A painting of a picnic lunch in the forest, with men in suits and a nude woman.

365 Days of Art: April 28 – Napoleon Issues Press Release About Planned Art Exhibition

Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe/Luncheon on the Grass, 1863

April 28, 1863

Emperor Napoleon III issues a press release, regarding the planned Salon des Refusés (literally, Exhibition of the Rejected Ones):

An exhibition will open on 15 May…Artists have until 7 May to withdraw their works…After this date works that have not been withdrawn will be placed on show.

Here’s the backstory: This statement, and the idea of the exhibition of rejected works, was formulated out of a sense of political fear on Napoleon’s part. The annual Paris Salon was a traditional, fairly conservative art exhibition that was presented each year, sponsored in part by the French government. Acceptance and praise from the Salon was essential for a successful artistic career. Private galleries had no weight at all.

This particular year, the Salon jury rejected two-thirds of the works presented to them, including work by such now-recognized masters as Courbet, Manet and Pissarro. The rejected artists and their supporters weren’t happy, and news of their protests reached the ears of the politically sensitive Napoleon. His office issued a statement saying:

Numerous complaints have come to the Emperor on the subject of the works of art which were refused by the jury of the Exposition. His Majesty, wishing to let the public judge the legitimacy of these complaints, has decided that the works of art which were refused should be displayed in another part of the Palace of Industry.

Accordingly, the advertisement above was posted in the paper, giving artists a chance to opt out of the exhibition. Probably the most famous of the rejected works is Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass).

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