Paris’s Salon des Refusés Opens Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Salon des Refusés offered exposure to those artists rejected by the official Salon jury of 1863. The exhibition drew large crowds and more ridicule than praise. Nevertheless, it proved to be a key event in the development of modern art, as it further weakened academic domination over public exhibitions and emboldened the avant-garde in France.

Summary of Event

The Salon des Refusés was an exhibition held in Paris in 1863 by order of Emperor Napoleon III to exhibit those works refused by the selection committee of that year’s official Paris Salon. A temporary display of art held at that time at the Palais de l’Industrie on the Champs Élysées, the Salon played a crucial role in the French art world. It had served as the official exhibition of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture since its inauguration in 1667 and later served the École des Beaux-Arts in the same way. Paris;Salon des Refusés Salon des Refusés Art;Paris Salon des Refusés Art;French Manet, Édouard [kw]Paris’s Salon des Refusés Opens (May 15, 1863) [kw]Salon des Refusés Opens, Paris’s (May 15, 1863) [kw]Refusés Opens, Paris’s Salon des (May 15, 1863) [kw]Opens, Paris’s Salon des Refusés (May 15, 1863) Paris;Salon des Refusés Salon des Refusés Art;Paris Salon des Refusés Art;French Manet, Édouard [g]France;May 15, 1863: Paris’s Salon des Refusés Opens[3660] [c]Art;May 15, 1863: Paris’s Salon des Refusés Opens[3660] [c]Crime and scandals;May 15, 1863: Paris’s Salon des Refusés Opens[3660] [c]Fashion and design;May 15, 1863: Paris’s Salon des Refusés Opens[3660] Nieuwerkerke, comte de Whistler, James McNeill Cabanel, Alexandre Baudry, Paul

The Salon grew steadily in importance as the primary means for exhibiting and evaluating contemporary art, with increasing numbers of submissions, reviewers, and visitors, all of which peaked during the French Second Empire France;Second Empire (1852-1870). Independent and up-and-coming artists were routinely excluded from the Salon, which hampered their success, since there were few other outlets in which it was possible to achieve the recognition and critical acclaim necessary to attract collectors or to win awards and commissions. Indeed, apart from the Salon, which was widely covered in the press and drew tens of thousands of visitors each week, artists had few ways to promote their careers. Moreover, patrons often would not buy works that had been refused by the Salon’s jury, and they demanded refunds if purchased works were later rejected by the jury.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the Salon was drawing great criticism from artists whose exclusion led them to challenge the jury as conservative, closed, and elitist. It was also highly politicized, as jury members were either government appointees or artists who had exhibited in previous years. The jury of 1863 was particularly criticized. It was seen as exceptionally harsh, accepting works from only one-third of the artists who made submissions. More than half of the five thousand presented works were rejected, eliciting a furious uproar and calls for justice. Under great pressure, Napoleon III Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Salon des Refusés[Salon des Refusés] ordered an exhibition of the refused works—appropriately named the Salon des Refusés, or salon of the refused—to open next to the official, juried Salon.

The emperor declared that the public should be able to judge the art’s merit for themselves. He likely authorized the exhibition less out of interest in contemporary art than with an eye toward improving his regime’s reputation as one tolerant of liberalism. The jury, however, saw the measure as a threat to its authority and sought to limit the effects of the exhibition with hopes for its failure. Thus, the conservative comte de Nieuwerkerke Nieuwerkerke, comte de gave artists the option of withdrawing their works from the show.

Fearful that their work would be displayed alongside vastly inferior paintings and fearing as well possible reprisals from future juries, more than six hundred artists withdrew their works from the Salon des Refusés, much to the dismay of those artists and critics who eagerly supported the exhibition. Nevertheless, several hundred artists did show their works. These artists formed a committee to oversee the exhibition and publish a catalog, which, as its preface explained, was incomplete due to time constraints, listing only 781 of the estimated 1,500 works shown.

On May 15, 1863, two weeks after the official Salon opened its doors only a few feet away, this Salon des Refusés began drawing large and curious crowds, as many as four thousand on Sundays, when admission was free. While the rejected group did include works of mediocre quality, artists who had been admitted by the jury in the past were also excluded, raising the suspicion that the jury’s decisions were capricious and arbitrary. Moreover, the jury punished any artist who seemed to scoff at tradition. The jury, whose conservative tastes derived from the aesthetic ideals and traditions of the academy, disapproved of contemporary subjects and loose, sketchy brushwork. History painting—whether political, biblical, or mythological—remained the standard-bearer of the academy, and jury members expected not only high moral themes but also exquisite, perfected finish. With these standards in mind, many visitors ridiculed what they saw—but others recognized examples of new and exciting art.

Édouard Manet.

The two artists exhibiting in the Salon des Refusés to receive the most personal, if often negative, attention were Édouard Manet and James McNeill Whistler. Whistler, James McNeill Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863; luncheon on the grass) was criticized both for its subversive presentation of classical subject matter and its loose, sketchy technique. In the painting, two men and two women appeared in a lush, green landscape. Neither allegorical nor mythological, Manet’s women were clearly contemporary. One was dressed only in a slip; the other was deliberately naked, as evidenced by her fashionable clothing piled in the foreground. Perhaps most scandalous of all, the naked woman looked directly out of the painting and into the eye of a spectator.

Manet had borrowed the theme of his painting from Concert champêtre (c. 1508; commonly attributed to Giorgione or Titian) and the figural arrangement from a print based on Raphael’s lost Judgment of Paris (c. 1514). Despite these borrowings from the early sixteenth century, his painting depicted a contemporary, nineteenth century picnic. Interestingly, it was Manet’s drawing, composition, and handling of paint, even more than his shocking treatment of the subject, that drew the harshest criticism. Indeed, even the favorites of the official Salon, depictions of Venus by the popular painters Alexandre Cabanel Cabanel, Alexandre and Paul Baudry Baudry, Paul , were condemned by some as vulgar and immoral, but most praised these nudes for their form, color, and finish.

Whistler’s painting, Symphony in White, no. 1: The White Girl (1861-1862) hung prominently near the exhibition’s entrance, attracting attention from both visitors and critics. Most reviewers agreed that Whistler’s work was the gem of the Salon des Refusés, a triumph for the artist whose painting had been rejected for the 1862 exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Despite its popularity, the picture created controversy, as critics speculated widely about its meaning, intent upon finding a narrative explanation for this mysterious vision of a dreamy-eyed girl dressed in a loose white gown. Some believed the painting was inspired by Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White (1860), but Whistler Whistler, James McNeill denied any such origins for the work.

The Salon des Refusés inspired further individualism among artists, who felt greater freedom from the rules and strictures of the academy and less stigma in their entrepreneurial pursuit of clients and patrons. The exhibition galvanized younger artists, who became even more determined to create jury-free exhibitions. While Manet did not receive the critical acclaim he so desired, he was adopted by younger independents as their unofficial leader. Thus, more by happenstance than by design, the Salon des Refusés proved to be fundamental to the development of avant-garde art in nineteenth century France: Independent artists, dealers, and exhibitions finally broke the power of the official Salon, opening the French art world to those outside the establishment.


Even though Napoleon III Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Salon des Refusés[Salon des Refusés] refused to grant additional exhibitions for rejected artists, the Salon des Refusés had great impact. Despite a generally unfavorable press, the Salon des Refusés helped undermine the prestige of the official Salon, as artists began to organize their own exhibitions with greater frequency, no longer feeling reliant on the official Salon for exposure. A notable example was an exhibition of 1874 that is retrospectively thought of as the first Impressionist Impressionism;first exhibition exhibition, although that term was coined only in response to the show. That exhibition would be followed by seven more through 1886 that would transform fundamentally the dominant aesthetics of painting. Many regard 1863 as a turning point in the history of modern art and cite the Salon des Refusés as the beginning of truly modern painting.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boime, Albert. “The Salon des Refusés and the Evolution of Modern Art.” Art Quarterly 32 (Winter, 1969): 411-426. First in-depth study to isolate the importance to history of the Salon des Refusés and link it to the development of modernism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Curry, David Park. James McNeill Whistler: Uneasy Pieces. New York: Quantuck Lane Press, 2004. Eight essays analyze Whistler’s art, describing its influences and impact, and how Whistler combined his aesthetics with a flair for showmanship.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunlop, Ian. “The Salon des Refusés (1863).” In The Shock of the New: Seven Historic Exhibitions of Modern Art. New York: American Heritage Press, 1972. Extensive history of the 1863 Salon des Refusés with useful translations of contemporary French criticism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hauptman, William. “Juries, Protests, and Counter-Exhibitions Before 1850.” The Art Bulletin 67 (March, 1985): 95-109. Traces the history of counter-exhibitions to argue that the 1863 Salon des Refusés was the culmination of an ongoing conflict between independent artists and the authority of the jury.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Krell, Alan. “Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refusés: A Re-appraisal.” The Art Bulletin 65 (June, 1983): 316-320. Reviews critical responses to Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe to show that many were, in fact, favorable.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCauley, Anne. “Sex and the Salon: Defining Art and Immorality.” In Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Explores the critical climate of both the official 1863 Salon and the Salon des Refusés to understand responses to Manet’s painting. Argues that many critics sympathetic to the refusés had political or ideological agendas of their own.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reff, Theodore, ed. “Catalogue des ouvrages refusés par le jury de 1863.” In Salons of the Refusés. New York: Garland, 1981. Facsimile of the 1863 Salon des Refusés catalog and supplement. Artists are listed alphabetically by medium, totaling 781 entries. An invaluable primary source.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rewald, John. “1862-1863: Gleyre’s Studio, the Salon des Refusés, and the Reorganization of the École des Beaux-Arts.” In The History of Impressionism. 4th rev. ed. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973. Discusses the history and impact of the Salon des Refusés, as well as the Parisian art scene in 1862 and 1863.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spencer, Robin. “Whistler’s The White Girl: Painting, Poetry and Meaning.” The Burlington Magazine 140 (May, 1998): 300-311. Explores the creation, exhibition, controversy, and renaming of Whistler’s painting.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tucker, Paul Hayes. “Making Sense of Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.” In Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Introduces Manet’s controversial painting, discussing it both in itself and in relation to the Salon des Refusés.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wildenstein, Daniel. “Le Salon des Refusés de 1863: Catalogue et documents.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 66 (September, 1965): 125-152. Brief discussion of the exhibition. Includes a reproduction of the 1863 catalog, a sample rejection letter, and caricatures from the contemporary press. In French.

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