Saturday, April 9, 2016

Le Salon de 1874

Camille Cabaillot Lassale: Le Salon de 1874

A word regarding Camille-Léopold Cabaillot-Lassalle’s Le Salon de 1874. In the history of French art, 1874 is noteworthy not for anything that transpired at the centralized, official Salon but rather for the first Impressionist exhibition that was held that year. While a variety of artists exhibited at this venue, we can say that if many of them represented scenes of daily life in the France of their time, their often innovative execution techniques placed them squarely in the avant-garde. The art works on the background wall of Cabaillot-Lassalle’s Le Salon de 1874 – a portrait and scenes from rural France – also depict subjects taken from contemporary life. However, their less-innovative, dark palette makes their debt to Dutch genre painting of the seventeenth century clearly evident. Thus, although the paintings represent the present, they appear to turn more toward the past than the future.

Three men and six females of various generations are represented by Cabaillot-Lassalle, which suggests that the Salon was a public space suitable not just for both sexes but even for old women and little girls. Strikingly, however, although the paintings represent subjects popular with bourgeois viewers of the time – those taken from domestic life rather than from the heroic past or from mythology – few of the salon visitors are shown actually looking at the exhibited paintings. All of the three men depicted in Cabaillot-Lassalle’s painting occupy the work’s middle ground: they are, therefore, in close physical proximity to the paintings. Of the three, we can only assert definitively that the man in the center is absorbed in a painting. However, since we can only see the back of a man’s head on the left, we can reasonably assume that this figure is looking at the painting in front of him. It is not clear to what object the man on the right, seen in profile, has directed his gaze. Significantly, each of the three men appears as a solitary figure, engaged only with his thoughts.

The six women are represented in a completely different manner. First, if salon attendance by the men is associated with solitary contemplation, for the six women it is strongly related to sociability: two of them converse with each other and four are in physical contact, while five are looking at another woman. In fact, none of the women is engaged in actively viewing the art works on display. Interestingly, three of the four females in the foreground are shown as readers. Along with their elegant dresses, this detail identifies them as being members of the well-educated classes, most likely the bourgeoisie. [Wendelin Guentner (ed.), Women Art Critics in Nineteenth-Century France, University of Delaware Press, 2013, pp. 10-11]

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