"Numerous complaints have come to the Emperor on the subject of the works of art which were refused by the jury of the Exposition" - The first Salon des Refusés

"The leader, the hero of Realism, is now Manet. His partisans are frenzied and his detractors timid. It would seem that, if one refuses to accept Manet, one must fear being taken for a philistine, a bourgeois, a Joseph Prudhomme, an idiot who cares for nothing but miniatures and painted porcelain to discover whether one has become obese or bald, incapable of understanding the audacities of youth." (Théophile Gautier)

15 May 1863: Today, 150 years ago, the first Salon des Refusés opened by order of Emperor Napoleon III at the Palais de l'Industrie in Paris.

Henri Fantin-Latour’s (another artist refused in 1863) “Homage to Delacroix“(1864) inspired by the group of avant-gardists that were not admitted to the official Salon. Delacroix (a regular in the Salon since 1835) himself is shown on the framed painting, standing is Whistler, Fantin-Latour sitting in the white shirt to his left, Courbet is standing second from left, and, standing under Delacroix’s gaze to the right is Manet. Sitting on the far right is Charles Baudelaire.

Obviously it was rumoured in the Spring of 1863 that the jury for admitting paintings to the official Paris Salon was to be especially strict. The Salon was the Western World’s most prestigious annual art exhibition, organised by the Académie des Beaux-Arts since 1725. An artist whose work was admitted into this illustrious display had either made his breakthrough or was already among the well-established Olympians of the art world.

Édouard Manet: "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" (1862 - 1863)

Vernissages of works of rejected artists had been organized since the 1830s, but since criticism of the jury’s choices seems to have been gone a bit out of hand, the French Emperor took notice and had a look at the works that were refused. Among them were Manet’s “le déjeuner sur l'herbe” Courbet’s “Return from the Conference” (lost since then, showing a group of drunken priests on a country road) and Whistler’s “White Girl” and probably a lot of trash as well.

James Whistler:
"Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl"
(1861 - 1862)

III then decided to host a separate exhibition, the so-called “Salon des Refusés”. Why he thus decided is not really clear. It might be that he wanted in a bout of liberality to give the artistic avant-garde a forum as well or, since the Académie des Beaux-Arts was a pure Parisian institution, it might be that he sought for a justification to nationalise it into a state school. Since the emperor uttered his abhorrence especially towards Manet’s “déjeuner”, there are grounds to suspect him of intentions to have public consent towards the judgement of the jury much along the lines of the motivation for the 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition in Munich.

The Salon de Refusés became a smashing success though, with attendances of more than 4.000 on a single day and was a milestone in establishing modern art movements and avant garde artist and “Salon de Refusés” became a winged word for similar events in the decades to come to this day.

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