The day the Salon des Refusés sparked a historic shift for art

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Édouard Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe | Via wikimedia

May 15, On This Day

From rejects to icons

Beginning in 1667, the annual Paris Salon, sponsored by the French government and the Academy of Fine Arts, was a showcase of the best academic art. Its conservative views, however, led to some intrigue in the selection of artists and art, say historic reports, and they had a special disregard for the burgeoning Impressionism of the era.

In 1863 the Salon jury refused two thirds of the paintings presented, including the works of greats like Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and Johan Jongkind. The rejected artists and their friends protested, and the protests reached Emperor Napoleon III. The Emperor’s tastes in art were traditional, but he was also sensitive to public opinion.

The Palais de l’Industrie, where the event for the rejected paintings took place. Photo by Édouard Baldus. | Via wikimedia

And so began, on May 15, 1863, the Salon des Refusés, French for “exhibition of rejects”, an exhibition of works rejected by the jury.

Paul Cézanne
Camille Pissarro
James Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl | Via wikimedia

It featured the works of Paul Cézanne, Henri Fantin-Latour, James Whistler, Pissarro and Manet. The latter’s iconic Le déjeuner sur l’herbe in particular caused quite a scandal, as did the now famous Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl by Whistler.

Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe | Via wikimedia

Today by extension, salon des refusés refers to any exhibition of works rejected from a juried art show.