“To converse is human… to salon is divine”
"Salons are informal gatherings where people talk big talk, talk meant to be listened to and perhaps passionately acted upon. Salons are incubators where ideas are conceived, gestated, and hatched… Salons are the frontiers of social and cultural change…They’ve been flourishing since ancient Greece.”
Salon du Muse
Appeal of the Salon:
Intellectual salons have been around practically as long as there have been intellectuals. There are mentions of salons from 10th century Moorish Spain and earlier. French historian Eugen Weber dates the term to the receiving salons in ladies' chambers of French chateaus. Salons have been credited with spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, aiding the rise of European liberalism, women's suffrage and modernism--and with encouraging snobbery and social separatism.
The term salon, in the sense of a conversation salon, was first used in 1807 by Madame de Staël in her novel Corinne. The habitués of the salons preferred to use the term bureau d’esprit, derived from bel esprit, which designated a cultivated person who excelled in the art of conversation in a space open to and in the service of others. The salon, as we today understand the word, was begunin the early to mid-seventeenth century, in the Parisian townhouse of Catherine de Vivonne,marquise de Rambouillet—where she went to escape from the boisterous atmosphere of LouisXIII’s royal court. In her own blue room, the famous chambre bleue, she received her guests, manyof them writers. Together, during the 1630s, they developed conversation into an art—thus began the salon’s golden age.
The salons were cosmopolitan in nature, and Paris became known as the “café de l’Europe” because it was its intellectual center, attracting thinkers from all parts of the Continent.
Writers and artists are drawn to diverse gatherings that provide 'a place to share the life of the mind.
"Bringing people together generates an energy that goes beyond the sum of the individuals,"
"You get some action going. People get creative when they're with each other. They add to the concepts."
"It's about creating a community where there's an exchange of ideas."
Mme. de Lambert was one of the senior salon hostesses. In 1710, at the age of sixty-three, she set up her salon in the Hôtel de Nevers, thus forming a transition between the seventeenth-century style précieux of Mme. de Rambouillet’s salon and the philosophical style of the eighteenth century.Until her death in 1733, Mme. de Lambert received guests on two days a week: intellectuals, artists, and writers on Tuesdays; society people on Wednesdays. It was considered a haven from the excesses of the Regency. Although Mme. de Lambert’s rules were strict and decorum was essential, she welcomed serious discussion of literature, science, and philosophy and included many women among her guests. Her influence was very strong, and she helped many, including the philosopher Montesquieu, to be elected to the Académie Française.
Mme. du Deffand belonged to the noblesse d’épée. Following the death of the duchesse du Maine, from whom she had learned the etiquette of the salonnière, Mme. du Deffand moved to the Stein Joseph convent in Paris, where she founded her salon, famous for its witty intelligent conversation and for what Horace Walpole called the “prodigious quickness” of its hostess. Her social and intellectual superiority made her very exacting in her choice of guests. Although admitting that she was opposed to the philosophes’ ideas, she nevertheless welcomed them to her salon, there by contributing to the diffusion of the Enlightenment.
Julie de Lespinasse was the niece of Mme. du Deffand. She accompanied her aunt to Paris, whereher intelligence and charm soon attracted a circle of admirers at the St. Joseph convent, in particular the philosopher and mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, who introduced to her the group of encyclopédistes. This brought about a disagreement with Mme. du Deffand, whose scepticism and acuity contrasted sharply with the warmth and sensitivity of her niece. Mlle. de Lespinasse, who was neither rich nor beautiful, provided a comfortable and unpretentious salon where she shared her passion for music, especially that of Gluck, with the leading thinkers of the 1760s and 1770s.The freedom of discussion and the wide range of topics were welcome changes, and her tact and ability to reveal the brilliance of the minds of her guests were much admired by her loyal following.
Another salon that welcomed the encyclopédistes was that of Mme. Geoffrin on the rue Saint-Honoré. A bourgeoise who had married a rich manufacturer, she had no intellectual pretensions, yet she became the hostess of the brightest intellectuals of the time. Known for her common sense, her discipline, and her strong will, she was nonetheless dearly loved and admired by her guests, among whom were many artists and men of letters, including Edward Gibbon and John Wilkes from England, and David Hume from Scotland. Her guests were selected with great care, and she compiled a list of subjects that would not be tolerated in her salon. Intellectually stimulated by her guests, she freely admitted that it was from the serious discussions in her salon that she received her entire education. Her celebrated generosity prompted her to give financial help not only to artistsbut also to the encyclopédistes. In several cases, financial aid from salon hostesses helped to establish young writers, though not always directly, since it was sometimes in the form of bequests.More frequently they gave moral support: Julie de Lespinasse in particular did much to encourage the encyclopédistes.
Mme. Necker, wife of Jacques Necker, who would
become Louis XVI’s finance minister, had received a good education in
her native Switzerland and was respected for her knowledge of literature,
classical languages, and science. As an immigrant, the wife of a financier,
and a Protestant, she used her salon to break down social barriers, to
help her husband’s career, and to meet the leading writers and philosophers
of the time. Her ambition was that her salon rival those of Mme. Geoffrin
and d’Holbach. Each Friday, she brought together political and economic
theorists, philosophers, and many foreigners. The philosophes’ observations
on religion occasionally shocked her, yet she welcomed them and listened
to them: it was in her salon that Diderot and Grimm tried out some of
their more audacious theories, while Abbé Galiani amused everyone with
his witty repartee.The salon in Enlightenment France was not a meeting
place for people to exchange frivolous gossip. It was a serious working
space, where new ideas were generated and profound changes in society
were proposed by guests who believed in equality and whose intellectual
abilities were unquestioned. It provided a framework for civilized deliberation
in an atmosphere free from most constraints, where the subtleties of conversation
could be explored, and where curiosity about the latest inventions—musical,
scientific, or literary—was encouraged. These are the characteristics
that explain the salon’s extraordinary appeal to visitors from all over