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B. Perat: Salon de Paris (Tahun 1866) Francis

THE VARNISHING TOUCH
The French word ‘vernissage’ literally means varnishing. Now used for the opening celebration of an seni show, it dates back to when painters literally put a finishing layer of varnish to their works at the stseni of an exhibition.
From 1748 to 1890, the Salon de Paris was the official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-senis. The greatest seni event in the Western dunia, its (bi)annual shows were highly popular with the public. Entrance fees were affordable for all, and sixty thousand curious visitors would flock to the show’s first day. Exhibitions ran for several weeks. Newspapers competed to report on the quality of the works and the attitudes of seniists and public, often in the form of satire and caricature.
Admission to the Salon was essential for an seniist’s commercial success, and many struggled to get their works past a jury of settled academics and critics. Not surprisingly, this ensured a conservative admittance climate, which sometimes resulted in breakaway exhibitions for refused works, or by independent groups like the impressionists.
Painters given to self-doubt often continued working on last-moment improvements. Their last opportunity ended on opening night, when the final layer of varnish had to be applied. This original ‘vernissage’ was a grand social occasion, only attended by invited patrons and elite. In this realistic rendition (1866) by B. Perat the happy few admire new works, unhindered by the trampling hordes crowding public opening hours. On the floor, a painter holding a pot of varnish critically considers the result of his labour, flanked by security personnel: a policeman and a ‘pompier’ (fireman). All across the background, seniists on ladders are still busy varnishing. The scene also gives a realistic impression of the Salon’s exhibition policy, which was alphabetically, floor-to-ceiling, on every available inch of space and regardless of size and subject.
The varnishing tradition has disappeared for modern opening nights. The name ‘vernissage’ survives, but alcohol, snacks and heavy perfume have replaced the aura of lacquer.
(text: Jos Hanou)

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