This is a series of short articles offering a simple yet detailed overview of art movements – an attempt to make art history more “digestible.” The series begins with a look at Impressionism.
In the previous parts of this series, I have highlighted the importance of the Paris Salons. These were the annual or biannual official exhibitions of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which monopolised the country’s artistic production and taste. These Salons were also sponsored by the French government. The first Salon was held in 1667. Between 1748 and 1890, it was arguably the greatest and most important regularly held art event of the Western world.
Artworks selected for these Salons were chosen by a jury. They were selected according to their abidance to the values of Classical Art. Because these values were championed by the academies of several countries of the Western World, art that represented these values is also commonly referred to as Academic Art.
However, we have also seen how by the mid-19th century, unrest was growing among artists whose works were regularly rejected. These were works by such revered names as Gustave Courbet, who led the Realist movement and whose 1855 case I examined in the previous part of this series.
The case of the 1863 Salon des Refusés is another important event worth mentioning, as it greatly contributed to the downfall of the Academy’s monopolisation of art production and taste. Simply put, this was an art exhibition that was held in Paris in 1863 and displayed paintings that had been rejected by the selection committee of the Paris Salon.
The case of the 1863 Salon des Refusés is another important event worth mentioning, as it greatly contributed to the downfall of the Academy’s monopolization of art production and taste. Simply put, this was an art exhibition that was held in Paris in 1863 and displayed paintings that had been rejected by the selection committee of the Paris Salon.
Napoleon III, who ruled France at the time, used his influence to make sure this exhibition was held. While his taste in art was traditional, the growing unrest of the artist whose works had constantly been rejected by the official selection committees had gathered enough support from the public.
The growing unrest of the artists whose works had constantly been rejected by the official selection committees of the saloons began to garner public support. This was enough for Napoleon III to prompt the Academy to organize the Salons des Refusés, despite the fact that the Emperor’s tastes in art were quite traditional.
The Salons des Refusés translates to English as the Exhibition of Rejected Art. Despite this, it featured 780 works, several of which were made by artists whose names are celebrated to this day, including Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, Johan Jongkind and Henri Fantin-Latour.
The most famous of the works exhibited at the Salon des Refusés was Manet’s then-scandalous The Luncheon on the Grass. The painting features a nude woman casually launching with two fully dressed men.
At the time, this work caused much controversy and received mixed reviews. Émile Zola, on the other hand, defined it as the greatest work Manet had ever made. The painting continues to yield a variety of responses to this day, as well as a variety of interpretations.
The response that The Luncheon on the Grass garnered at the time is emblematic of the response the exhibition received as a whole. The Academy and critics continued to criticise and even deride their works, arguably in order to protect the artistic values they championed. Yet, the great critical attention it received helped legitimise these works and the artistic values they represented.
Furthermore, the exhibition was hugely popular with the public. According to several sources, more than a thousand visitors a day visited the Salon des Refusés. This was further proof that both people and artists were hungry for change, and Impressionism would come to embody the change that was just around the corner.