Happy Friday! Let’s talk about jury duty. Sure, it’s your civic duty, and everyone has to do it. But we all know that most people dread receiving the summons in the mail and try to make up all kinds of crazy excuses to get out of it (my favorite here).
Back in August, I received a summons for GRAND JURY duty a few days before my wedding. After freaking out (“I can’t miss my own wedding for jury duty!!”) and asking all of my lawyer friends for advice, I calmly called the Brooklyn Supreme Court, explained my situation, and was pleasantly surprised by how nice and understanding they were about postponing it. So, six months later, I wasn’t totally surprised to receive a summons again.
I reported to the Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn, and 2 long days later, was excused – phew! While it was certainly exciting, I’m actually totally fine satisfying my courtroom and jury drama quota by watching Law & Order SVU marathons and thinking back to the fine art juries that existed around the French Salon.
The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was founded in 1648 as the most important art institution in France. The academy basically controlled artistic production from the 17th century to the 20th century, and starting in 1667, organized salons or exhibitions as a means for artists to display their work and cultivate critical notice. Each year thousands of wealthy Parisians would flock to the exhibition hall to check out what the Academy considered to be the epitome of French artistic taste at the time; it was definitely the place to see and be seen!
In order to display their work at the Salon, artists first had to submit it to a jury, which was made up of members of the Academy (being “elected” was an honor similar to being a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, aka the Oscars) and previous winners of Salon medals and awards (like Oscar winners). In essence, if you wanted to be a successful artist in France during this time, you had to have your work accepted by the Academy, and exhibited at a Salon.
I saw Henri Gervex’s painting A Session of the Painting Jury when I visted the Musée d’Orsay in Paris last spring. I love the museum, which is housed in the former Orsay train station, and have fond memories of roaming the museum with my aunt Gillian, followed by a tasty dinner along the Seine. This work shows a crowded exhibition room, where a large jury of men are gathered around artwork submissions, offering their opinions and choosing works that would be accepted for exhibition. Here we see a few recognizable faces among the jurors: Alexandre Cabanel, an academic painter who first started exhibiting at the Salon in 1844 at the age of 21, and was a long-standing member of the jury; William-Adolphe Bouguereau, who exhibited at the Salon for his entire career; and Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant, a pupil of Canabel’s who received his first medal from the Salon in 1876. The inclusion of familiar artists of the time is significant, in that it shows that Gervex considers himself to be a contemporary of these figures.
Gervex had an interesting history with the Salon. He started exhibiting his artwork there in 1873, and was awarded his first medal in 1874. He received a second medal in 1876, making him a clearly established artist by the time he was 24 years old! In 1878 he submitted another work, called Rolla, but the conservative jury rejected it for being too scandalous. The work shows a man, Rolla, standing by the open window in a bedroom. He turns back, and watches a sleeping prostitute sprawled out over the ruffled sheets. The jury didn’t reject the work just because of the nudity – it was a very common theme in art at the time – instead, they found the discarded garter, red corset and dress next to the bed to be most indecent, since it hinted to the woman’s role as a prostitute. Even though Rolla was not exhibited at the Salon that year, Gervex showed the work at a nearby art gallery and gained enormous attention from it. Critics loved it, and claimed it as a masterpiece. In fact, the reception of this work was the most incredible of Gervex’s career, and many joked that it was the most impressive work of the 1878 Salon, and not even on display there. Gervex continued to show his work at the Salon and around Paris for the rest of his career, and was finally elected to the Academy in 1913.
These supreme bars are super decadent, and are perfect as dessert or as a snack to bring in your bag when you report to jury duty (whether it be civic or artistic!). In my experience, you don’t get many breaks, and the oats will keep you going while the chocolate-y filling will give you the sugar rush you need to help you survive until a “recess” is called.
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 ½ cups walnut pieces, toasted
1 14 or 15 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray an 8 x 8-inch cake or brownie pan.
Prepare the dough:
In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt, and then set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar for a couple of minutes, until light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds. Mix in the eggs, beating for another 30 seconds between each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add in the dry ingredients that you set aside earlier, scraping down the bowl to ensure that all the dry bits are mixed into the batter. Add the oats and 1 cup of the walnuts last, and beat only until just combined. Scoop out 2 cups of the dough and set aside. Press the remaining dough into the prepared pan. Smooth the top so that you have an even layer, and set aside while you prepare the chocolate filling.
Prepare the chocolate filling:
In a medium saucepan, heat the sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips and butter over medium heat. Stir frequently so that you don’t scorch the milk, which would be awful! Heat just until the chocolate chips and butter are melted and the mixture reaches a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Remove from heat.
Assemble the bars:
Pour the chocolate filling evenly over the bottom dough layer in the pan. Top with the remaining 2 cups of dough and ½ cup of walnuts. Gently press the top layer down, so that it sticks to the chocolate and the walnuts are pressed down into the dough (otherwise they will just pop off when you cut the bars!). Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. Let cool for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. When cool, use a sharp knife to cut around the perimeter of the bars, and turn over onto a large cutting board. Cut into 24 rectangular bars and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve or snack!
Recipe adapted from Maida Heatter’s Cookies by Maida Heatter, makes 24 bars
Featured art: Henri Gervex, A Session of the Painting Jury, c. 1883, oil on canvas
Henri Gervex, Rolla, 1878, oil on canvas