The Creation of an American Salon

In Europe and the United States, salons--formal annual exhibitions of artwork, usually paintings and prints--had been popular since the 19th century. The first American photography salon was held in the city's elite Cosmos Club from May 26 to 29. Sponsored by members of the Capital Bicycle Club's Camera Club and including works by club members and invited participants, the salon highlighted the country's amateur photographers (and some professionals) who were experimenting in art photography. These amateurs were inspired by the European photographic salon model, and hoped to convince Americans of an idea already accepted by Europeans--that photography deserved a place among the fine arts.

The Smithsonian Institution's Assistant Secretary, G. Brown Goode, and Official Photographer, Thomas W. Smillie, welcomed the Washington Salon as an opportunity to expand their collection of photographs. They visited the exhibition and selected fifty of the 345 entries for the Smithsonian's newly created Section of Photography. These prints were considered excellent examples of the current state of the nation's amateur photography, illustrating the creative impressionistic and expressive style termed pictorialist, or art photography.

Title Page Cover Advertising page
Title page, cover, and an advertising page fro the 1896 Washington Salon catalog.
Courtesy Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Step Left to see the previous panel in detail. Step Back to see the whole wall again. Step Right to see the next photograph in detail.