Salon d'Automne
Autumn Arts Exhibition, Paris: Fauves 1905, Cezanne Retrospective 1907.

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Salon d'Automne, Paris (Founded 1903)


What is the Salon d'Automne?
Origins and History
The Fauves at the Salon d'Automne (1905)
Gauguin Retrospective (1906)
Cezanne Retrospective (1907)

For information about the official Salon de Paris (1667-present),
please see: Paris Salon.


What is the Salon d'Automne?

The Autumn Salon is an annual art exhibition, held in Paris. Established in 1903, it became an important forum for experimental modern art during the 1900s: in effect, an alternative exhibition platform for 20th century painters and modernist 20th century sculptors who had been rejected by the official Salon (run by the conservative Societe des Artistes Francais), but who were unwilling to show at the permissive Salon des Independants. The Salon d'Automne was more progressive in its selection criteria than the official Salon, in that it accepted a wider variety of modern paintings and more abstract sculpture, but at least it retained a vetting or selection procedure, unlike the Salon des Independants which allowed any artist to exhibit if they paid a fee. (Compare the Salon des Refuses held in 1863, 1874, 1875 and 1886.) It was called the Autumn Salon because it was held during the autumn to avoid clashing with the other Salons that operated during the spring and summer. Although still a world-class art show, its most famous exhibitions took place during its first few years. These were the sensational 1905 Salon d'Automne that introduced Fauvism, and the seminal 1907 retrospective for Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). It also staged an important retrospective for Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) in 1906. Due to the weakness of its rivals, the Salon d'Automne rapidly became the most progressive, yet soundest showcase for modern artists of the day, and was instrumental in establishing the international reputations of painters such as Cezanne and Gauguin, as well as sculptors like Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967). The Salon continues to this day.



Origins and History

The Autumn Salon opened on October 31, 1903, at the Petit-Palais, under the auspices of the Societe du Salon d'Automne, founded by a group that included the Impressionist painter Renoir (1841-1919), the architect Frantz Jourdain (1847-1935), Symbolist novelist and critic Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) and the expressionist painter Georges Rouault (1871-1958).

Any member could submit a work for the annual show, and the selection jury was made up of ordinary members of the Society chosen by the drawing of straws. The Salon's initial selection of painting was decided by Andre Derain, Georges Rouault and Albert Marquet and Angele Delasalle, among others, while Jacques Villon was a leading organizer of the drawing section. In contrast to the official salon, decorative art was also exhibited, and was accorded the same respect as fine art, in particular the latest Art Nouveau designs. During the 1900s, the Salon d'Automne showcased avant-garde art from all the leading modern art movements, such as Fauvism (1905-7), Cubism (1908 onwards), Futurism (1909 onwards) and Expressionism. In addition to those artists already mentioned, the Salon featured works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963), as well as several Impressionist painters. Furthermore, during the period 1911-14, the Autumn Salon showcased a number of progressive Russian painters and sculptors, including Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalia Goncharova (1881-1964).

After the end of World War I, the Salon d'Automne was dominated by the paintings of the Montparnasse school of the Ecole de Paris, including works by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Modigliani (1884-1920), and others. Sculptors included Brancusi, Zadkine, Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and Charles Despiau (1874-1946). Decorative or applied art was represented by the jewellery and Art Nouveau glass of Rene Lalique (1860-1945), as well as architectural design by Le Corbusier (1887-1965).


The Fauves at the Salon d'Automne in 1905

The Autumn Salon of 1905 proved to be a key event in the history of art, on a par with the first exhibition of Impressionism (April 1874) at 35 Boulevard des Capucines. It featured works by a group of Paris-based painters, centred around Henri Matisse, who shared an exhilarating passion for using raw and pure colour pigments, with which they decorated their primitive-style paintings. Such was the wild garishness of their pictures, that on seeing a Renaissance-style statue among them, the eminent art critic Louis Vauxcelles was moved to comment "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" ("Donatello among the wild beasts"). Thus was Fauvism born, the first real revolutionary art 'movement' of the 20th century and the first public display of expressionism in France. Fauvist painters who exhibited in the central room (Salle VII) of the Salon d’Automne, included: Matisse, Rouault, Andre Derain (1880-1954), Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), Albert Marquet (1875-1947), Othon Friesz (1879-1949), the Dutchman Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), Jean Puy (1876-1960), Henri-Charles Manguin (1874-1949), Charles Camoin (1879-1964), and Louis Valtat (1869-1952).

In fact, controversy surrounded Salle VIII even before the show started. The Fauve paintings even upset the Salon's liberal-minded jury. However, Georges Desvallieres (1861-1950), the head of the hanging committee, was an old ally of Matisse, and ensured not only that the group's entries were included, but that they were displayed together in the same room, which afforded them maximum impact.

The Fauves' uncontrolled use of colour was received with outrage and incomprehension, by public and art critics alike. One painting that was singled out for especially vitriolic attack, was Matisse's portrait of his 33-year old wife, Amelie Parayre, called simply La Femme au chapeau, or Woman with a Hat. In typical Fauvist style, her face was blotched with green, pink and yellow under brick-red and cobalt-blue coloured hair, upon which she wore a huge purple hat with multi-coloured feathers. But, not all art collectors formed a negative opinion of the new style: Gertrude and Leo Stein purchased Woman with a Hat, while a number of equally perceptive dealers invested heavily in the new idiom, and made a fortune as the expressionist movement took off. A second Fauvist exhibition took place at the Salon d'Automne, the following year. For more on the contribution of Fauvism to the expressionist art of the early 20th century, see: History of Expressionism (1880-1930).

NOTE: The 1905 Salon d'Automne was also famous for its major retrospective on the 19th century neoclassical painter J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867). To see Ingres' impact on 20th century painting, please see: The Classical Revival in modern art (c.1900-30).

Gauguin Retrospective: Salon d'Automne (1906)

In 1906, the Autumn Salon played host to one of the first major posthumous exhibitions for Paul Gauguin, the symbolist painter and inventor of Synthetism - a decorative type of painting which combined the emotional use of colour with symbolic and mythological motifs. Consisting of almost 230 works by the artist, the show featured 128 paintings, 88 drawings, 12 wood carvings, 14 ceramics and 11 woodcuts. The event exerted a huge impact on the French avant-garde - especially on Pablo Picasso. The Spaniard responded with a series of oversized female nudes and monumental sculptural figures in Gauguin-esque style, as well as a new form of primitive art (inspired perhaps by Gauguin's disturbing statuette Oviri, 1895, Musee d'Orsay), which led directly to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).

Cezanne Retrospective: Salon d'Automne (1907)

The Provence-born painter Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) worked in comparative obscurity until the age of 56, when he was given a solo show in Paris by Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), in 1895. Even then, it had little impact on the general public, although it impressed numerous contemporaries, and by 1900 (partly due to the fact that his work was so rarely seen) he had acquired a legendary reputation among members of the Parisian avant-garde - notably Picasso, who used Cezanne's style of Post-Impressionist painting as a key building block in the development of Cubism. Cezanne's sudden death in 1906 came as a major shock, and the following year a major retrospective of his art was held at the Salon d'Automne (1907).

The exhibition (along with an earlier Cezanne show at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune) proved to be a seminal event and a huge inspiration to many painters of the new generation. It featured over fifty of the artist's paintings, including The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1898-1906, National Gallery, London; Philadelphia Art Museum; Barnes Foundation, PA), whose solid forms and architectural structure went on to inspire the Analytical Cubism of Picasso and Braque. The English sculptor Henry Moore saw the work in 1922 when it was still part of the collection of Auguste Pellerin in Paris. "If you asked me to name the ten most intense moments of visual emotion in my life, that would be one of them". A number of Cezanne's late works in particular anticipated a great deal of modern painting, a view confirmed by major exhibitions devoted to him in New York and Houston, (1977–8), in Paris in 1978, and the record-breaking show at the Tate Gallery in London, in 1996, seen by 408,000 visitors.

At any rate, the 1907 Salon d'Automne retrospective of Cezanne established him as one of the best artists of the modern era, and a major force in French painting of the late 19th century.

• For dates and events in the evolution of French painting, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For more about 20th century painting in Paris, see: Homepage.

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