The official French art exhibition in Paris took its name from the Salon Carré of the Louvre, where from recent works by the members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture were shown. At first irregular, with no exhibition sometimes for several years, the Salon was held biennially from . In the 18th century it provided a competitive forum for artists to display their work in the search for both public and private commissions. The exhibition was visited by a surprisingly wide cross-section of society, many of whom bought the livret or official catalogue. After the replacement of the Académie Royale by the École des Beaux-Arts in the Salon was thrown open to all artists, though it was some years before it was established as an annual event. In the mid-19th century the exhibition was moved from the Louvre to the Palais de l'Industrie but retained its traditional name. The process by which works were chosen and the composition of the jury that selected entries and awarded prizes were two of the most controversial issues in the 19th-century art world with the degree of open-mindedness and democracy reflecting the complexions of the various political regimes which succeeded one another in France. The dissatisfaction of progressive artists with a system that by and large favoured the more conservative and academic over the new and challenging culminated in the famous Salon des Refusés of . This was arranged by the government of Napoleon III so that the public might judge for itself the quality of the art which had been rejected from the official Salon. In the École des Beaux-Arts gave up its control of the exhibition and a number of competing shows were established, quickly undermining what prestige the Salon still retained. (Excert from the Oxford Art Online)
The Art Institute of Chicago has produced an excellent research guide about the Paris Salons and the available publications. Ignore the call numbers in the guide and instead look for the resources in the KU Catalog.