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The History of the Salon des Artistes

1/ Chronological History

From 1663 and the first ‘Sallons’ to the present day, below is a presentation of our history, including several key events, such as the founding of the Société des Artistes Français.

1663 – Louis XIV and Colbert, keen to see the State’s glory extend to the domain of the arts, declare the Académie to be the unique representative of painting in France and decide that an exhibition shall be held every year of its members’ work.

1667 – The first event of what would become known as the ‘Salon’ takes place on the 23 April. It is held in the premises of the Académie, and is the first exhibition of art in France that is open to the public.

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2/ The ‘Salon’ - An Original Name

Referred to as an ‘exhibition’ since its founding, this fine-arts event became known as the ‘Sallon’ in 1725, when it was held in the ‘Sallon carré du Louvre’. Over time, its spelling would change from ‘Sallon’ to ‘Salon’.

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3/ The First Exhibition Opening

The French term ‘vernissage’ meaning ‘exhibition opening’ was first coined at the Salon (Univers des Arts, Limited edition series no.1, June 1996).

1842: The French term ‘vernissage’ originally referred to the action of applying a layer of varnish to a canvas.

By extension, this word was gradually used to refer to the reception that generally took place the evening before the opening of the Salon to the public, with the aim of bringing together the artists, critics and representatives from various arts institutions.

This reception was such an important stage for the artists that the morning of the inauguration, they were allowed to apply a last coat of varnish to their painting.

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4/ The Inauguration of Prizes and Medals

Prizes and medals: a form of encouragement specific to the Salon (Univers des Arts, Limited edition series no.1, June 1996).

The establishment of a system of prizes dates back to 1793. The first jury, responsible for the selection of prize winners was elected in 1849. It was made up of 40 members, including Delacroix, Ingres, Corot, and Isabey.

On this occasion, a system of medals was also created: the Medal of Honour, the First-Place Medal of a value of 1,500 gold francs, the Second-Place Medal of a value of 500 gold francs, and the Third-Place Medal of a value of 250 gold francs.

The title ‘honourable mention’ appeared in 1857, with the aim of making up for the insufficient number of medals awarded to deserving artists.

In an effort to continually encourage the artists, the title ‘Medal status maintained’ was awarded to those artists who had successfully maintained their level of excellence from one year to the next. It was not possible to award the same prize to the same artist twice.

Read more: The Inauguration of Prizes and Medals

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