Salon des Refusés

AIGA Salon des Refuses by Felix Sockwell

The Salon des Refusés, French for ‘exhibition of rejects,’ is generally an exhibition of works rejected by the jury of the official Paris Salon, but the term is most famously used to refer to the Salon des Refusés of 1863. During this time, Paris was a breeding ground for artists of all forms, poets, painters, and sculptors. Paris was the place to be and the capital of the art world.

Any artist who wanted to be recognized, at that time, was required to have exhibited in a Salon, or to have gone to school in France. Being accepted into these Salons was a matter of survival for some artists; reputations and careers could be started or broken, based solely upon acceptance into these exhibits. Today by extension, salon des refusés refers to any exhibition of works rejected from a juried art show.

As early as the 1830s, Paris art galleries had mounted small-scale, private exhibitions of works rejected by the Salon jurors. The glamorous event of 1863 was actually sponsored by the French government. In that year, artists protested the Salon jury’s rejection of more than 3,000 works, far more than usual. ‘Wishing to let the public judge the legitimacy of these complaints,’ said an official notice, Emperor Napoléon III decreed that the rejected artists could exhibit their works in an annex to the regular Salon.

Many critics and the public ridiculed the refusés, which included such now-famous paintings as Édouard Manet’s ‘Luncheon on the Grass’ and James McNeill Whistler’s ‘Girl in White.’ But the critical attention also legitimized the emerging avant-garde in painting. The Impressionists successfully exhibited their works outside the Salon beginning in 1874.

Subsequent Salons des Refusés were mounted in Paris in 1874, 1875, and 1886, by which time the popularity of the Paris Salon had declined for those who were more interested in Impressionism, this was not the case for the artist Manet who still wanted to be acclaimed by the original Salon, looking for permanence and nobility like many other traditionalists.

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