The Salon (French: Salon), or rarely Paris Salon (French: Salon de Paris), beginning in 1725 was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. Between 1748–1890 it was the greatest annual or biannual art event in the Western world. Since 1881 it was organized by the Société des Artistes Français.
In 1674, the royally sanctioned French institution of art patronage, the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (a division of the Académie des beaux-arts), held its first semi-public art exhibit at the Salon Carré. The Salon's original focus was the display of the work of recent graduates of the École des Beaux-Arts, which was created by Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France, in 1648. Exhibition at the Salon de Paris was essential for any artist to achieve success in France for at least the next 200 years. Exhibition in the Salon marked a sign of royal favor.
In 1725, the Salon was held in the Palace of the Louvre, when it became known as Salon or Salon de Paris. In 1737, the exhibitions became public and were held, at first, annually, and then biannually in odd number years. They would start on the feast day of St. Louis (25 August) and run for some weeks. In 1748 a jury was introduced. Its members were awarded artists. From this time Salon got its undisputed influence.
The Salon exhibited paintings floor-to-ceiling and on every available inch of space. The jostling of artwork became the subject of many other paintings, including Pietro Antonio Martini's Salon of 1785. Printed catalogues of the Salons are primary documents for art historians. Critical descriptions of the exhibitions published in the gazettes marks the beginning of the modern occupation of art critic. The French revolution opened the exhibition to foreign artists. In the 19th century the idea of a public Salon extended to an annual government-sponsored juried exhibition of new painting and sculpture, held in large commercial halls, to which the ticket-bearing public was invited. The vernissage (varnishing) of opening night was a grand social occasion, and a crush that gave subject matter to newspaper caricaturists like Honoré Daumier. Charles Baudelaire, Denis Diderot and others wrote reviews of the Salons. The 1848 revolution liberalised the Salon. The amount of refused works was greatly reduced. In 1849 medals were introduced. The increasingly conservative and academic juries were not receptive to the Impressionist painters, whose works were usually rejected, or poorly placed if accepted. In 1863 the Salon jury turned away an unusually high number of the submitted paintings. An uproar resulted, particularly from regular exhibitors who had been rejected. In order to prove that the Salons were democratic, Napoleon III instituted the Salon des Refusés, containing a selection of the works that the Salon had rejected that year. It opened on 17 May 1863, marking the birth of the avant-garde. The Impressionists held their own independent exhibitions in 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886.
In 1881, the government withdrew official sponsorship from the annual Salon, and a group of artists organised the Société des Artistes Français (ASAF)to take responsibility for the show. In December 1890, the leader of the Société des Artistes Français, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, propagated the idea that Salon should be an exhibition of young, yet not awarded, artists. Ernest Meissonier, Puvis de Chavannes, Auguste Rodin and others rejected this proposal and made a secession. They created the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and its own exhibition, immediately referred to in the press as the Salon du Champ de Mars or the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux–Arts; it was soon also widely known as the Nationale. In 1903, in response to what many artists at the time felt was a bureaucratic and conservative organization, a group of painters and sculptors led by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Auguste Rodin organized the Salon d'Automne.