Revival of the Paris Salon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After two failed attempts to revive the official annual exhibition of art by members of the French Royal Academy earlier in the century, the salon was finally reestablished as a regular event in 1737. This institutionalization of art’s public exposure created a cogent and aesthetically reactive public in Paris and a critical literature at once erudite and crudely popular that shaped both taste and art.

Summary of Event

The founding of the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture) Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, France by Charles Le Brun Le Brun, Charles in 1648 established an organization of painters and sculptors that was independent of the Parisian guild systems of the “masters.” It was also independent of the market system that had been developing over much of the seventeenth century. Academicians represented a self-selecting group of the “best of the best,” from among whom the king could choose his artistic servants. [kw]Revival of the Paris Salon (1737) [kw]Salon, Revival of the Paris (1737) [kw]Paris Salon, Revival of the (1737) Paris;art salons Art salons, Paris [g]France;1737: Revival of the Paris Salon[0910] [c]Art;1737: Revival of the Paris Salon[0910] [c]Organizations and institutions;1737: Revival of the Paris Salon[0910] Pardaillan, Louis-Antoine de Orry, Philibert

Upon selection by the Royal Academy, a new member presented the group with a morceau de réception, Morceau de réception (“masterpiece”) an example of the artist’s best work, roughly equivalent to the “masterpiece” required by the guilds for enrollment. Initially, the academy permanently displayed these pieces in its quarters in Paris, creating a gallery of masterpieces. In 1663, though, the academy agreed that each member would bring to each annual meeting in July an example of his latest work to serve as decoration for its space in the Louvre. This display in the Louvre was plagued by a rocky start, and in 1666, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, King Louis XIV’s controller general of finances and patron of the academy, decided to make the display a biannual event that would be held during Holy Week (the week preceding Easter).

The 1667 exhibition, which opened on April 23, displayed representative works by most members and is considered by many critics in retrospect to have been the first salon, a term deriving from the room in which the works would later be displayed. From 1669, display space was provided in the Palais Royale—formerly the regent’s residence in Paris—and the courtyard of the Palais Richelieu. The practice flourished until after the 1673 display, after which only weak attempts were made to remount exhibitions in 1675 and 1680.

The Louvre’s Galérie d’Apollon was the site of an artistic competition that helped spur the revival of the Paris Salon.

(Geo. L. Shuman and Co.)

In 1699, the academy’s president, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Hardouin-Mansart, Jean convinced Louis XIV to revive the exhibition and to hold it in the Louvre, Louvre Palace, Paris in the 660-foot-long Grande Galérie. This exhibition was followed by smaller versions in 1704, on the occasion of the birth of the royal duke of Brittany, and in 1725. In the latter year, the term salon was first used for the rather minor ten-day public exhibition, which was held in the Louvre’s huge, boxlike Salon Carré beginning on the feast day of Saint Louis (August 25). None of these three exhibitions reestablished the tradition of regular displays of the academicians’ art.

In early eighteenth century Paris, an increasingly literate urban public Public consumption of art Art;public consumption of was exposed to paintings by contemporary French and other artists in a number of venues. Painters had long displayed smaller works in prevailing styles for public consumption at the Saint-Germain Fair. In late spring of each year, Parisian Catholics celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi with plays and processions. These terminated in large and elaborate altars, which patrons, dealers, and sometimes artists decorated with paintings. Though the displays lasted only one or two days, the altars at Pont Neuf and the Place Dauphine evolved into major venues by the mid-1730’s.

A third, less accessible display was of the collection amassed by the regent and hung in the Palais Royale beginning in 1727. In the same year, the duc d’Antin, Louis-Antoine de Pardaillan Pardaillan, Louis-Antoine de , director general of the king’s works (the royal buildings and all art displayed therein), established a competition Art;competitions among the academy’s top twelve painters. Each artist’s roughly six- by four-foot canvas was hung in the Louvre’s Galérie d’Apollon, and the public was invited to view the collection.

In each of these four cases—the Saint-Germain Fair, the feast of Corpus Christi, the display at the Palais Royale, and the competition at the Galérie d’Apollon—the purpose of the exhibition was connected directly to the general public. Art;public exhibitions Together, they signaled a shift away from the traditional stranglehold on the finest art and artists by the aristocracy and the Church. This trend culminated in the revival in 1737 of the Louvre Salon, held once more in the Salon Carré.

When the duc d’Antin died in 1736, he was replaced as director general of the king’s works by Philibert Orry, comte de Vignory and controller general of finances. Orry immediately sought to revive the 1725 salon, at least in part as a way of making the work of the academicians accountable to a broader public. He announced this decision in an article in the official newspaper Mercure de France, adding that these artists needed to submit themselves to informed persons’ judgment if they were truly to deserve their high status and recognition. It was no longer enough to be accepted by one’s professional peers: Orry believed that truly great art needed to be declared so by a scrutinizing public with developed aesthetic tastes. Aesthetics;and French salons[French salons] Only in this way would the truly talented be discernible from those whose fame was falsely acquired and ill deserved.

Following precedent, the exhibition opened on August 25, Saint Louis’s Day, but this time it covered every square foot of the salon’s acre of display area, as well as the stairway that led to it, from eye-level up to the ceiling. Small works were ranged along the lower register, while larger and thus more visible works were hanged higher up. All the genres and styles represented in the academy appeared, from still lifes to heroic mythological and historical narratives. As in 1704 and 1725, exhibition booklets naming and describing the works were sold to many members of the huge crowds that flocked to the gallery day after day. Since admission was free, people from all social and economic classes could and did attend, as contemporary writers attest. Indeed, educating the public at large through the capital’s very best art was a large part of Orry’s plan in mounting the salon. It was an enormous success and the talk of the town.


Repeated annually or biannually through the nineteenth century, the salon became a much anticipated event of the summer season and continued to evolve over the next 150 years. The paintings to be hanged in each salon were chosen by jury beginning in 1748. The salon came to play an enormous role in the development of an aesthetically aware general public and of a very public and widely ranging art criticism, Art criticism as well as in reshaping French academic art in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In general, it made the artistic community of the Royal Academy for the first time responsible to an increasingly sophisticated public. This influence was mediated by the wide range of critics who wrote about each salon, ridiculing as readily as praising, voicing concerns that were genuinely new to Western art. In the general press and in special pamphlets and tracts, more or less knowledgeable critics shaped the opinions of the aristocrats and the shoemakers alike.

Early in the salon’s revival, the painters produced art as they and their fellows within the academy saw fit, but as the century progressed, they paid ever more attention to the critical apparatus spawned by each salon, knowing that their reputation and commercial viability hanged in that new and fickle balance. To remain fashionable, patrons among the wealthy and noble also had to pay attention to the trends reflected both in the changing constellations of artistic works themselves and in the writings of various critics that, taken together, sometimes embodied popular consensus and at other times constituted a cacophony of disparate tastes and opinions.

As Orry and others recognized, this process would not automatically create a clearly identifiable public taste, such as had been found in classical Athens or early Renaissance Florence. Rather, the salons would evoke—from published criticism and other public judgments—individual aesthetic responses. Of course, from the artists’ point of view this was a very risky situation: If the academy could not successfully educate and shape the public palate, popular pressure could shift or even lower the quality of artistic production. Only time would tell which of these results was most likely.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crow, Thomas E. Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. Though a bit dated in some of its judgments, this remains the finest work in English on the salon and its role in developing an audience for and literature on painting in Paris and in affecting the stylistic trends of the mid-eighteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fried, Michael. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Looks beyond 1737 to the evolution of the relation of viewer and painting and the changes that reflected the new and varied intimacy created by the institution of the public salon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levey, Michael. Painting and Sculpture in France, 1700-1789. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. Focuses on the artists themselves rather than the salon or Royal Academy.

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