I am by no means an expert on the topics of salons or blogs, but I do know my fair share of French history. I did, after all, study Art History in Paris and have a ravenous appetite for everything and anything early modernist. So my introduction to one of the greatest salons of the twentieth century came first through not a person, but a house. And what a house it is! Villa Noailles was built between 1923 and 1927 by Robert Mallet-Stevens for art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles and was featured in numerous avant-garde films of the period, including Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dé.
You might ask how any of this relates to the famed salons of yore or the modern day blog. Well, the Vicomtesse de Noailles was without a doubt one of the most influential (and eccentric) art patrons of the twentieth century, hosting numerous parties at the Villa Noailles which, amongst others, propelled the careers of Salvador Dalí, Balthus, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel, and Francis Poulnenc.
While the Vicomtesse was herself an aristocrat (and a direct descendent of the Marquis de Sade), her marriage to the Vicomte de Noailles secured her position as a French socialite, enabling her (and her husband) to support and finance the works of emerging artists including those of Man Ray, Poulenc, Cocteau, and Buñuel and Dali. While it may be a stretch to compare her to the reigning queen of the blog, Arianna Huffington, similarities, even at the personal level, emerge. For one, both married prominent men and used their associations as a base for their cultural empires. It is also interesting to note that both of their husbands had a liking for men.
All personal comparisons asides, the salon, like the blog, is about connections. Unlike social networks (and public forums) that focus on sharing, the blog, similarly to the salon, revolves around support. Basically, I can blab about anything I want on a social network and can never be heard. The sheer amount of voices in a public forum mutes smaller voices. Blogs, like the salon of the Vicomtesse de Noailles, encourages like-minded “smaller” voices to be heard. While financial support, as in the case of the traditional salon, can be part of the equation, the distinctive feature of the blog is its ability (because of its focus and therefore, smallness) to nurture and support these voices to fame. It is not a coincidence, nor is it demeaning, that salons were the business or “university” for women. Strong-minded female entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington (and in my opinion Rowan and Vaneeesa, among others, in SL) have picked up where the salonnières have left off, using contemporary technology to their advantage. Kathleen