Salons may chime in our minds with places of placid Victorian domesticity, complete with aspidistras, curlicued ornaments, young women in corsetted crinolines and elaborate coiffures, young men in stiff jackets and carefully waxed mustaches - and most importantly, delicate music that is superficially descriptive of tinkling fountains and nightingales. Music that is "feminine" - delightful, easy to play and soon put aside for weightier matters, to be discussed in the smoking room.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Salons across Europe in the 19th Century were a place of creativity, exploration and daring, even of danger. They were places to meet like-minded people and to hear new ideas through conversation and art. Many of them were run by women - the women who, barred from most forms of education and relegated by their societies to secondary roles - muse, nurse, handmaiden, wife, mother – nonetheless went out to make their own place in the world.
But in refusing to accept an imposed silence and in seeking creative ways of expressing their experience of life and their worlds, countless generations of women have lifted the veil on what it is like to inhabit those roles. This, too, is a universal experience, they say. We too have created not only the world in which we live, but also an expression of our place in that world. Those roles that you so easily dismiss were not silent for us, because we were there.
And in creating a vast treasure-trove of artistic work, the Salonières of the 19th century and their daughters and grand-daughters have gifted us an entire world of human (not just feminine) emotion, from ecstasy and joy to bitterness and mourning.
This site celebrates the contribution made to world culture by salons across the 19th and 20th centuries:
· by uncovering and showcasing the enormous wealth of artistic work by historical women
· by interrogating historical and present-day gendered cultural practices
· by opening metaphorical and actual doors to the pleasure and challenge of taking part in the discussion, debate and creativity of a true salon
· and by creating its own space for contemporary creative work and performance by women and thus continuing the tradition of a salon culture that has transcended the boundaries of time and place - so that women from all parts of the globe and from all ages speak to each other, to each other's art, and to all of us regardless of time, place, status or gender.
If we hear the humanity behind the work, the gender no longer matters.
Fruit and Insects by Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)