The original Salon des Refusés was an art exhibition that took place in Paris in 1863, showing works that had been rejected by the official Paris Salon. That year artists protested vehemently after so many paintings were rejected (only 2,217 paintings out of the more than 5,000 submitted were accepted1), and Emperor Napoleon III ordered a special exhibition be held at which rejected artists could display their works. Hence the name, Salon des Refusés.
The official Paris Salon was an important event on the French arts calendar; paintings were selected by jury, prizes awarded, paintings bought by the government, and artists' reputations made or broken. The jury's taste in painting was conservative and academic both in what was regarded as suitable subjects and painting technique.
Many artists now considered masters had their work rejected. Rejected paintings had a red R stamped on the back for refusé (rejected). "This symbol was the kiss of death to a work, not only ruling it out of the Salon but also hampering the chance of its selling to a private buyer." 2
Artists who exhibited in the Salon des Refusés included Manet, Whistler, Cezanne, Pissarro. The exhibition catalog listed 781 works by 366 painters, 64 sculptors, some architects and engravers.3 The exhibition was ridiculed by art critics, but it did highlight how the official salon was selecting only a particular type of painting. The Salon des Refusés took place only once, but set a powerful precedent for independent or unofficial exhibitions.
If as a painter you're not finding acceptance for your work, you should take inspiration from the Salon des Refusé and the artists who exhibited there. Stick to what you believe in, do your own thing, and in the end you may find reward.
1. Ross King The Judgement of Paris (2006), p59.
2. Ibid., p57.
3. Ibid., p82.