The Salon drew crowds of all kinds. To Vernissage flocked the elite of Paris, the aristocracy of Society, of the Stage, of Music, and Literature, as well as of the Arts: in other words, the French Crowd, always intelligent, always amused, always disputive. How new to me to see a group of forceful, middle-aged or old men, masters in some field without doubt, stooping over a small picture, arguing with heated insistence, denouncing, eulogizing! Never had I seen assembled so many men of 'parts' - real men, I would have said, - so absorbed, so oblivious, greeting each other warmly, and with absolutely no general curiosity; pausing a moment with great deference, before some quiet lady, or obvious beauty, but really there through profound interest in contemporary art. I longed to get closer - not to meet them, but to hear their talk, their dispute about the supreme subject.
Into the gallery one day, as our obscure party moved about there entered a Personage; a charming figure, with a following of worshippers. The lady was dressed in black lace, strangely fashioned. Though she was small, her step and carriage, slow and gracious as she moved and spoke, were queenly. She was a dazzling blonde, somewhat restored and not beautiful, as one saw her nearer. The striking point in her costume - and there was but one - was that the upper part of her corsage, or yoke, was made entirely of fresh violets, bringing their perfume with them. Every one, artists and their friends, ceased their examination of the pictures, and openly gazed, murmuring their pride and joy in their idol, Sarah Bernhardt.
Numerous, of course, in the crowd were the artists themselves. Many of them were men of sixty or seventy, with fine intellectual heads, sometimes with a quiet little woman beside them. Puvis might have been there in his black silk cap, venerated, full of honors, or Jean Paul Laurens, Raffaelli or Renoir even.
Every one was there, from the little old man, loved and respected for his lifelong devotion to the cher metier, to the young aspirant, long-haired and loose-cravated, and of course accompanied by his petite amie; and the flamboyant bel homme, trying to be satisfied with what he could get of notice...Generally I remained ready to progress noiselessly, and without importance."
from Background with Figures by Cecilia Beaux