Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 49 x 44 cm
Signed: lower left: Jean Béraud
Private Collection, USA
Jean Béraud, La Belle Époque, Une Époque Rêvée, by Patrick Offenstadt, Köln, 1999, p. 143, no. 133.
Jean Béraud was born in Russia where his French parents were then living, but moved back to France to begin his studies at the Lycée Bonaparte –ending them abruptly, to take part in the defence of Paris in 1870. When he returned to his artistic career, it was to the atelier of Léon Bonnat, a fine portraitist and painter of contemporary genre. Béraud first exhibited at the Salon in 1873; he was awarded a third-class and later second-class medal during his early years exhibiting. In 1887 he was awarded the cross of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honourand was later promoted Officer of the order. His early promise then led to gold medals at both the Universal Exhibition and the Salon of the Artistes Français of 1889. A founding member of the Societé Nationale des Beaux Arts, Béraud exhibited with the group from 1910 to 1929, at one point serving as the body’s Vice-President.
Béraud commonly drew on images from modern life for inspiration and it is for these that he is best remembered today. He also responded to the religious revival of the last quarter of the century by introducing religious subjects into contemporary genre scenes. These latter works were perceived as a continuation of a long history of French painting but by presenting Christ and other figures from Christian iconography in a contemporary setting, represented an attempt to make them more relevant to a modern audience. By contrast, his paintings of the Parisian boulevards, which presented the contemporary world in the ‘city of light’ when the belle époque was at its height, represent the charm of the material world. These images, usually showing the lighter side of life by portraying the aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie in fashionable attire, only rarely touch on grimmer subjects such as the disaster of absinthe addiction. The elegant scenes are much more sought after today. Our painting shows Paris’s greatest promenade, a subject Béraud chose for a series in his oeuvre; this is the only occasion, however, when the artist shows the right side of the Champs-Élysées looking towards the Arc de Triomphe (seen here from just above the Rond-Point). The centre foreground is dominated by an exquisitely groomed white Standard Poodle; a pretty young woman in brown jacket and dress stands on the pavement, her fashionable bustle prominently displayed, chatting to her friend driving the fine brougham that has pulled over to the side. An elegant gentleman standing closer to the view and looking across the avenue maybe waiting to cross; there is no indication as to whether the poodle is his, or is perhaps waiting for its owner’s carriage to proceed. A liveried groom stands in front of the horse while his mistress exchanges pleasantries, he will mount the carriage behind her and take it from her when she dismounts. The traffic descending the avenue is heavy; a public cabriolet and large open landau with two liveried attendants seem to lead the parade of public and private carriages on their way towards the Place de la Concorde; none, however, can be seen traveling towards the Étoile at the top of the avenue. On the right some elegantly dressed men and women can be seen through the tress that line the Champs-Élysées on either side.
The Champs Élysées, which literally means ‘Elysian fields’, the mythological paradise of the dead, were originally nothing more than fields outside the ancient city of Paris (that had begun as the Roman city Lutetia). Marie de Medici decided in 1616 to install a long tree-lined pathway and in 1667, Le Notre, master garden architect to Louis XIV, extended the vista of the Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées making it suddenly a fashionable promenade. The Champs Elysées did not, however, become property of the city of Paris until 1828, when footpaths, fountains and gas lights were added. The avenue today runs 3km through the 8th arrondissement in northwestern Paris, from the Place de la Concordeǯs obelisk to the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe, placed in the centre of what is still commonly known as the place de l’Etoile (now renamed in honour of the founder of the 5th republic, General Charles de Gaulle) ia the world’s largest triumphal arch and stands at the avenue’s end. The monument surmounts the hill of Chaillot at the centre of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues. It is also the climax of a vista seen across the length of the Champs Elysées from the smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries gardens.