Modernity vs. Tradition: Art at the Parisian Salon 1750-1900 December 1, 2017 – October 16, 2018

The signal aesthetic space of modern spectacle culture, the Parisian Salon remains the indispensable precursory context that gave rise to virtually everything defining today’s art world: from superstar artists and the art market to museum exhibitions and biennales; from consumer culture to institutionalized art history. Assembled from a private collection of prints, pamphlets, press images and published criticism, and supplemented by rare volumes from the Redwood Library’s holdings, the exhibition charted the evolution of the Salon and its 200-year history, from the early presentations rooted in the civic pageantry of royal patronage, through the Enlightenment Salons of the Royal Academy and the highly contested nineteenth-century exhibitions, all the way to the culminating presentations of the Universal Exposition of 1900.


Traditional art histories of the Salon have tended to focus on the individual narratives of high art personalities and movements operating in accord or in contrast to the policies of alternating governments and arts administrations. The exhibition instead positioned the Salon within contemporary print culture, illuminating its treatment in newspapers and press imagery on one hand, and in the more enduring arena of official livrets, secondary catalogues, and art criticism published in books, pamphlets and periodicals on the other.


Featuring over 75 works, the exhibition included a range of salon livrets spanning two hundred years, a number of rare pamphlets treating the early Salons, period newspapers, examples of the two known explicatory pamphlets produced by Jacques-Louis David, a varied display of published critical treatments of the Salon, a concentrated selection of press images depicting the Salon and its component events from jury selection to opening and presentation, a choice grouping of satiric Daumier lithographs from the Charivari, and a concentration of photographs, ephemera and rare published critical treatments of the art exhibitions of the Universal Exposition of 1900.


The exhibition was divided into ten discrete groupings:

-The Imprint of Authority: Royal Patronage, the Académie and the Livret

-Jacques-Louis David and the ‘Counter-Exhibition’

-Press and Public: The Salon 1800-1850

-Viewing Art in the City of Spectacle

-The Golden Age of the Modern Salon

-Anxiety at the Salon: Preparation and Openings

-Honoré Daumier and the Satirical Salon

-Archetypes of the Salon

-The Salon at the Universal Exposition of 1900

-The Universal Exposition of 1900 in Print


Named after the Salon carré at the Louvre, where it was held between 1725 and 1848, the Salon’s rise as the world’s preeminent regular exhibition of contemporary art was intertwined with the rise of a modern viewing public and of the larger political public sphere. In that sense, as a politically charged site of aesthetic contemplation defined by both text and image it is coincident with the Redwood Library itself.


Organized by the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the exhibition was on view in the Van Alen Gallery.


The gallery presentation was made possible by a generous donation from Cornelius C. Bond andAnn E. Blackwell, and an in-kind donation by Sandra Liotus Lighting LLC

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