This short series looks as some of the more famous masterpieces which have been rejected by those who commissioned them, or the juries for major exhibitions. Articles are listed in chronological order, with a summary of each painting’s fate, an image of the work, and a link to the article about that rejection.
Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767–1824), Mademoiselle Lange as Venus (1798)
Rejected by its model, who commissioned it, as unflattering, but the artist got his revenge.
Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), The Painter’s Studio: a Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic (and Moral) Life (1855)
Rejected, along with A Burial at Ornans and another, from the Exposition Universelle in Paris because of their large size, exhibited by the artist in his own gallery of paintings next door to the Exposition.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl (1862)
Rejected by the jury of the Royal Academy, possibly in confusion with a novel, or because of a previous scandal in which a notorious prostitute had been the model; rejected by the Paris Salon the following year, and finally exhibited at the Salon des Refusés in 1863.
Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) (1863)
Rejected by the Paris Salon, exhibited at the Salon des Refusés, where it was met with derision.
John Brett (1831–1902), Florence from Bellosguardo (1863)
Rejected by the Royal Academy, but quickly purchased by the National Gallery, where it met with acclaim.
Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894), Les Raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers) (1875)
Rejected by the Paris Salon as it was deemed to have a ‘vulgar subject matter’ unsuitable for the public to view, finally exhibited at the Second Impressionist Exhibition.
Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884), The Annunciation to the Shepherds (1875)
Rejected by the jury of the Prix de Rome contest on a technicality viewed by many as being trumped-up. Offered a consolation prize.
Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) (1875)
Rejected as unsightly by the jury of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and sent first to an Army hospital to be hidden.
Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878)
Rejected by the jury for the US pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, finally hung at the delayed fourth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris.
Ferdinand Hodler (1853–1918), The Night (1889-90)
Rejected by the Beaux-Arts exhibition in Geneva, so put on display nearby by the artist, where the city’s mayor deemed it obscene because of its intertwined nude figures. Removed from display, and finally exhibited to praise at the Salon in Paris.
Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Midvinterblot (Midwinter’s Sacrifice) (1914-15)
Rejected by the commissioning committee of the National Museum in Stockholm, probably because it failed to meet modernist ideals. Finally bought back by the museum and installed in 1997, when the artist had been dead for 78 years.
I dedicate this to every artist who has suffered rejection. You’re in very good company.