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Americans in Paris, 1860–1900

October 24, 2006–January 28, 2007

Paris as Proving Ground: Part I

Recognition from the Paris art world was central to almost every artist's plans—even if he or she had returned home after studying there or had never studied there at all. Nowhere but Paris could an artist be judged according to the highest standards and earn credentials that would ensure future success. Criticism flourished, with many French newspapers and journals providing lengthy reviews. Their comments were picked up by the American press, which also covered Paris exhibitions extensively.

The annual Salons were showcases for thousands of paintings and sculptures that were seen by tens of thousands of visitors. Pictures reflecting an inevitably miscellaneous mix of subjects and styles were usually installed frame-to-frame and from floor to ceiling in immense galleries. Artists competed fiercely for admission, position, and prizes, all of which were controlled by juries of leading masters.

The official Salon was administered by the French government through 1880 and by the Société des Artistes Français thereafter. In response to artists' complaints about a particularly rigid jury in 1863, Napoleon III authorized a Salon des Refusés, the first of a handful of such exhibitions of rejected works. In 1890 the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts organized a second, slightly more liberal Salon to challenge the established annual exhibition.