For today’s helping, I need to provide a bit of historical context for why this painting caught my eye. The Paris Salon, known as just the Salon, was the most important art event in the world for over 150 years. Between 1748 and 1890, this annual or biannual event determined the latest trends, tastes, and accepted styles of art. Careers could be made with a successful showing at the Salon, and thousands of artworks were submitted every year. However, the Salon’s importance and prestige eventually declined due to its refusal to embrace new artistic movements. In particular, the Salon was famously hostile to the Impressionists. Eventually, the increasingly conservative parameters of what works were accepted led to the formation of multiple other annual Salons. Such is the case in Paris to this day.
However, today’s helping comes from the Salon of 1833, at the height of the Salon’s power and influence. That year, no less than six artists exhibited works based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Victor Hugo’s famous novel had been published in 1831, and clearly it was an inspiration for many artists. What caught my eye was the fact that two out of the six artists were women. It’s unfortunate that this is so noteworthy, but the art world of the 19th century wasn’t exactly a bastion of gender equality. To have two women exhibiting the same subject in 1833 was extraordinary.
One of these women was Eugénie Henry. She painted “Quasimodo Saves Esmeralda from the Hands of Her Executioners“, pictured above. I happened to see this painting in person prior to the new lockdown, and I was completely taken in by its beauty. I have loved Notre Dame Cathedral for decades, and so any artwork set within this majestic building was always going to catch my eye. But there is an ethereal quality to this particular painting that I love. The grand aspiration of it. The idea that one person will go up against a mob to save the person they love.
What also caught my eye about this painting was that in today’s parlance, this would be called fanart. Eugénie Henry clearly read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, loved it, and was inspired to create a work of art from it. Millions of fans around the world still do this today, but their work is often derided. Completely unfairly, I should add. That’s why, as I stood in front of this painting, I could only smile. At one point, multiple artists exhibited their fanworks at the most prestigious art event in the world. I can only hope we get to that point again in the future.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!