PRINT January 2014


IN THE THIRD in a series of new essays on the avant-garde for Artforum, historian and philosopher Thierry de Duve’s exploration of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain leads us to an unexpected place: the nineteenth-century French Salon. The reception of Duchamp’s scandalous readymade—despite its initial rejection in 1917—ultimately led to the watershed pronouncement that “anything can be art.” But de Duve argues that the work’s rippling effect travels in all directions, and here he looks back to the surprising source of Fountain’s true message—that “anyone can be an artist.” The source, he proposes, was a group of upstarts who, in 1880s Paris, claimed independence within that most established of European cultural institutions, the Beaux-Arts academy.

Engraving of the Pavillon de la Ville de Paris, site of the Salon d’Hiver de la Société des Artistes Indépendants, December 1884–January 1885, avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris.

Every year the jury of the Louvre provokes numerous complaints. . . .
Eminent artists who do not share the convictions of the jury have
been excluded from the galleries. There is a simple way to silence
those complaints: to admit all the submitted works indiscriminately.1
—Gustave Planche, 1840

Everyone is an artist; all are trying to make money with their work.2
—Alexandre de Cailleux, 1840

IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN OF MEANINGS, some are carrot-like, others onion-like. The carrots shoot straight, dig deep, have an iron core and a purposive shape; the onions are all involute surface, skin upon skin upon skin round a vanishing center. The message Marcel Duchamp put in the mail in 1917 with Fountain is an onion; its reception history is the history of its peeling. The first layer was not peeled off until the 1960s, when an ever-larger public was informed that a simple (some would say vulgar) ready-made urinal was a work of art worthy of the museum. With that, the news was officially released that anything could be art, and, whether in scorn or mirth, immediately decoded as follows: Once anything can be art, anyone can be an artist. I call this the Duchamp syllogism. In this manner a second layer of meaning was uncovered. But on the whole, the reception of Duchamp’s message in the ’60s was not true to the facts: It inferred the content of the second layer from the first, whereas it should have done the reverse. The factual truth is that once anyone and everyone can be an artist, it logically follows that anything and everything can be art.

There are at least three ways in which to understand that anyone can be an artist. For clarity’s sake, let me cast aside the first two. When literary critic Marjorie Perloff, in conversation with poet Charles Bernstein, says, “To be an architect, you do have to learn very specific things. And a composer obviously has to know something about music. But anyone, it seems, can be a poet,” she derides both the delusion of self-proclaimed poets and the contempt some people have for true poets whose skill they simply don’t perceive.3 Pertinent as Perloff’s remark is, my concern is not with this first (mis)understanding. Nor is it with the “Anyone can be an artist” utopia typical of the moment when Duchamp’s telegram was received. Joseph Beuys is exemplary in this regard. He was convinced that every human being is endowed with creativity—an inborn, universally distributed, and thus egalitarian faculty of bringing forth new things, forms, or events—which, however, lies fallow in most people. The social task of professional artists, Beuys thought, is to liberate this repressed creative potential until all human labor deserves to be called artistic. Essential to his (and others’) belief in creativity is that it is future-oriented: It has the performative structure of a promise.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the cynical way in which to understand that anyone can be an artist, and this is the way that concerns me here: It underpins the moment when Duchamp sent his message; it is constative and past-oriented; it takes stock of a given, of a situation that already exists.4 And given it was, in 1917, that in the specific context of the New York Society of Independent Artists, where Fountain appeared and instantly disappeared, anyone who could afford to part with six dollars could gain the status of professional artist. There is nothing utopian in this, unless you want to call utopian the desire for democracy and the revolt against the National Academy of Design that instigated the birth of the Society. While Duchamp definitely endorsed the revolt, he looked ironically at utopia. Ever the true dandy, he knew that art and democracy didn’t mingle well, and that to be avant-garde meant in fact to retrieve aristocratic values from the gutter so as to escape absorption into the middle class by all means. He saw the democratic dream of the Society’s founders as sketching the background against which the uniqueness—in Max Stirner’s sense—of the artist and his art would shine. And although Duchamp did not uphold a systematically catastrophic view of history—say, Walter Benjamin’s heap of debris at the feet of Angelus Novus; he was too much on the victors’ side for that—he looked at the newborn Independents in terms of the institution whose demise had made the Independents possible. Beneath “Anyone can be an artist” there is, I want to argue, a third layer to the onion: “The Beaux-Arts system has collapsed.”

Pietro Antonio Martini’s etching of the 1787 Salon, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

WHETHER DUCHAMP, ALBERT GLEIZES, or someone else convinced the founders of the American Society of Independent Artists to model their bylaws after those of the French Société des Artistes Indépendants, Duchamp knew the Frenchmen among the founders were offering their American colleagues a model both obsolete and vitiated by the betrayal of its principles. He had experienced that betrayal firsthand when the French Indépendants censored his Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) at their 1912 Salon. The Cubists were then the latest avant-garde, and their dogmatism flew in Duchamp’s face; I have no doubt he took the lesson. The extent to which he knew the Indépendants’ history and prehistory is more difficult to gauge—he was not even born when the Société was founded—but the matter may be irrelevant: The messenger is not the author of the message he is carrying; why should he be fully cognizant of its content?

Let us go back, then, to the first Salon des Artistes Indépendants, held from May 15 to July 1, 1884. The motivation behind it was no doubt exasperation with the severity of the jury of that year’s official Salon; the bulk of the Indépendants were refusés (the term for artists whose work did not gain admittance into the Salon). The fact that Georges Seurat was present at their first Salon and showed Bathers at Asnières, 1884, accounts for the event having been recorded as if it were a manifesto for Neo-Impressionism. In reality this is what the second Salon des Indépendants, held in 1886, would become—when Seurat showed the far more ambitious A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, 1884–86. In 1884, the Indépendants were mostly a group of disgruntled, ostracized artists, most of them mediocre. They resented being designated as refusés and insisted that several medaled—and thus hors concours (jury-exempted)—artists had joined their ranks. Even before their Salon ended, its organizing committee was accused of embezzlement by some participants, who summoned a general assembly on June 4 and, a week later, registered a new competing Société with Maître Coursault, a notary public in Montmorency. The initial group soon lost the battle to the newly founded Société, which is still active today.5

The first Salon des Indépendants drew mixed reviews from the press; the majority of the critics were convinced that the official Salon’s jury would be vindicated and the righteousness of its verdicts exposed for all to see—a conviction echoing the critical response the famous 1863 Salon des Refusés elicited at the time. Several critics questioned the name the Indépendants had given themselves. In L’Illustration, a critic writing under the pseudonym of Perdican wrote, “I shall reproach these Indépendants for baptizing themselves Indépendants.”6 To which Paul de Katow added in Gil Blas the same day:

It is not difficult to find one’s way through this heap of paintings and sculptures that calls itself—I don’t know why—the Salon des Indépendants. Independent of whom, of what? Is it independent of the Salon jury, which would have refused to admit two or three hundred ridiculous or hideous canvases or sculptures?7

The same formula—“Independent of whom, of what?”—reappeared in L’Intransigeant, dated May 24, under the pen of Edmond Jacques, who answered his rhetorical question by declaring his surprise at having seen no independence at all at the Indépendants—no significant difference from the official Salon.8 But when the formula appeared again in Gustave Geffroy’s comment on the Société’s winter exhibition held six months later, it referred to another sort of freedom:

And first of all, Independent of what? Was it worth taking up for a banner the name brandished by Degas, Miss Cassatt, Raffaëlli, Pissarro, and their friends? Was it worth breaking with the artists who accept a venue from the state only in order to exhibit the banal paintings on display these days in the pavilion lent—for lack of state support—by the city of Paris?9

Geffroy pinpoints where the shoe pinches when he asks whether exchanging dependence on the state for dependence on the city of Paris really makes a difference. Indeed, the Indépendants’ slavish allegiance to the city seems to compensate for their bold declaration of autonomy from the state. They went so far as to adopt the city’s colors for their catalogue covers and the menu of their annual banquets in exchange for the venue on the Champs-Elysées, where all but two of their Salons were held in the first decade of the Société’s existence. Wittingly or not, Geffroy is echoing an anarchist’s alleged protest at the April 16, 1884, meeting of the then still inchoate Indépendants: “You call yourselves Indépendants, and your first act of independence is to ask something from the state!”10

Georges Seurat, Paysage, l’île de la Grande Jatte (Landscape, Island of La Grande Jatte), 1884, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32". From the Salon d’Hiver de la Société des Artistes Indépendants, December 1884–January 1885.

INDEPENDENCE OF STYLE was not at all the young Indépendants’ first claim. Independence from the Salon jury was what mattered to the artists, individually and collectively. The motto “Ni jury ni récompense” (No jury, no prizes) was a rallying cry for a very large group of artists, only a handful of whom we remember today: Among the 402 artists who participated in that first 1884 Salon, only Charles Angrand, Henri-Edmond Cross, Albert Dubois-Pillet, Odilon Redon, Émile Schuffenecker, Seurat, and Paul Signac left a significant trace in art-history books, all except Redon as Neo-Impressionists. The 395 remaining artists were also present at the official Salon, could have been there, or were understandably rejected by it. The struggle for liberation from the jury was anything but congruent with the progress of modernism; to perpetuate that often-made conflation would be a huge mistake. It would also distract us from further peeling the onion of Duchamp’s message. Here, in my view, is the question we should ask next: Why is it that peeling off the layer stating “Anyone can be an artist” strips bare the layer stating “The Beaux-Arts system has collapsed”?

One lazy modern habit is to assume that the natural condition of visual artists is that of freewheeling individuals, with or without academic training, who are asked by art dealers to show their portfolios but not their diplomas. We take it for granted that the practice of the visual arts, architecture being the notorious exception, is not protected in the same way as the practices of law or medicine. So what, we might think, if in 1917 any New Yorker with six dollars to spend could buy his or her membership card in the Society of Independent Artists? And so what if in 1884 any Parisian with ten francs could participate in the first Salon des Indépendants?11 Well, those apparently identical situations are in fact very different from one another, and the transatlantic divide is crucial. The 1916 incorporation of the Society of Independent Artists in New York did not even make a dent in the American art world, whose evolution owed more to the ambition of a few audacious art collectors than to the collective action of artists. Only in France did the legitimacy suddenly acquired by a bunch of self-proclaimed artists signal huge and dramatic changes—changes that led to the collapse of the whole art institution.

When pressed to explain those changes, art historians often stress the Impressionists’ boycott of the Salon in the decade before the birth of the Indépendants rather than that birth itself, and rightly so: The creation of the Société was more symbolic than instrumental. The advent of what Harrison and Cynthia White dubbed the “dealer-critic system”12 was crucial: Without the support of their dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, it is doubtful that the Impressionists could have afforded to boycott the Salon. Now, let’s avoid the simplistic view that the Salon withered because the most advanced artists of the time had ceased to endorse it. The truth is, modernist painting was born from within Salon painting much more than against or from outside it, as Édouard Manet’s career demonstrates. I think it highly significant that while the Impressionists boycotted the Salon, Manet declined to participate in the Impressionists’ exhibitions, even though the press repeatedly complimented him for (or accused him of) being the leader of the movement. And I think it equally significant that the Impressionists hesitated greatly as to the name they would give themselves before settling for “Indépendants.” For it is the Impressionists who first claimed that appellation. The group, whose composition varied a lot over the years, was incorporated in 1873 as a société anonyme coopérative. It adopted the title “Des Impressionnistes” for its third exhibition, in 1877, for which Gustave Caillebotte had unsuccessfully proposed “Les Intransigeants.”13 Unhappy with both titles, Edgar Degas imposed the name Indépendants for the group’s fourth exhibition, in 1879, much to the dismay of Auguste Renoir, who called this name imbécile. It was nonetheless retained for the fifth edition, in 1880; abandoned for the sixth, in 1881; resurrected by Durand-Ruel for the seventh, in 1882; and abandoned again, replaced by the neutral “Exposition de peintures,” for the eighth and last, in 1886.14

Is it by chance that the name Indépendants emerged in 1879 a few months after the Left forced Marshal Mac-Mahon to resign as president of the French Republic? Or, more than the change of regime per se, was the triggering factor not the conflict that ensued within the Beaux-Arts administration? Just before being ousted, Mac-Mahon had announced a two-tier Salon system, the project of which would still haunt the Ministry of Public Instruction and Beaux-Arts of his successor, Jules Grévy. There was to be a relatively liberal annual “exposition of artists” with an elected jury, and a tightly state-controlled triennial “exposition of art” that was supposed to show only the crème de la crème.15 The latter would certainly exclude the Impressionists, the former probably not. Boycotting the Salon was thus no longer an issue for them, whereas loudly proclaiming their independence from the state was an increasingly pressing one. For the Impressionists as well as for the Indépendants of 1884, the true novelty—whose radicality the artists only half-realized even though, as we shall now see, they had acquired it three years earlier—was independence from the state. The progress of the dealer-critic system made that independence materially possible. It also accelerated the demise of the Salon system.

Studio of Félix Nadar, site of the 1874 Première Exposition de la Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes (The First Impressionist Exhibition), 35, boulevard des Capucines, ca. 1861, Paris.

THE YEAR 1880 saw the last state-sponsored Salon, and it was a disaster. A conflict developed between Edmond Turquet, undersecretary of state for the Beaux-Arts and director of the Salon, and the painting jury—first over Turquet’s 1879 decision to install electric light in the Salon’s premises, then over his reform of the jury’s election, and finally over his system of classification. William Bouguereau and Paul Baudry successively resigned from their positions as presidents of the painting jury and, as a result, 7,289 works were accepted—the largest number ever—among them 3,957 paintings by 2,775 painters.16 Turquet retaliated by hanging the worst works in the best places in order to humiliate the jury. All the artists were furious, the press had a field day, the public snubbed the Salon, and the Beaux-Arts Ministry had to absorb a deficit of 46,559 francs (over $150,000 today).17 Joris-Karl Huysmans commented:

The 1880 Salon is a bedlam, a muddle, a hodgepodge made worse by the incomparable blunders of the new classification. On the pretext of democracy, one has stunned the poor and the unknown. Such is the novelty M. Turquet agreed to. But let that be; the painters don’t deserve our support. They constantly beg for the help and the control of the state whereas they should send it packing, refuse these childish rewards and medals, and try to walk on their own legs at last.18

It was as if the minister of public instruction and Beaux-Arts, Jules Ferry, had heard Huysmans: Playing Pontius Pilate, he left it to Turquet to announce the withdrawal of the state’s support for the Salon. On January 17, 1881, addressing the artists, Turquet said:

You must now entirely take charge of the free, material, and artistic management of the annual exhibitions, in replacement of the administration. The state will no longer intervene in your business. . . . Experience has sufficiently demonstrated that there is no possible compromise between complete management by the state and free management by the artists.19

Turquet’s speech was reproduced in the catalogue of the next Salon, now fully separate from the state and held in May 1881. The same catalogue contains the statutes of a newly incorporated private society, dubbed Société des Artistes Français, drafted on January 28 and approved by Ferry on February 5. From that date on, and despite the state’s pathetic efforts to recuperate its lost power,20 the artists were on their own: They were at last officially independent. In light of this, the creation of the Société des Artistes Indépendants three years later loses a bit of its heroism and revolutionary aura, and the constative and past-oriented sense of Duchamp’s telegram becomes clearer.

I think we should not make too much of the independence the French artists of the 1880s claimed. While the Impressionists proudly called themselves Indépendants, they were dependent on Durand-Ruel for their bread and butter. Independence for its own artistic sake, i.e., in the name of sincerity and originality, had already been a claim of the Romantics; it was a staple of art teaching since the 1863 reform of the École des Beaux-Arts. It may be another red herring, a sober, less flamboyant variant of the “All is art” and the “Everyone is an artist” utopias. What I think deserves attention is the uniqueness of the late-nineteenth-century French artists’ independence as independence from the state. The binary choice between state and artist management in Turquet’s announcement is striking. In his “Salon of 1876,” Émile Zola had anticipated precisely this binarism:

My humble opinion is this: In matters of government, there are only two possible ways: the most absolute despotism or the most complete liberty. What I mean by the most absolute despotism is the autocratic reign of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. It was a mistake to take power out of its hands in order to entrust it to an elected jury whose judgments inevitably vary from year to year. . . . So, if it wants to escape its present embarrassment, the Beaux-Arts administration, in my opinion, has the following choice: either revert to the academic jury system, or institute free exhibitions.21

We know the result of this either/or: Free exhibitions were eventually instituted, and modernism won the battle against academicism. That story has been told often enough, and I will not repeat it here. Nor am I offering an explanation, new or old, of why modernism triumphed; no explanation is needed other than its aesthetic superiority. I merely seek to understand why modernism was born in France; and I pursue this because following the trail of Duchamp’s message has led me to pursue it. I think part of the answer lies in this incredibly clear-cut either/or arrived at under very different circumstances by both a progressive critic (Zola) and a conservative administrator of the Beaux-Arts system (Turquet). I can’t think of any European country besides France where the fate of the visual arts—whether in the 1880s or at any time since the creation of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1648—hinged on such a peculiarly stark absence of any room for compromise. Certainly the British Royal Academy was able to negotiate with its artists, granting them their freedom by keeping itself at arm’s length from state control. Germany was still involved in court art after Bismarck. Italy before Garibaldi and Cavour had no inkling of what a centralized state might be. Even earlier in France, say, during the July Monarchy, juste milieu painters could thrive on the illusion that state monopoly and bourgeois individualism had found an aesthetic modus vivendi. By 1880, this was no longer the case. The French nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts system had either to die or be restored in the glory of its “absolute despotism,” as Zola wrote. If only symbolically, the advent of the French Indépendants tolled the death knell of a very powerful and unique art institution in which, at any stage of their career, artists needed to receive the state’s stamp of approval. It was anything but anodyne for that institution to let the profession of painter or sculptor be opened to the hoi polloi, as happened in 1884 with the Indépendants. Duchamp’s telegram now reads as nothing less than this French system’s obituary.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, 1884–86, oil on canvas, 6' 9 3/4“ x 10' 1 1/4”. From the Salon de la Société des Artistes Indépendants, August–September 1886.

WHY WAS MODERNISM BORN IN FRANCE? Here is a working hypothesis. When we speak of the Salon system, we use a metonym for a mighty ideological state apparatus—to use Louis Althusser’s phrase—whose concentration of power had no equivalent outside France. Just one example: The man behind Mac-Mahon’s two-tiered Salon system was Eugène Guillaume, a powerful civil servant in the Ministry of Public Instruction and Beaux-Arts who served both before and after Mac-Mahon’s resignation. His full title was directeur général des Beaux-Arts, président du Conseil des Beaux-Arts, and directeur de l’École des Beaux-Arts. Of course, he was also a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. At that historical moment, such concentration of power around the Beaux-Arts banner may have betrayed the anxiety of the fine-arts administration clinging to the deck of a sinking ship. But throughout the century that banner had been proudly flown on a tightly knit network of institutions with a strong pyramidal structure, tremendous prestige in the worlds of art and politics, and a high level of inbreeding. In the words of art historian Paul Smith:

The École was governed by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, itself governed by the Institut de France. The professors at the École were chosen from among the members of the Académie, and the same body also dominated the jury which awarded prizes at the annual Salon, or state-sponsored exhibition, where an artist could hope to gain critical recognition or official patronage.22

The Salon jury was the dead bolt of the whole system. It was by way of the jury that, throughout the nineteenth century, the state exerted its monopoly over artists’ access to their profession and controlled their careers until late in life. As usual, what mattered to the state apparatus was the perpetuation of its own power—“Men are replaced, but the bureaucracy remains,” the critic Albert Wolff wrote in 188523—even though it systematically gave the pretext of quality control on the artists’ output in order to justify itself. Thanks to the jury, the system could afford much more aesthetic flexibility—verging on opportunism if not sometimes on incoherence—than is generally assumed. It was never a monolithic institution; academic and official were rarely simply synonymous. The state’s cultural policy varied with every change of regime and even with the personality of the monarch or the president.24 Nor did the system go uncontested: Not one Salon went by without prompting protests from the artists and proposals to reform the jury rules from one or another faction of the administration.

But what I think matters more than anything else is that the state exerted its monopoly over the art world exclusively through the Salon jury and, conversely, that the Salon jury was the exclusive instrument of the state’s control for control’s sake. It is too often believed that orienting the artists’ apprenticeship in the desired direction or imposing an official style were the goals of the state apparatus.25 Attempts at imposing an official style were never very successful. Direction of the artists’ schooling was more efficient, but then mainly because it created networks and allowed nepotism to thrive.26 The system was such that, whatever the style in vogue, the state and only the state was empowered to decide who was and who was not legitimately an artist, and this decision was made via the Salon jury. Acceptance into or rejection from the Salon was the relevant lock that opened or closed all other opportunities: procured the artist national, municipal, ecclesiastical, and private commissions; earned him critical attention in the press; ensured the sheer visibility of his work with the public; attracted dealers and collectors; and allowed him unjuried entry into the next Salon if medaled. Such an aggregation of arbitrary decisional power in a single cogwheel of the Beaux-Arts machinery, and over such a length of time (the first jury was instituted in 1748), has had no match anywhere in Europe or elsewhere.

But striking as this unique feature of the French Beaux-Arts system is, it might not have exerted pressure toward the birth of modernism as forcibly as it did had it not entered into violent tension with another unique feature of this system: the free- for-all access of the public to the Salon. Unlike the exhibitions of the British Royal Academy, which charged the public an entrance fee, the French Salon was free until 1855, when it was part of the Exposition Universelle. That year turnstiles were installed, which counted 891,682 paying visitors.27 (Incidentally, this is some 30,000 more than attended Documenta 13 in 2012—a remarkable indication of the Salon’s appeal as mass entertainment.) The numbers for the next Salon, two years later, are very interesting because Sundays were free: The 265,180 visitors the Salon attracted on that single day overwhelmingly outnumbered the 182,586 paying visitors from the rest of the week, proof that the Salon attracted a low-income crowd far beyond what we might think was the constituency for high art.28 “I have seen bourgeois folks, workers, and even peasants,” Zola wrote in his “Salon of 1875.”29

Caricature of visitors to the 1880 Salon, Paris.

Anyone could visit the Salon, and did. But not everyone could exhibit at the Salon—far from it. It is this tension between the “absolute despotism” ruling over the artists’ fate and the “complete liberty” of access granted the public that I believe explains why modernism was born in France. Modernism was forced into existence by this tension; it offered itself as the only survival strategy for high art that adequately addressed its true conditions on the levels of both form and content. First Gustave Courbet and then Manet were its great experimenters, for both were fundamentally—if paradoxically—Salon painters. Such is the hypothesis that peeling the onion of Duchamp’s message has led me to entertain. If I am right, then the conditions of visibility within the Salon were not just a foil against which Courbet and Manet reacted. How they took those conditions into account, dealt with them, answered them, countered them, must be part and parcel of what defines modernism in painting. But that’s another story.30

Duchamp’s message is mute when it comes to the definition of modernism in painting. It seems so future-oriented—announcing the coming of an art world where anything can be art—that it makes us forget how keyed to the past it actually was. From the retrospective view Duchamp enjoyed in 1917, looking onto the demise of the Beaux-Arts system, the message he put in the mail had nothing to say about the fate of painting after the 1880s. His brand of Cubism—not Pablo Picasso’s, not Cubism at large—was a dead end, and he knew it. And so Duchamp abandoned painting and switched to ready- mades. These in turn induced two or three generations of artists and critics, from the 1960s on, to believe that he had declared painting obsolete, whereas in truth he had embodied his melancholic longing for the painter’s art in symbolically charged readymades such as Peigne (Comb), 1916, or in cryptic references to potential Seurat paintings.31 His cynicism, his dandyism, pushed him to side with those capable of seeing the emperor’s new clothes, and too bad if they were conservative critics such as Edmond About, who, speaking of the demise of the Salon system, wrote in 1883:

For twenty years, a revolution has been going on relentlessly, day by day, in this very special and interesting world. The high administrators who controlled it wanted to be popular; little by little they introduced democratic customs into what is and should always be an aristocracy. They sacrificed the elite to the numerous; they enthroned the universal suffrage of artists as if artists constituted a guild, as if the first comers, without having attended the École des beaux-arts and having no credentials other than faith and hope, had the right to call themselves artists.32

Duchamp would have grinned reading About. He nonetheless drew consequences for art—not so much from the demise of the jury system as from that system itself—that About would never have anticipated. They were diabolical. He was not responsible; he was, after all, merely the messenger.

Next month: “Part IV: The Invention of Non-Art (I): History”

Thierry de Duve is currently teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In fall 2013, he was Kirk Varnedoe visiting professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

Visit Artforum’s archive at for the first two essays in de Duve’s ongoing series: “Pardon my French” (October 2013) and “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” (November 2013).

Eyre Crowe, Delivery Entrance of Palais des Beaux Arts at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, 1855, pen, ink wash, and graphite on paper, 8 3/4 x 12 5/8".


(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in French are the author’s translation)

1. Quoted in Gérard-Georges Lemaire, Esquisses en vue d’une histoire du Salon (Paris: Henri Veyrier, 1986), 33. Planche was a literary and art critic for the Revue des deux mondes.

2. Quoted in W. Hauptman, “Juries, Protests, and Counter-exhibitions Before 1850,” Art Bulletin 67, no. 1 (March 1985): 100. Alexandre de Cailleux was director of the Musées Royaux from 1841 to 1847 (and associate director from 1831 to 1841) and, as such, responsible for the organization of the Salon.

3. Marjorie Perloff, Poetics in a New Key: Interviews and Essays, ed. David Jonathan Y. Bayot (Manila, Philippines: De La Salle University Publishing House, 2013), 77.

4. I draw on the performative/constative distinction established by J. L. Austin in How to Do Things with Words (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1962).

5. See Pierre Angrand, Naissance des artistes indépendants 1884 (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Debresse, 1965), 28–31.

6. Quoted in Dominique Lobstein, Dictionnaire des Indépendants 1884–1914 (Dijon, France: Éditions L’échelle de Jacob, 2003), 20.

7. Quoted in Angrand, Naissance des artistes, 38–39.

8. Ibid., 44.

9. La Justice, December 17, 1884, quoted in Angrand, Naissance des artistes, 87–88. The “exposition d’hiver,” which was held as a fund-raiser to help the victims of a recent cholera epidemic, was the first to have been organized by the Société des Artistes Indépendants proper. Its official historiographer (and president from 1977 to 2001), Jean Monneret, keen on diminishing the importance of the spring exhibition because it could be claimed by the Groupe as well as by the Société, counts the winter exhibition as the first Salon des Indépendants, which it is not.

10. Quoted in Angrand, Naissance des artistes, 30; Angrand reconstitutes the meeting and introduces the anarchist’s exclamation thus: “A young painter, the meeting’s secretary, declares: ‘The matter is to request either from the municipality or from the government itself a vast venue for the works that cannot be accommodated at the Palais de l’Industrie, for lack of place.’ Already someone adds: ‘This will force the government to prove its good or bad will,’” 29.

11. “In principle, all the members’ works will be admitted. The members are due to hand the treasurer the sum of ten francs by way of contribution, for which they shall obtain a receipt.” “Règlement, De l’admission,” Catalogue officiel et complet des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, dessins et gravures exposés aux Tuileries, autorisé par le Ministre des Beaux-Arts et la Ville de Paris (Paris: H. Delattre, 1884), 3. When the Société des Artistes Indépendants was founded in June, it set the price of membership at three francs every three months.

12. Harrison C. White and Cynthia A. White, Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965/1993).

13. For a discussion of the political implications of the name Intransigeants, see Stephen F. Eisenman, “The Intransigent Artist or How the Impressionists Got Their Name,” in Charles S. Moffett, ed., The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886 (Geneva: Richard Burton Publishers, 1986), 51–59.

14. For the chronology of the Impressionist exhibitions, see Joel Isaacson et al., The Crisis of Impressionism 1878–1882 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1980).

15. See Patricia Mainardi, The End of the Salon: Art and the State in the Early Third Republic (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 54 and 168 n. 61.

16. Explication des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants exposés au Palais des Champs-Élysées le 1er mai 1880 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1880.)

17. On the 1880 Salon and its particular circumstances, see Émile Zola, “Le naturalisme au Salon,” in Écrits sur l’art (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), 409–16; Mainardi, End of the Salon, 72–89; Andrée Sfeir-Semler, Die Maler am Pariser Salon 1791–1880 (Frankfurt/Main: Campus Verlag, 1992), 167–81.

18. Joris-Karl Huysmans, “Le Salon officiel en 1880,” in Lemaire, Histoire du Salon, 249.

19. Explication des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants exposés au Palais des Champs-Élysées le 2 mai 1881, (Paris: Charles de Mourgues, Frères, Imprimeurs des Musées Nationaux, 1881), lxxxiv and lxxxvi.

20. In spite of its name, the triennale, led on behalf of the state by Ernest Meissonier, had only one edition, in 1883. Meissonier was also very active in the creation, in 1890, of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, the last and narrowly nationalistic attempt at state control over the exhibitions.

21. Zola, “Salon de 1876,” in Écrits sur l’art, 321–22. Mainardi (The End of the Salon, 82) mentions two similar comments, an earlier one dated 1868, and a later one dated 1880. See Zola, 244 and 415.

22. Paul Smith, Impressionism Beneath the Surface (New York: Abrams, 1995), 9–10.

23. Albert Wolff, “Courrier de Paris,” Le Figaro, May 9, 1885, quoted in Mainardi, End of the Salon, 124.

24. It was usually in accordance with the Académie’s aesthetic principles during Louis-Philippe’s reign and divergent from them under the Third Republic. On the fluctuations of the state’s cultural policy and how they influenced the composition of the jury, see Sfeir-Semler, Die Maler am Pariser Salon, 115–49.

25. According to Sfeir-Semler (Die Maler Pariser Salon, 285–96; see 293 in particular), students of academicians did not fare better with the jury than did students of nonacademicians, and those who had studied with avant-garde painters were not discriminated against: 59 percent of the artists included in the famous 1863 Salon des Refusés (and thus excluded from the official Salon) had been students of an academician, versus 4 percent who had studied with a Romantic and 2 percent with a realist master. However, those numbers don’t mean much unless they are checked against the proportion of Romantics and realists among the refused artists’ masters in general. Although I find Sfeir-Semler’s thoroughly empirical, statistical study of the Salon extremely useful, I think she is sometimes carried away by her desire to rehabilitate Salon painting and to debunk the myth of “1863, Naissance de la peinture moderne” (to quote the title of Gaëtan Picon’s well-known book).

26. At the disastrous 1880 Salon, 140 artists had studied with Alexandre Cabanel, 135 with Jean-Léon Gérôme, 117 with Léon Cogniet, and 111 with Léon Bonnat, to mention only the stars of the educational system. Two years later, Cabanel could boast of having “placed” 176 students and Gérôme 117, whereas Bonnat, with 115 pupils, had bypassed Cogniet, with 91 pupils. (My statistics, culled from the catalogue of both Salons.) If anything, this shows that freeing the artists from the state-managed Salon did not upset in any way the privileges the artists who had studied with the “right” master enjoyed.

27. Sfeir-Semler, Die Maler am Pariser Salon 1791–188, 50.

28. Ibid., 51.

29. “J’ai vu des bourgeois, des ouvriers, et même des paysans.” Zola, “Salon de 1875,” in Ecrits sur l’art, 281.

30. Now might be the time to announce that the present series of Artforum articles is the first part of a trilogy of sorts, the second part of which will be centered on Manet and the third on Marcel Broodthaers.

31. “The possible is an infra thin. The possibility of several tubes of paint becoming a Seurat is the concrete explanation of the possible as infra thin.” Marcel Duchamp, Notes, presented by Paul Matisse (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1980), note 1, unpaginated. See my “The Readymade and the Tube of Paint” in Artforum, May 1986, 110–21.

32. Edmond About, “Le deuxième Salon triennal,” quoted in Mainardi, End of the Salon, 126.