“. . . without worrying about opinion.”



Olympia, detail.

From David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, published earlier this month:

There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval,” Renoir once said. “There are 80,000 who won’t buy so much as a nose from a painter who is not hung at the Salon.”

When the artist Jules Holtzapffel didn’t make it into the Salon of 1866, he shot himself in the head. “The members of the jury have rejected me. Therefore I have no talent,” read his suicide note. “I must die.”

in 1865, the Salon, surprisingly, accepted a painting by Manet of a prostitute, called Olympia, and the painting sent all of Paris into an uproar. Guards had to be placed around the painting to keep the crowds of spectators at bay.

in 1968, Renoir, Bazille, and Monet managed to get paintings accepted by the Salon. But halfway through the Salon’s six-week run, their works were removed from the main exhibition space and exiled to the depotoir–the rubbish dump–a small, dark room in the back of the building, where paintings considered to be failures were relocated. It was almost as bad as not being accepted at all.

Did they want to be a Little Fish in a Big Pond of the Salon or a Big Fish in a Little Pond of their own choosing? In the end, the Impressionists made the right choice.

The Impressionist’s exhibition opened on April 15, 1874, and lasted one month. “We are beginning to make ourselves a niche,” a hopeful Pissarro wrote to a friend. “We have succeeded as intruders in setting up our little banner in the midst of the crowd.” Their challenge was “to advance without worrying about opinion.”

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