Yet by no means were these Salons equal in power, nor did they work consensually to forge this “modern art centre”. Formed on the basis of their different cultural politics, constantly they rivalled one another for State acquisitions and commissions, exhibition places and spaces, awards, and every other means of enhancing their legitimacy. By no means were the avant-garde salons those that most succeeded. Instead, as this culturo-political history demonstrates, the French Artists’ and National Fine Art Salons were the most successful, with the genderist French Artists' Salon being the most powerful and “official”. Despite the renown today of Neo-Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, the most powerful artists in this “modern art centre” were not Sonia Delaunay, Émile Gallé, Paul Signac, Henri Matisse or even Picasso but such Academicians as Léon Bonnat, William Bouguereau, Fernand Cormon, Edouard Detaille, Gabriel Ferrier, Jean-Paul Laurens, Luc-Oliver Merson and Aimé Morot, who exhibited at the “official” Salon supported by the machinery of the State.
In its exposure of the rivalry, conflict and struggle between the Salons and their artists, this is an unprecedented history of dissension. It also exposes how, just below the welcoming internationalist veneer of this “modern art centre”, intense persecutionist paranoia lay festering. Whenever France’s “civilizing mission” seemed culturally, commercially or colonially threatened, it erupted in waves of nationalist xenophobia turning artistic rivalry into bitter enmity. In exposing how rivals became transmuted into conspirators, ultimately this book reveals a paradox resonant in histories that celebrate the international triumph of French modern art: that this magnetic “centre”, which began by welcoming international modernists, ended by attacking them for undermining its cultural supremacy, contaminating its “civilizing mission” and politically persecuting the very modernist culture for which it has received historical renown.