Succès de scandale  

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Image:Venus by Daumier.jpg
This Year, Venuses Again... Always Venuses! (1864) - Honoré Daumier
Nazi Germany disapproved of contemporary German art movements such as Expressionism and Dada and on July 19, 1937 it opened the Degenerate art travelling exhibition in the Haus der Kunst in Munich, consisting of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels  deriding the art, to inflame public opinion against modernity.
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Nazi Germany disapproved of contemporary German art movements such as Expressionism and Dada and on July 19, 1937 it opened the Degenerate art travelling exhibition in the Haus der Kunst in Munich, consisting of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels deriding the art, to inflame public opinion against modernity.
Image:The Luncheon on the Grass by Manet.jpg
The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe), originally titled The Bath (Le Bain), is an oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet. Painted between 1862 and 1863 , the juxtaposition of a female nude with fully dressed men sparked controversy when the work was first exhibited at the Salon des Refusés, for in 1863; nudes were acceptable in under the pretext of historical allegories, but to show them in common settings was forbidden. The nude in Manet's painting was no nymph, or mythological being ... she was a modern Parisian woman cast into a contemporary setting with two clothed men. Many found this to be quite vulgar. Praised by contemporaries such as Emile Zola who said in 1867: "Painters, and especially Édouard Manet, who is an analytic painter, do not share the masses' obsession with the subject: to them, the subject is only a pretext to paint, whereas for the masses only the subject exists.", the piece is now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Ubu Roi (King Ubu) is a play developed by Alfred Jarry premiered on December 10 1896, and is widely acknowledged as a theatrical precursor to the Absurdist, Dada and Surrealist art movements.
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Ubu Roi (King Ubu) is a play developed by Alfred Jarry premiered on December 10 1896, and is widely acknowledged as a theatrical precursor to the Absurdist, Dada and Surrealist art movements.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Succès de scandale is French for "success by scandal", i.e. when (part of) a success derives from a scandal.

It might seem contradictory that any kind of success might follow from scandal: but scandal attracts attention, and this attention (whether gossip or bad press or any other kind) is sometimes the beginning of notoriety and/or other successes. Today, the often used cynical phrase "no such thing as bad publicity" is indicative of the extent to which "success by scandal" is a part of modern culture.

The archetypal example of succes de scandale in art is Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) , which premiered in 1913 by the Ballets Russes. In the high days of the Belle Epoque, the public attending this premiere was so scandalised by the brutal sounds produced by the orchestra and the evocation of a blood sacrifice on stage that a riot broke out.

Belle Époque

Belle Époque Paris appears to have had exactly the right climate for succès de scandale (which is probably also the reason why this is where the term originated): in all examples below, regarding famous artists kicking off their career with some sort of scandal, there are at least some connections with turn-of-the-century Paris. In other cities, provoking a scandal appeared more risky, as Oscar Wilde would find out shortly after his relatively "successful" Parisian scandal (Salomé — 1894, portraying the main character as a Necrophile)

  • Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) by Edouard Manet, presented at the Salon des refusés, 1863: Even the Emperor was scandalised — but Manet had a nice start to his career.
  • Alfred Jarry shocked Paris in 1896 with the first of his absurdistic Ubu plays: Ubu Roi. The performance of this play was forbidden after the first night. No problem for Jarry: he moved the production to a puppet theatre.
  • A new group of artists, labelled disrespectfully Les Fauves ("The Wild Beasts") by an art critic, had their successful debut in 1905 Paris (and kept the name).
  • Richard Strauss had had little success with his first two operas, which today are no longer performed. Consequently, he tried something different: he set music to Wilde's Salomé in 1905, and racketed quite some scandal with this opera, including in the New York Met, where the production had to be closed after one night. But Strauss wanted more: his next opera (Elektra — 1909) was so "noisy" that cartoons appeared with Strauss directing an orchestra of animals. Then Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the textwriter of this second "successful" production, seems to have taken the right decision, in restraining Strauss from getting even bolder: Strauss's success was guaranteed without any further scandal, so Hoffmansthal wrote a bittersweet scenario with a theme of resigning to the fact of getting older, for Strauss's next (and after all most successful) opera. Only two world wars later Strauss would get involved in scandal again, for his way of realising what was then considered as the highest ambition: directing the Bayreuther Festspiele (which had involved working with the Nazi regime). Here, however, scandal came after the success.
  • L'après-midi d'un faune (1912): see Afternoon of a Faun (ballet).
  • The Rite of Spring (1913): see introduction to this article.
  • Parade production of 1917: see Parade (ballet).
  • Paul Chabas had won a most prestigious prize with his September Morn in Paris in 1912. Nudity as portrayed in this painting was however far from being able to shock a Parisian public, half a century after the Déjeuner. So, notwithstanding the "official" prize, market value of the painting remained low. Then, Chabas put it on show in a New York shop window in 1913. There, for the first time in history, it appears a succes de scandale scheme was set up by a publicity agent (Harry Reichenbach), who "accidentally" coached a morality crusader along the picture. The scandal that evolved brought financial success and secured Chabas's place in art history books. Although later deemed kitsch, the painting ended up in one of the most prestigious museums of New York.

No such thing as bad publicity

September Morn would not be the last time that Comstockery fanned the success it wanted to fence: "I expect it will be the making of me" said Mae West to the press in 1927, under arrest after the Society for the Suppression of Vice had manoeuvred to get her play titled Sex re-censored by the Police Department Play Jury — a few years later, over forty, her sex symbol status paid off: her 1935 film contract made her the highest paid woman till that day.

Later in the 20th century several more succès de scandale examples would show what a powerful instrument scandal can be for turning a publicity campaign into a success, to the point it can make any other publicity agent's trick redundant. One of the most notorious examples of that was the late 20th century publicity campaign by Benetton. It scored at least two major scandals: one regarding the controversial photographs (e.g. of people dying of AIDS) that were used to promote colourful Italian clothing; the second scandal went maybe even deeper, while the brain behind the campaign, the photographer Oliviero Toscani wiped the floor with the world of publicity at large: absolutely no other publicity device than photos unrelated to the brand that was promoted had been used to reach soaring high sales for that brand: Toscani had scorned every rule of the book. And this feat probably made Toscani the most famous publicity photographer ever.

Due to more widespread use of the Internet, recently celebrity sex tapes have found widespread distribution. However, in many cases, these tapes have served to cause an increase in popularity of those featured, most notably in the case of Paris Hilton, whose tape was discovered shortly before her reality show debuted.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Succès de scandale" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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