Few artists and even fewer non-artists today fully appreciate the circumstances surrounding the inception of modern art, a transition from an enforced style of representational picture making to an evolved form of painted individual expression. It was a process, which broke with traditional client specified needs to become an artistic statement. Today, it might be analogous to a staff copywriter quitting to become a poet.
Only after we understand the politics, technological innovations and changing events of the 19th century, do we begin to understand why the departure was both inevitable and essential, from an artistic perspective.
Photography's Invention 1807-1839
Nicéphore Niépce would invent the first internal combustion engine, then called the Pyréolophore. After leaving the engine design in the hands of his brother Claude, Niépce went on to produce the first photographic image in 1822. It was an eight-hour long exposure process of a silver/asphalt ground he called a Heliograph. Niépce had adapted an artist's camera obscure device to created this, the earliest surviving photograph and first permanent photo image, entitled View from the Window at Le Gras.
In 1829, Parisian theatre set designer, Louis Daguerre partnered with Niépce to reduce the exposure time using a plate coated with silver iodide. The resulting high contrast image with improved detail was then fixed with a common salt solution. This greatly improved process became the formulation for the first practical photograph, which he called the Daguerréotype process. Daguerre would further modify the artist's camera obscura device to become a more controlled exposure chamber.
Portrait of Louis-François Bertin, by the neoclassicist artist, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, was exhibited in 1833 at the Paris Salon, it became popular because of its incredible realism. Ironically, around the same time, Louis Daguerre would be perfecting the technology behind Nicéphore Niépce's initial photograph. Ingres' painting was subsequently panned by critics who declared "its naturalism vulgar and its coloring drab". By comparison, Daguerre's Daguerréotype process would become a world sensation over the next decade.
Financially ruined and under considerable stress caused by his brother Claude's funds mismanagement of the Pyréolophore engine, Nicéphore Niépce died of a stroke in 1833 at age 68. However, six years later, in 1839, the French government acquired the camera design and process. In exchange, France provided a lifetime pension to Niépce's surviving partner, Louis Daguerre, who had perfected the results. The government of France then shared its intellectual property so it could be commercially produced.
The Camera and the Paint Tube, 1840-1850
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The Daguerrotype Camera: Popular
in the mid-19th century, one of the
first successfully models was
produced by Alphones Giroux, a
former student of artist Jacques-
This early form of photography became extremely popular throughout the 1840s and 1850s, displacing all but the very best portrait painters.
The camera would forever impact how a studio was employed. For centuries, artists had been using the camera obscura device. When models were unavailable for extended periods (i.e. busy client sitting for portraits), the device would be employed to render quick but accurate outline sketches. Furthermore, as talented as artists may be, few are gifted with the ability, and many more cannot be trained to capture exact portrait likenesses. Over time, less successful artists would turn to photography for income, converting their painting workspaces into photography studios.
For historical and mythological paintings, which required a number figure models, employment of a camera became a financially prudent approach. Instead of hiring models for extended periods, the artist would do still Daguerreotype Plates of models and props to work from later. At this time, most elaborate historical paintings and portrait paintings were commissions with deadlines, where visual accuracy wasn't just desired but was a contract requirement.
Purists today may argue with the use of photography for artistic purposes. However, current artistic livelihoods today generally do not depend on providing perfectly accurate likenesses, which was very much the case in the neoclassical, academic world of 19the century France. Furthermore, it was common practice for one artist to paint a quick but accurate facial portrait (possibly using a camera obscura) of a famous, often busy individual (i.e.: Napoleon, George Washington, etc.) and then use that rendering to create a variety of portraits later. The convenient and accurate camera replaced these time-consuming and often rushed processes.
|Tubes of Paint: Renoir would later |
say "Without paints in tubes, there
would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no
Sisley or Pissarro, nothing of what the
journalists were later to call
Instead of transporting undependable animal bladders filled with paint or multiple palettes prepared in advance to a painting location, artists could simply carry convenient, fully loaded, ready-to-use tubes of paint. Rather than discarding the unused paint, it could instead be retained within capped tubes, unsullied and ready for use on whatever painting followed.
Again, there would be purists who would resist convenience over traditional studio based painting and paint grinding. However, to be on location, in daylight, with the option of selecting one pure color after another, without time-consuming paint grinding, became an entirely new form of expression. Some might consider it an enriching experience, even fun. The inexpensive, portable, expendable tin paint tube made this possible. The painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir would later say, "Without paints in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Sisley or Pissarro, nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionism."
Napoleon III's Coup d'etatFrance's internal struggles would not end with the July Revolt of 1830 (the subject of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People), the June Rebellion of 1832 or the Revolt of 1848. Instead, division would begin anew with two failed coup attempts and a third successful one in 1851, all made by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who became known as Napoleon III (Napoleon I's son, François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, had died in 1832 of Tuberculosis). Playing the role of the ancient Gaius Octavian, Louis-Napoléon decided to make claim to his uncle's former title of Emperor and again dissolve the Republic.
However, regarding the arts, Louis-Napoléon tastes were both antiquated and out of touch with the cultural revolution then underway in Europe. His favorite painters were Alexandre Cabanel and Franz Xaver Winterhalter.
Cabanel's work was reminiscent of a neoclassical style of the 19th century's first decade, while Winterhalter's work was embellished to the extreme and reminiscent of earlier Rococo styling, popular with the deposed Bourbon king, Louis XVI.
- Note: Regarding the artwork in the figure to the above right. The contrasting dates associated with the outmoded styles of these works are of particular interest. The classically styled Birth of Venus painting was completed and then purchased by the Emperor in 1863, the year of the Impressionists' Salon des Refusés exhibition and Delacroix's death. The imperial neoclassical portrait of Louis-Napoléon, standing next to crown and coronation robe, was completed in 1865, the same year Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and the late French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz was finishing his memoirs.
By 1844, Delacroix had retired to private life. Dealing with health issues, he spent much of his time in a small cottage in Champrosay. Nevertheless, in response to the Second Empire's expressed conservatism and feeling the need for greater artistic unity and freedom, he along with romantic sculptors Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse and Aimé Millet, painter Puvis de Chavannes, and writer Théophile Gautier formed the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1862. It was what curator/historian Hans-Ulrich Simon referred to as a Secessionist manifestation.
Regarding the future of art, the Société would become a declaration of expressed independence from neoclassicism and academia while directly challenging the Paris Salon's control over French art.
Dissension and Re-education 1852-1862
The Paris Salon and Gauged ControlThe Paris Salon began in 1674 as the official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Paris, a division of the artistic study at the Institut de France. The exhibition's initial purpose was to display the works of graduate students of the École des Beaux-Arts.
The Salon garnished its name from the Salon Carré, where the first exhibition was held. By 1725, the exhibit was moved to the Louvre Palace and became known as the Salon de Paris (Paris Salon). Exhibition at the Salon was essential for any artist who wished to secure a successful future as a painter or sculptor in France. Because of ongoing government support, exhibition at the Salon was also considered a mark of royal favor.
Over time, the exhibition went from semi-private to public. After the French Revolution, it became a government-sponsored event. By the 19th century, it had opened its doors to foreign artists and became the most anticipated art exhibition in the Western World.
As participation grew, exhibitions became juried to maintain a consistent venue, with the government often times being involved with juror selection to best reflect national tastes. Consequently, with France's tardy entry to Romanticism and the occasional nostalgic relapse in taste, many artists, including lifelong academicians began to complain, voice formal opposition and even protest. In response, the stoic Salon would only tighten its entry requirements.
The Barbizon School and Seeds of ChangeAs early as the 1820s, Parisian artists were increasingly aware of the Romantic Art movement already in vogue beyond France’s borders. The direct paint application techniques and passionate visions of other European artists were, by then, making a lasting impression.
In 1829, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot came to Barbizon, France to paint in the forest of Fontainebleau, a location occasionally visited by fellow artist Théodore Rousseau. Corot's approach to painting was greatly admired by Delacroix who stated "...ideas come and he adds them while working; it's the right approach". Delacroix's description could be applied to all the artists who came to embrace this open-air approach to painting.
Rousseau would take up residence in the forest village in 1848. He would then be united with fellow artists Jean-François Millet and Jules Dupré who had also taken up painting in the forest community. They in turn would be joined by Charles-François Daubigny who had joined the Barbizon School in 1843.
Daubigny would befriend Camille Corot in 1852 and fall under the influence of Gustave Courbet later that same year. Courbet's involvement in politics approached fanaticism and would eventually lead him to drink, poor health and early death.
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John Constable's The Hay Wain -
Exhibited at the Paris Salon 1824,
unconventional alla prima style of
paint application would influence a
generation of French painters.
Their works would impress a new generation of French painters with their brilliant passions of vision and unconventional application of paint. The Impressionist Claude Monet would later pay close attention to Turner's paint application techniques.
During the Paris Salon exhibit of 1824, the Salon jury was impressed enough with Constable's painting The Hay Wain, to award it the gold medal. Traditional in subject matter and composition, the painting was an open book of articulated detail, achieved through the non-traditional technique of alla prima, impasto paint application. Delacroix, Corot and Rousseau were amongst those who were favorable impressed by the painting.
Rebel TeachersOne artist who voiced concern over France's selective art practices was Thomas Couture (1815-1879). A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts and winner of the Prix de Rome. Couture would become one of the celebrated academicians of the 19th century. After the success of his painting Romans during the Decadence (1847), he turned to teaching and opened a painting school of his own, with the hopes of producing France's greatest historic painters. However, somewhat of an aging rebel, he ignored traditional painting techniques and published his own book on paint application and practices, entitled Conversations on Art Methods. It was published in 1879, the year of his death. Édouard Manet would study under Couture from 1850 to 1856.
Another instructor of non-traditional painting techniques was Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1802-1897). Also a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts, de Boisbaudran had a somewhat novel approach to instructing paint appreciation. He would have his students go to the Louvre and study painting by the old masters with the intention of memorizing the works and their paint application techniques. He would then have his students return to class and attempt to rapidly copy the paintings from memory. Fantin Latour, Auguste Rodin and Alphonse Legros were amongst his students.
Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre (1806-1874) retired to private life in his Paris studio after producing several successful historic paintings. Despite being an expatriate Swiss national, Gleyre was keen on French politics and a voracious reader of political journals. Like Gustave Courbet, he maintained politically active views throughout his career.
After Louis Philippe I replaced Charles X, the Bourbon king, Gleyre would use his studio for regular political gatherings where he and like-minded individuals espoused their liberal and often time radical views. In 1842, he took over the studio of artist Paul Delaroche, where Gleyre then taught a number of younger artists direct paint application technique and, above all, work ethic. Never did he accept payment from his students. Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James Abbott McNeill Whistler were amongst his students.
Consequently, a number of traditional artists, both accomplished and student began to experiment and voice reservations over the Salon's control of painting style through restrictive entry guidelines. In time, award practices and the granting of government commissions would come under fire as well.
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Gustave Courbet's After Dinner at
Ornans was a Salon gold medal
winner which later had its rights and
After being rejected from the Exposition Universelle, Courbet decided to strike back. He erected a provisional structure next door to the exposition site, which he then named The Pavilion of Realism, to display his works.
Courbet then decided to write his Realist Manifesto as the introduction to his independent personal exhibit. In it, he insists he no longer wishes to "imitate" the work of others, "ancient" or "modern" and that "art for art's sake is too trivial a role". Instead, Courbet wished to employ the "consciousness of my (his) own individuality" to paint the "customs", "ideas" and "appearances of my (his) own time". In short, Courbet wished not to continue a tradition of idealized renderings and instead paint only what he knew, which was the people of that day.
French RealismCourbet's Realist Manifesto ran contrary to almost every principle of the French Academic tradition and was a defiant message to the Salon and Exposition Universelle juries regarding discriminatory art approval practices. Today, when one views his work, it becomes clear Courbet believed the common people, free of all title and pretense, best represented the subject concept he choose to depict.
Today, when the term French Realism is used, its definition should not be confused with any visual rendering style, like photo-realism or hyperrealism, but is instead intended to describe a cultural realism of present day events, real-life not photo-real. For Courbet, that would mean the common working class. For the Barbizon painter Jean-François Millet, it would be the rural working class and for painter and printmaker Honoré Daumier, it would be the urban working class and government figures. All of these individual efforts were deliberate instances of rebellion against the cultural traditions imposed by the Salon and its government sponsored exhibits which favored idealized renderings of history, mythology or embellished portraiture.
Courbet's The Pavilion of Realism managed to get the attention of the cultural officials as well as artists who were already discontent with the government's enforcement of sanctioned art, via the Salon and other government-sponsored events. Consequently, it would mark the beginning of rebellious, independent exhibits.
Cultural War - 1863
Nieuwerkerk's Cultural Ministry
|Émilien de Nieuwerkerke - |
Superintendent of the Imperial
Museums and all-around pseudo-
minister of culture for France's Second
In 1853, Nieuwerkerk became a free member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Aside from his museum posts and Academy roll, he was also the Intendant or personal manager of the imperial household, its holdings and priceless objets d'art.
Nieuwerkerk exerted considerable control over artwork approved for state supported exhibitions, beginning with the Exposition Universelle, in 1855. In that instance, Nieuwerkerk approved a request to have the work of William Wyld, an English painter, hung in the French section, while rejecting two major works by French artist Gustav Courbet. Clearly, having some connection to Nieuwerkerk held considerably more weight than a Salon gold medal.
In 1863, Nieuwerkerke (by then the Comte de Nieuwerkerke) decided, over fierce opposition of its members, to reform the École des Beaux-Arts. Like Napoleon III, his tastes in art were nostalgic to the point of being antiquated, so much so, the Count was attacked by both liberal and conservative element within the art community. Nevertheless, he created the chair of art history with the intention of mandating art education, one infused with highly conservative, if not dated, views .
Nieuwerkerke's my-way-or-highway ministerial approach proceeded with the weight of the imperial government behind him, which he employed to exert considerable control over the appearance or suppression of artwork by contemporary artists, the presentation of awards and the issuance of government commissions.
Art Revival of 1863By 1863, the annual government sponsored Paris Salon art exhibit had become the premier showcase for art school graduates and aspiring artists. For the past two centuries, its awards, subsequent commissions and purchases had been a springboard to many an artist's career. Serious artists all desired their work to appear on its highly coveted walls.
However, by 1863 the Salon was under the direct influence of Napoleon III's Second Empire and its reigning lord of government taste, the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, who was by then serving as the Salon's jury chair. In line with the École des Beaux-Arts reforms of the same year, Nieuwerkerke's Salon jury had tightened entry requirements to a point where two thirds of all submitted works were eliminated from entry, the greatest number of rejections in the Salon's history. Only traditional, realistic paintings executed with academic painting techniques of long-established genre (which by then were considered dated) were allowed admission.
The two most popular paintings in the 1863 Salon exhibition were Alexandre Cabanel's The Birth of Venus and Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry's The Pearl and the Wave. In describing The Pearl and the Wave, art historian Bailey van Hook's review of the work accurately reflects the imperial taste of that time: "...the subject woman is shown lying down sluggishly for the gratification of the looker-on who she describes as "voyeuristic viewer" . Similarly, French art critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary comments, "a Parisian modiste...lying in wait for a millionaire gone astray in his wild spot." 
Nevertheless, the works represented a tradition dating back to before Jacques-Louis David's historic paintings, which depict women as objects, almost props, smaller and weaker than men. These 1863 Salon works would seem to hark back even further to the Rococo period and painter François Boucher depictions of sensuous nudes as objects of desire.
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Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe -
Rejected from the Paris Salon, it
become a rallying point for the
Journalist Émile Zola defended Le déjeuner, writing: "this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude" . No doubt Zola enjoyed the irony of connecting Nieuwerkerke jury's decision to works in the same museum under his care.
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Whistler's Symphony in White, No 1
Reasons for rejections were less clear
than Manet's Le déjeuner
Whistler's Symphony in White No. 1, The White Girl became the other celebrated reject of the 1863 Salon exhibit. It remains unclear today for the painting's rejection from the Salon. It was rejected a year earlier in London by the conservative Royal Academy, and that in itself may have been enough.
The painting was a portrait of Whistler's mistress, Joanna Hiffernan who would later model for Courbet, though being a mistress would not have been that uncommon and certainly not grounds for rejection.
One thing Nieuwerkerke's stacked jury would have found objectionable about Whistler's Symphony was, again, the non-traditional handling of the paint. The direct painting approach with clearly visible paint strokes would have had much in common with Manet's Le déjeune, and would have been sufficient for its elimination.
Salon des RefusésEven before the 1863 Salon exhibition, the extremely conservative Second Empire was facing criticism from the French public. Beginning in 1860, public outcry for freedom of the press was joined with outrage from within France's large Catholic population over the Empire's Italian policy to remove the city of Rome from Vatican sovereignty. The economy was taking a hit due to reduced exports caused by the American Civil War and members of the government were now protesting for a right to vote approval of a bloated imperial budget. As there was no doubt Nieuwerkerkehe and likeminded jurors were behind the massive exclusion resulting from the 1863 Salon exhibition judgment, Napoleon III's government faced considerable backlash from that large number of rejected artists.
|Palais de l'Industrie (Palace of |
Industry) - Where the Salon de Paris
and the Salon des Refusés was held
in the year 1863.
Journalist Émile Zola reported that members of the public pushed through those crowded galleries and "the rooms were full of the laughter of spectators" . No doubt the government was counting on a negative reaction since the enormous rejection included large numbers of mundane and poor artwork. However, the works of Manet, Whistler and others managed to stand out. They were noted by press, the public and continued to raise questions regarding excessive government control. Nevertheless, the Salon refused to change its ways until after the fall of the Second Empire and the Emperor's exile in England. After that, the Salon would regularly hold its Salon des Refusés but, by then, public interest in the Salon and the works of its traditionalists had waned.
Spokesperson ZolaÉmile Zola's published article defending Manet's Le déjeuner goes on to makes a most revealing observation, one that in many ways underscores the emergence of artistic modernity. "Painters, especially Édouard Manet, who is an analytic painter, do not have this preoccupation with the subject which torments the crowd above all; the subject, for them, is merely a pretext to paint, while for the crowd, the subject alone exists." 
The chain had been broken. Tradition had become just that, tradition. Over the next century and a half, artistic freedom would sponsor more than a hundred art movements, some different, many similar. Instead of settling for just a picture, painting would mimic literature and music. It would go beyond being just a picture created from a client or committee's specifications. Meanwhile, advancements in photography and the invention of motion pictures would fulfill what Zola described as the "crowd's" needs for visual accuracy, which included realistic portraits, portrayals of history and the telling of stories. As for the artists of 1863, the door had finally been opened. Soon, the Impressionists would run towards its streaming light to paint its poetry.
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ISBN-13: 978-1454900023, pp. 2-3
2. Tinterow, Gary; Conisbee, Philip; Naef, Hans (1999). Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,
ISBN 0-8109-6536-4, p. 503
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ISBN 978-0-940322-77-6, p. 69
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8. Laborde, On de, Academies of Art: Past and Present, New York, NY, Da Capo Press, 1973, pp 249-51; and Boeme, The Teaching Reforms of 1863, pp. 4-6
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ISSN: 0141-6790, No. 4
10. Published in Le Moniteur on 24 April 1863. Cited in Maneglier, Hervé, Paris Impérial - La vie quotidienne sous le Second Empire, p. 173
11. Meneglier, Hervé, Paris Impérial- la vie quotidienne sous le Second Empire, Éditions Armand Colin, (1990). p. 173.
12. Zola, Émile, Édouard Manet - Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1867, et lps 91