This rediscovered pastel, which has remained in the artist's family since his death, is the study for Gervex's monumental eponymous oil painting of circa 1885, showing a meeting of the jury of the Paris Salon in 1883. Set on the first floor of the Palais de l'Industrie (whose site is now occupied by the Petit and Grand Palais), it depicts the jurymen, among them Félix-Joseph Barrias, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, Léon Bonnat, William Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel, Carolus-Duran, Gustave Achille Guillaumet and Antoine Vollon, casting their votes on whether to accept or reject a painting submitted for the Salon. Gervex's finished oil (measuring 3 by 4.2m) was bought at the 1885 Salon by Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau, who later became the Prime Minister of France, who in turn bequeathed it to the Musée du Luxembourg in 1892. It subsequently spent time in the Louvre and the Saint-Denis Museum, Reims, before being assigned to the Musée d'Orsay in 1981, where it now hangs.
In his novel L'Oeuvre - for which Gervex himself is believed to have been the model for the painter Fagerolle - Emile Zola described the work of the jury: 'Every day the gallery attendants put out an endless row of paintings on the floor, propped up right across the rooms on the first floor [...] They [the jury] made decisions without much thought, getting the job done as quickly as possible, rejecting the worst paintings without a vote; Yet sometimes the group would stop to discuss something, and would argue for about ten minutes [...].'
Having earned a second class medal at the Salon of 1874, Gervex had won hors concours status, and was theoretically able to have his Salon submissions accepted without fear of veto by the jury. However, in 1878 what would turn out to be his succès de scandale, Rolla - depicting a man and a prostitute on the morning after, inspired by Degas - was rejected by the Salon jury on grounds of immorality, and shown at a commercial gallery in the rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin instead.
Gervex quickly managed to put the scandal of Rolla behind him, and was accepted as a member of the Salon jury in 1881. Nevertheless the Rolla episode left him with a lingering ambivalence towards the Salon system. In the present composition (and in the oil even more so) he mocks the jurists, who raise their phallic canes and umbrellas at the sight of a beautiful nude (itself based on Gervex' Dans les bois of 1876). Their chaotic boorish behaviour is at odds with their supposedly Olympian status as arbiters of le bon goût in painting. It is even tempting to view the discarded top hat and cane on the chair on the left of the composition in the finished painting as a direct quote from Rolla, in which the man's hat and cane can be seen on the chair next to the bed; and therefore as Gervex cocking a snook at the jury that had rejected his painting only a few years earlier.
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