Paris: City of Light

The Background to Parisian Salons


Parisian Salons
 ~Salons of   Enlightenment
 ~Madame de   Stäel         
~Salons of the   Restoration
 ~The Salons of   Victor Hugo

Influence of Printed Materials
 ~Pre-Revolutionary   Timeline
 ~Post-Revolutionary   Timeline


Defining the Parisians
 ~Parisians Viewed   by Foreigners
 ~Parisians   Viewed by   Themselves
 ~Paris Fashion




THE SALON - a cultural institution dating back to the first half of the 17th century in Paris, came forth as an extension of the institutionalized court where royal women of leadership had entertained the city elite since the early 16th century.

The Parisian salons were distinguished from the cercle, the all-male literary circles and the society of cabarets and cafés of Paris due to the dominance of women in them. Aristocratic and upper bourgeoisie women known as salonnières ran and organized the salons from their homes. These great salonnières set the tone and aims of the gatherings, helping to intermingle the writers, artists, philosophers and other various patrons present.

During 1770 through 1830, the city of Paris experienced a plethora of change and growth; politically, socially, and culturally. The arrival and departure of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Restoration each left their own indelible marks on the Parisian salon.

The Salons of the Enlightenment:

  • Enlightenment salons brought forth a new element of "seriousness and regularity" to the salon as they formed the social base of the Republic of Letters and thus contributed to the social project of the Enlightenment (Goodman, 89).
  • Madame Geoffrin, a salonnière, served as an ideal mentor and model for other salonnières of the time bringing forth two important changes in her salons.

The Salons of Madame de Stäel:

  • This amazing salonnière, Mme. de Stäel was the connecting link between the 18th and 19th centuries. She was born of the Revolution and lived to see the new condition of French society, which was ushered in by the Battle of Waterloo.
  • Mme. de Stäel versus Napoleon Bonaparte: With the establishment of the First Consul, the passionate, democratic ambitions of Mme. de Stäel collided with the militaristic, autocratic aims of Napoleon.

The Salons of the Restoration:

  • Following the end of Napoleon's dictatorial reign, the Salons of the Restoration once again brought together Parisian men and women for social and intellectual dialogue.
  • Madame Récamier serves as one of the celebrated salonnières of this time. She was known for not only her skills as a salonnière but for her striking beauty as well.


In discussing the leadership of Parisian women in the salons, it should be mentioned that a controversy exists between two schools of thought:

    • The salonnières were bright women who, regardless of their social class, where given the chance to step out of the shadows of their dull and limiting pre-determined place in society and could enjoy much more independence than the majority of Parisian women.   


    • The salonnières lived empty lives of idleness, turning their backs on their families and household duties and doing nothing of importance in their salons.


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