Salon des Independants
History of Jury-Free Art Exhibition at the Grand Palais Paris.

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Bathers at Asnieres (1884).
National Gallery, London.
By Georges Seurat, one of the founders
of the Salon des Independants.

Salon des Independants, Paris (1884 onwards)


What is the Salon des Independants?
Historical Background
Foundation and Development
Cubist Group Show (1911) in Salle 41
1912 Onwards

What is the Salon des Independants?

An important feature of modern French painting, the Salon des Independants is the annual art exhibition of the Societe des Artistes Independants, which has been held in Paris since 1884. Launched in opposition to the rigid submission policy of the official Salon - a monopolistic institution organized by the Societe des Artistes Francais - the Salon des Independants aimed to showcase the type of avant-garde art of which the official Salon disapproved. To ensure maximum accessibility for all forms of modern art, it had no selection jury and allowed any artist to exhibit upon payment of a fee. Founded by Georges Seurat (1859-1891), Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Paul Signac (1863-1935), Albert Dubois-Pillet (1846-90), and other artists, it staged its first show in the pavilion of the city of Paris, and rapidly became a key forum for Post Impressionist painting, notably the style of art known as Neo-Impressionism. It found equal favour with 20th century painters, and the more abstract 20th century sculptors, although by the end of the 1900s it was facing stiff competition from the Salon d'Automne, a liberal but more selective art show. Still active today, with some 3,000 members, the Salon des Independants remains - along with the Salon d'Automne, Salon de la Jeune Peinture, Salon de Mai, and the Salon des Realites Nouvelles - an important showcase for contemporary art in the 21st century.



Historical Background

For most of the 19th century, the only public exhibition of painting and sculpture in Paris was the official Salon of the Academy of Fine Arts. Unforunately, like most European academies, the Paris Academy provided a highly conservative program of academic art, based on unchanging drawing practices, an exaggerated respect for history painting and portraiture, and meticulous attention to the "finish" of a painting. As a result, it took a dim view of modern artists who pursued a more progressive style of fine art - like Realism or Impressionism, for instance - whose submissions to the Salon were frequently rejected, in favour of those by lesser but more conventional practitioners. Artists rejected by the Salon included a host of outstanding modernists like Gustave Courbet (1819-77), Edouard Manet (1832-83) and Claude Monet (1840-1926), among many others. The problem was, the annual Salon Exhibition was a vital showcase for any artist who wanted to make his name and sell his works. There was nowhere else to go.

Dissatisfaction with the Salon gradually increased during the mid-19th century until 1863, when a series of strong protests from 'Salon rejects' came to the attention of Emperor Napoleon III, who responded by staging a special show - called the Salon des Refuses - to let the public see the rejected artworks for themselves. As it was, neither the art critics nor the public were impressed by the works on show - they included paintings by Manet, Cezanne, Pissarro and Whistler - but the event proved to be of great significance in undermining the 'infallibility' of the official Salon. Indeed, not long afterwards, artist groups began to organize their own shows - starting with Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris (1874-86) - while in 1882 a new show entitled Exposition des Arts Incoherents - was set up in the French capital in mockery of the official Salon.

Foundation and Development

In 1884, with the advent of Post-Impressionism, a group of painters formed the Society of Independent Artists with the proclaimed intention of allowing all artists to present their works to the public with complete freedom, under the slogan "No jury, nor awards" (Sans jury ni recompense). The Society obtained permission from the Ministry of Fine Arts to hold an exhibition, and also persuaded the Parisian municipal authorities to provide an exhibition venue. The first exhibition of the Salon des Independants duly took place from May-July 1884, with a total of 5000 works by more than 400 artists. It included paintings by Odilon Redon, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri-Edmond Cross, Paul Signac, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Georges Seurat, whose masterpiece of Pointillism - Bathers at Asnieres (1883–84, National Gallery, London) had just been rejected by the official Salon.

Two years later the Society staged a second, even larger exhibition, after which the Salon des Independants established itself as a major trend-setting art event in the Paris calendar. Other artists who used it to promote their paintings, included: Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Fauves like Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968), Othon Friesz (1879-1949) and Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Participating sculptors included Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) and Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957).

Salon des Independants (1911): Cubist Group Show in Salle 41

One of the most famous art exhibitions held at the Salon des Independants took place in Salle 41, in 1911. Organized by a group of Cubist painters (late nicknamed 'Salon Cubists'), it included work by Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Henri Le Fauconnier (1881-1945), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) and Albert Gleizes (1881-1953). Due to their contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), neither Picasso nor his co-inventor Braque participated. The exhibition brought Cubism to the attention of the general public for the first time, and - perhaps not surprisingly for such an iconoclastic form of art - caused a scandal. Even the artists (most of whom later became involved in the Section d'Or and the Puteaux Group) were shocked by the highly impassioned reactions that their works generated. It was a taste of what lay ahead for Marcel Duchamp at the Armory Show, in New York, in 1913.

1912 Onwards

During the early decades of the 20th century, the Salon des Independants became an important annual showcase for many of the cutting edge styles of the Ecole de Paris, including Neo-Impressionism, Cubism and Expressionism, as well as abstract art movements like Suprematism and Neo-Plasticism. Since 1920 the Salon des Independants has been held at the Grand Palais, close to other organizations within the city's art world like the Fine Arts Society, the Society of French artists, the Autumn Salon, and others. If the official Salon has been eclipsed as the 'discriminating forum' by the Autumn Salon, the Salon des Independants remains one of the top venues for new contemporary art.

• For the chronology of modern painting, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For more about French painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

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