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.
The day of the exhibition opening has always been, and continues to be a privileged moment for the participating artists and the public. At the beginning of the century, although many artists celebrated the occasion with family and friends, the opening also attracted a large crowd of aristocrats, journalists looking for a story, and people from the world of the theatre who were there more to be seen than to see the artworks themselves! The opening continues to attract large crowds today: at one of our recent editions, no less than 6,000 people were in attendance.
‘Avoir les honneurs de la cimaise’ is another example of an expression that was coined at the Salon (Univers des Arts, Limited edition series no.1, June 1996). The word ‘cimaise’ in French refers to the picture rail upon which the paintings are hung in an exhibition. The expression can be loosely translated as ‘to grace the walls’.
The ‘cimaise’ or picture rail was generally positioned at a height, allowing paintings to be viewed at eye level. They were used at the Salon but it is interesting to note that prior to this, paintings were often exhibited on the walls, in rows, one above the other, oftentimes, stretching up to the ceiling.
Therefore, if an artist was said to have ‘les honneurs de la cimaise’ (the honour of the picture rail), it meant that he was distinguished enough to command a prime position and to have his work visible at this most prestigious of exhibitions.