Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paris Salon Statistics

Today’s blockbuster museum exhibitions are a sideshow compared with the Paris Salon.

Most modern large exhibitions at the Met or the Louvre display between 100 and 150 paintings. The Salon hung as many as 5,318 works (1887), making it about 50 times larger.

If you took all the paintings and lined them up side by side along a highway, frame touching frame, they would stretch for six or eight miles.

The proper term was “The Exhibition of Living Artists.” After 1855 it opened in the Palais des Champs-Elysees, a vast warehouse-like space.

The Salon opened during the first week in May. Admission was one franc, well within the means of working people. As a result, the appreciation for Salon artwork cut across all social classes, as movies do today.

The paintings were grouped by the letter of the artists’ last name, so Manet, Monet, and Meissonier shared a room. Popular paintings were accompanied by guards to keep people from trampling each other.

Paris had a population of around 1.4 million in the later part of the 19th century. Of that number, about a million people visited the exhibition at least once during its six-week run. About 23,000 visitors passed through the doors on average each day.

By comparison, amongst of the best attended shows at the Met were the Leonardo da Vinci and the El Greco exhibitions. Each of those averaged less than 7,000 people per day, a mere third of the Salon’s attendance.
Adapted from The Judgment of Paris: The Decade that Gave Us Impressionism, By Ross King, link. and The Studios of Paris, by John Milner, link.
Image courtesy Bearded Roman, link.


Erik Bongers said...
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Erik Bongers said...

Don't we all secretly dream that we would have been the painter of that one scandalous painting that was once on everybody's lips for weeks, thereby getting ourselves a place in the history of the arts.

But those days are gone, my friends.

James Gurney said...

Erik--yes, those times are gone. And you raise an interesting point. Perhaps the vast sea of painting created an environment that encouraged the making of scandalous works to get attention.

That said, up until 1863, the buzz at the Salon was about unoffensive miniature paintings of cavaliers by the so-called "painter of Lilliput," Meissonier.

Daroo said...

Great post -- brings new meaning to the term "canvas mileage".

TomHart said...

Fascinating statistics!

The one thing that always strikes me the most when I see such illustrations of the Salon is how the paintings were hung, stacked to the ceiling like that. What an insult it was to have your painting "skied" (which I believe was the term). How could anyone possibly view those to any satisfaction? They couldn't, I imagine...

Jesse said...

I wonder if museums would get better better attendance if they lowered the price of entry.
I would love to see art be more accessible to everyone.
I suppose the nature of contemporary art is to be beyond the common man.

Larry said...

...and we complain about the lines at the Louve today. Wow.


Just goes to show you how the value of Art in society has greatly depreciated. I suppose it was a great source of entertainment in those days. Now a days we "multitask" our entertainment right from our living room chairs.

Julia Lundman said...

From what I understand, going to these events was really part of the French social life. They waited for it, they talked about it, the went and hung out - gossiped about artists and art...can you imagine? a whole society revolving around art!

Making A Mark said...

Thanks james for a great post. It now makes much more sense to me why NOT getting into the Paris Salon was such a big deal for a painter.

Incidentally, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition shows have large numbers of works. I've just pulled out my catalogues for 2006 and 2008 and the numbers shown were as follows
- 2006: 1,326 works
- 2008: 1,129 works
The number varies from year to year depending on who's doing the selection and how much white space they want. For example, this year the sculptors wouldn't allow any paintings on the wall of their room (and you could actually 'see' the sculture for a change!)

Those numbers are of course less than the works accepted since there are always some which are not hung.

Incidentally, the Small Weston Room which always takes the smaller works (and their definition of small and my definition of small are not quite in synch!) is always hung as per the Paris Salon. It really makes you realise how much depends on getting in that middle zone round about eye level - as opposed to waist level or way up high.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Katherine for that info about the Royal Academy. For those that aren't already aware of her art blog "Making a Mark ," check it out. It's loaded with great information.

Stephen James. said...


I can only imagine having that much great art in one place at a time.

Do you have any good information on the stigma attatched to artist who were exhibited in the "Salon de refuses."

By the way Jess I agree 110%.

James Gurney said...

Stephen, there was a stigma for some artists when the first Salon de Refuses was arranged--quite a few artists refused to be part of it. But it became a source of perverse pride for many others as time went by.

I recommend Ross King's recent book "Judgment of Paris," which tells the story of what happened in France in 1863-1873 in great detail, focusing on Manet and Meissonier.

Unknown said...
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