1). It was Degas who was most opposed to the Salon. In 1878 he introduced the new condition that an artist intending to exhibit with the ‘impressionist’ group should not submit anything to the Salon (R2,p244). Still, Degas continued to invite artists at the ‘impressionist’ expositions, who had been succesfull at the Salon, like Jean François Raffaëlli.


My main sources are Monneret (1978-81=R88II,p386-403), Cuzin (1982=R97), Brettell (1987=R210). Other sources are Rewald (1973=R1), Walther (2013=R3), Denvir (1993=R5). See the link for other general References (=Rx) and to the internet references (=iRx). See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.


Recommanded citation: “Meta-Impressionism: The Salon. Last modified 2022/11/09.