Around Rolla

Henri GervexRolla© RMN-Grand Palais / A. Danvers

Salon and mundanities

Although Rolla was bequest to the Musée du Luxembourg whose collections the Musée d'Orsay inherited, this famous painting by Gervex had never been presented in our galleries before. On permanent loan to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux – which has kindly granted its temporary return to Paris - it figures among the pieces loaned on a long term basis to other institutions to widen the audience of national collections.

Evoking sexual pleasure, Rolla was withdrawn from the 1878 Salon due to the scandal it provoked. Inspired by a poem by Musset describing the fall of a bourgeois, whom Gervex represents at the dramatic moment of his suicide, it evokes the indignation already caused at the Salon by the romantic sculptor Clésinger's Woman Bitten by a Snake in 1847. The painting also refers to Olympia, the prostitute painted by Manet that revolted the public of the Salon des Refusés in 1863, organised on the fringe of the official event.

Henri GervexMeeting of the Jury© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR
Created in 1699, the Salon was, in the latter half of the 19th century, the only exhibition, both popular and institutional, that allowed artists to make their work known. A Session of the Painting Jury by Gervex shows the importance of the event and the reaction of the members of the jury awarding prizes, as well as that of the art critics writing for newspapers. This show reflects the official taste with several paintings acquired by the French State following the Salon for the Musée du Luxembourg, which was devoted to the contemporary art of the time.

For a long time considered as a place where Academism was promoted, the Salon in fact allowed the confrontation of diverse artistic experiments. As they chose subjects from the Antiquity or the Bible, some artists renewed traditional formulae by their style and composition, while others favoured more recent or contemporary events. Indeed, the interest in modern life was not restricted to the small circle of the avant-garde, as shown by the success met by portraits and mundane scenes, which constituted an important source of income for famous artists.
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