Cora Josephine Turner and the Salon des Beaux Arts 1908

As has been noted before, "A Girl in the Art Class" by Jan Gordon (1927) is based on the actual life history of Cora Josephine Gordon (née Turner). Despite the various disguised names (e.g.) and misdirection by the author as to dates (e.g.), it is possible to find documentary evidence for several specific accounts in the book.

Today's small quest was for a record relating to the story surrounding the central importance to Cora's artist friends of having artworks selected for display in the Paris salons and Cora Turner's first participation in one of these salons. Cora had been posing for a Mrs. Sovil for a picture destined for the salon. "During these long vacancies of posing I made up my mind to try myself for this Salon. I engendered only an abstract ambition to attempt the Salon, an ambition which germinated in me and took root."

While reading in bed one Saturday evening, Cora decided, for her entry to the salon, to illustrate a tale by Gautier, "Le Roi Candaule." She "worked out a composition of Nyssia at the moment she lets her last garment fall to the floor." She also drew a series of small medallions "that owed nothing either to rhyme or reason."

"Now the time drew near when the notices from the Beaux Arts Salon should be distributed. In spite of the fact that I had sent in half with levity and half owing to herd impulse, as the days dragged on I was becoming both excited and anxious. Having dressed, I would run down to the concierge's loge for letters, and to the baker's for a roll, while the kettle was heating slowly on the spirit-stove. One morning, with a smirk, the fat concierge handed me the long-awaited envelope, stamped with the superscription of the Salon National des Beaux Arts."
"I fingered it. Here was either reward or disappointment. I felt as though my stomach had become a bottomless pit. I was so sure that it was disappointment. I had found no protection at the Beaux Arts, nor had tried to find such. So I bought an extra croissant, stoked up the stove and poured out tea, hot before I found the pluck to open the letter. I thus prepared a material comfort to compensate for the unavoidable blow. Slowly I tore the envelope. Within was a white form - acceptance. ... Now I felt some of the pride and certainty that I was an artist. It was in part a compensation for some of the moments of depression that I had suffered at Edals and even in Paris."

Later (the salon ran from April to June 1908), "I duly went down to the opening day of the Salon with Mrs. Sovil. When with great difficulty I had found my own pictures, my satisfaction received a shock to see how small and insignificant they looked amongst all the great and competent canvases of the famous or notorious artists of France and of Europe. Still I was exhibiting. That at least was a something gained towards fame for myself."

Delightfully, a search through the catalogue for the 1908 Salon des Beaux Arts, reveals Cora Turner's successful entry, number 1724, La sorcière. Her address is given as 9, rue Campagne-Première (XIV).*

La sorcière must be the "Roi Candaule" entry described in the book, though it is hard to see Nyssia represented as a sorcière (witch or sorceress) so the "Roi Candaule" story must be a fictional adaptation by Jan Gordon. In the book, Cora later carried "Le Roi Candaule" with her when seeking work as an illustrator in London. Presumably it was actually "La sorcière" that she carried with her. This is yet another very pleasing find.

* rendered "6 Rue Villegeature Seconde" in the book, inverting the 9, replacing "countryside" with "holiday resort" and exchanging first for second.


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