Salon Culture

In the 18th century the Salon emerged as an important social meeting place for prominence and for the ambitious. Salons were always hosted by women; salons would provide an ambiente - good food, entertainment in form of a poet reciting his poems, of a singer singing an aria, of paintings hanging at the wall. The salon was an opportunity for discussion, both in a large circle and in (numerous) small groups.
Etiquette was important; discussions with ladies present were not to touch the topics of politics and business, art providing a common topic. Often, men would withdraw from the general salon into a side room to talk business.
The salon hostess had considerable influence, for she was in control of the invitations, the seat arrangement at the table. She would introduce aspiring young men to influential persons and thus start careers.

Enlightenment salons ignored traditional social taboos; guests included adherents of all religions, provided Jews with an opportunity to socialize outside of the Jewish community. Jews even hosted their own salons. Salons were frequented by the nobility, but were open to burghers, to intellectuals. Salons were exclusive in the fact that they required of their guests manners and education.

The salon of Madame Geoffrin - she hosted her salon between 1749 and 1769 - was visited by, a.o. Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, Turgot, Hume, Walpole and Edward Gibbon. In 1759, with a major contribution, she supported Diderot's project of the publication of the Encyclopedia (which otherwise might have failed).
Salon hostesses, and other educated women of the time, would enter into correspondence with contemporary artists, philosophers.

Salons would continue to be an important social event into the 19th century. At a salon, Napoleon Bonaparte met Josephine.

Parisian Salons, from France in the Age of les Miserables
The Role of Women in European Salon Culture, from C. Grimm, a bibliography
Biography of Madame Geoffrin, from Madame de Pompadour und ihre Zeit, in German; from aei, in French
DOCUMENTS Painting : Madame Garrett's Salon, from Bryn Mawr School Libraries
REFERENCE Brendan Dooley, The Salon, pp.224-226 in Brendan Dooley, The public sphere and the organization of knowledge, pp.209-228 in John A. Marino (ed.), Early Modern Italy (Short Oxford History of Italy), Oxford : UP 2002

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 12th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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