Anyone for a ‘Salon’ Gathering ?

I really badly want to go to a salon gathering. I realise I may have to host though I’d much rather attend.

Since first I read the book ‘Wild Irish Women’ by Marian Broderick, this tantalising passage about Lady Jane Wilde (mother of Oscar) left me inspired and so filled me with longing to attend one, to know more, like how is it done for instance?  To have been a fly on the wall then, could you imagine?

‘Every week she held a salon, or ‘At Home’ at No 1, Merrion Square (Dublin) for the literary, the artistic, the scientific and any celebrity she could get her hands on. She made a strong impression on everyone who met her combination of ‘nonsense with a sprinkling of genius’, as one of her guests so eloquently phrased it.’

jane wilde
Lady Jane Wilde, famous writer, hostess, rebel and mother of Oscar and their home, No 1 Merrion Sq, Dublin. Click image for source details.

Wikipedia describes it as follows…

Salon (gathering) ‘A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. (insert audible sigh) These gatherings often consciously followed Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate”. Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, were carried on until quite recently in urban settings.’

Women were the centre of the life in the salon and carried a very important role as regulators. They can select their guests and decide about the subjects of their meetings. Those subjects can be social, literary, or political. They also had the role as mediator by directing the discussion.

The salon was really an informal university for women in which women were able to exchange ideas, receive and give criticism, share their own works and hear the works and ideas of other intellectuals. Many ambitious women used the salon to pursue a form of higher education

Source: Wikipedia, click HERE

I always think too of the dinner scene in Howard’s End, do you know it? And of Gertrude Steins Paris salon attended by Ernest Hemingway and Picasso before they were famous.

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Afternoon tea with the Schlegel girls, Howards End. I couldn’t find an image of their ‘salon’ dinner. Click image for source details. recently I was reading this intensely incredibly article about artist Louise Bourgeois, her home and life when I came to this passage…

Most recently I read an inspiring feature about artist Louise Bourgeois, her life, work, home, and salon

‘It was in the sitting room that Bourgeois held her famous Sunday salons, for which people would queue around the block. Everyone had to present something – a piece of music, a poem, a painting. It was Gorovoy’s job to get people drunk. “She had a little bar – whisky, ouzo. Sometimes people would bring wine. It was like group therapy. She’d want to know everything– did their father hit them, what was their mother like. We were both interested in psychology. When we argued she would try to say something psychoanalytical and I would just lob it right back.” From ‘Inside artist Louise Bourgeois’ New York Home, read more HERE

I’d love to have been there wouldn’t you? It would be a bit frightening I think but worth it, to be surrounded by beauty, to feel inspired, that would be my aim. That’s always my aim.

So is it time to resurrect the ‘salon’ tradition and if so how? It’s not what find on your doorstep is it? We get bills not invitations and who would be interested in say a monthly ‘salon’ gathering?

Who wants to dress up and drink cocktails but also contribute, participate, give a talk, showcase, host, share, discuss?

1931 32 Art Deco Evening Dress
And I’ll wear this 1931 32 Art Deco Evening Dress, swoon

The catch is that as much as I would love to be a guest, to find mentors, to watch from the sidelines, even one time, just to get an idea, I also know this is the kind of world, the kind of experience you have to create yourself if you want it.

Who knows, maybe I will start a salon one of these days.

So, when the time comes, who’s with me? Is this your idea of absolute heaven as it is mine? Even if it is frightening, even if you’d much prefer hide in a corner and watch it unfold from a bottle of wine.

Or perhaps you’d see yourself as a host or performer and wouldn’t be phased in the least? Perhaps artists, poets, musicians will vy to showcase their work and all the time I’ll pretend to be a modern day Jane Wilde with a dash of Gertrude Stein.

And out of interest, seeing as we’re imagining the scene, how would you run it? How structured or loose, what kind of format? How would you soothe others fears, swallow your own and keep the night flowing? It’s a bit of a mystery isn’t it?  It has more mystery and room for interpretation than a straightforward party or dinner.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas…I may use them too. Have a great, great week out there. Talk to you soon.

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To illustrate the mystery of the ‘salon’ I couldn’t find any really suitable illustrations! Here instead is a fabulous dinner party one. Source link in image

 

17 Comments

  1. I’ve always loved the idea of salons and have also frequently wanted to be the fabulous hostess of one. Except, I just don’t think I’m a salon kind of person. Have very few opinions of my own to offer and even fewer that would stand up to rigourous debate. I’m definitely far more of a sit in the corner and watch type. I could totally imagine you doing it though (even if I don’t know you very well).
    Maybe if I ever manage to actually settle in one place I will start a regular Sunday evening “casual supper”. I’ve noticed at book club that the conversations always centre far more on the book when new people join us. When the five oldest members meet, we all know each other so well at this stage, that the conversation tends to stray more towards the personal, daily life stuff. Also pleasant but not quite the aim. So I do think the key point is the mix of people.

    1. Well thank you for the complement but as hostess I think you should be allowed just ‘direct’ proceedings if you want to and leave the debate to your guests 🙂 I think your’re absolutely right about having the mix of people so it doesn’t all get ‘too’ casual. Finding people at all will be the hardest part, I think, I could be wrong. Very envious of your book club, I tried that pre-blog but couldn’t get enough people, they were all too busy!

    1. Well, we might have to have a bi-annual one in NYC and Chicago then! Maybe use technology to Skype in some dear friends across the pond as well!

  2. I must confess that I’d never heard of a “Salon Gathering”. Much more interesting than the Victorian “at home”, which were very sedate afternoon affairs, where to discuss religion & politics were considered to be in bad taste and the weather was deemed to be a safe subject and men were bribed to attend at all.

    How exciting by contrast, the gathering you describe Jane. Can you imagine the exciting new topics of the day being bounced around, by the new up and coming talents & bright, young things! You can almost hear the impassioned having a row and picture the thinkers sitting back listening interjecting with the odd bon mot!

    Here’s a lovely quote from the Lady Wilde book I showed you. “Conversation is the cure for every sorrow. Even contention is better than loneliness”.

    1. Wow! What a stirring comment Kerry and I adore the quote, may have to use that on fb today 🙂 You know I have you on the list to attend, I’ve since come up with an outline idea for the first one 🙂

  3. Oh I’d love to attend a ‘salon’. I’m sure you would make a suitably ‘inspiring host. I think if there was plenty of wine the evening would be bound to flow well, but perhaps a ‘theme’ for an evening would work well too. Even a word for people to respond to. The literary magazine Colony does this and requests submissions based on whatever theme/word they have chosen for each edition. The last one was the word ‘trans’. So many ways to interpret it, no?

    Anyway, I for one would love to see Salons making a comeback and there’s no better woman to make it happen!

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence Sadhbh, I’d love to be a guest but always the host seems more my destiny! I like the word idea but it feels more intimidating for a ‘live’ setting than for print somehow, maybe that’s just me. Still the comments here are sparking a few ideas, I suppose I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or awkward in anyway so wine is an absolute MUST! 🙂

      1. Oh I think it would definitely be a bit intimidating if a theme was just ‘sprung’ on people on the evening. But if it was circulated along with the invitation, people would have time do respond before arriving and feel confident that they had something to share/contribute, maybe.Or do you think it would deter people from coming at all?

        1. Ah I see, that is a good idea. I think the kind of people who feel inspired by this kind of thing would feel the fear and come anyway! That’s how I’d be at least! I’d imagine in any form it would be too much for some people no matter what way you set it up but thanks, you’ve given me more food for thought

    2. Thanks for the vote of confidence Sadhbh, I’d love to be a guest but always the host seems more my destiny! I like the word idea but it feels more intimidating for a ‘live’ setting than for print somehow, maybe that’s just me. Still the comments here are sparking a few ideas, I suppose I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or awkward in anyway so wine is an absolute MUST! 🙂

  4. Salon swooning over here. Especially at that dress! I have a friend, who every year in December, has a dinner for a small group of her nearest and dearest friends. It is her Christmas present to us all. Each year there is a theme and she cooks to suit. Georgian, Victorian etc and my favourite was Ancient Roman. We were all sent ‘topics’ to research and discuss as the delicious dishes came and went. It was probably the closest to an actual Salon I’ve experienced and would do it again in a heartbeat. I’m hoping my studio, once finished and completed with an outdoor seating area, will become a gathering place for interesting people but I do agree that the mix of those who don’t know each other *too* well is the key to keeping things on track and away from mundane discussions. Or perhaps setting the discussion topic is best. Imagine having salons happening in different cities on the same w’end around the world and posting to a common blog from each of them…. There’s that audible sigh again. This time from me.

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