From tea to the Salons
More than two thousand British artists, and close on fourteen thousand works presented at the Salons—this in Paris alone—are more than enough to shake up the received wisdom: while the French have had access to art from across the Channel for almost two hundred and fifty years, they obstinately persist in believing it has never crossed "the pond".
To discuss the British artists and the work they presented in the Paris Salons is to spotlight the most public visual culture of the period. Unlike the private collections, exhibitions and galleries, the Salons drew an audience of tens of thousands. And if everything was not looked at, at least it was seen. The effect of the increasing number of works on show, the gradual disappearance of juries and the proliferation of Salons was to produce a shift in the way reputations were made, with prints, photography, dealers, museums and exhibitions ultimately doing more for artists than the Salons. Even so, a reading of the Salon livrets going back over such a long period allows us to home in the significant changes that took place.
The text that follows provides a more detailed examination of the high points, concentrations of talent and unexpected presences. For a closer focus the reader should consult Béatrice Crespon–Halotier's dictionary of British artists who showed in the Paris Salons; the following essay is intended as an introduction to that dictionary, not as a replacement for it.