Jeune femme à l'ombrelle rouge devant l'Arc de Triomphe
Oil on canvas: 14 x 10.1 (in) / 35.6 x 25.7 (cm)
Signed lower right: Jean Beraud
St Petersburg 1849 - 1935 Paris
Ref: CB 172
Promenade near l'Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Signed lower right: Jean Béraud
Oil on canvas: 14 x 10 1/8 in / 35.6 x 25.7 cm
Painted circa 1885
Private collection, USA
Patrick Offenstadt has confirmed that this is an autograph work by Jean Béraud
Marcel Proust, a friend and fellow scholar at the Lycée Bonaparte, praised Jean Béraud for ‘his fame, his talent, his influence, his charm, his heart and his intelligence’. Chronicler of Paris par excellence, Béraud followed in the tradition of Louis-Lépold Boilly (1761-1845) in depicting the social groups, fashions, foibles, pastimes and architecture of Baron Haussmann’s dazzling modern city. A superlative draughtsman, Béraud studied his Parisians from the windows of hansom cabs, incorporating them in works which show all the vivacity and variety of the city, painted in a style which combines an Impressionist virtuosity of brushwork with precise and witty observation.
Jean Béraud painted a number of views of the Champs-Elysées, the most fashionable thoroughfare of Paris, lined in Béraud’s day with private mansions. Like Rotten Row in Hyde Park, but on a larger scale, the Champs-Elysées were the stage for the ‘street theatre’ in which Béraud delighted, where members of the bon ton paraded with their fine carriages and exquisitely matched horses, both men and women dressed in the height of fashion. Baron Haussmann’s new Paris, with its huge, tree-lined boulevards, was the setting for affluence and display in an increasingly consumerist society. In 1889 Richard Kaufmann, a Danish visitor, remarked that the Grands Boulevards were ‘the great rendezvous where the whole population flocks together to satisfy its great craving for sociability, where people meet with the wish of being together, and associate with the amiable courtesy and easy approach that is a consequence of the consciousness of being mutually entertaining’.
The focus of this painting, as so often with Béraud, is an attractive young woman who casts the spectator a coolly appraising glance as she steps into the Boulevard to brave the onslaught of horse-drawn carriages. She is exquisitely dressed in grey, with the flowers in her hat and her parasol a deep cherry-red. Lifting her skirt the better to cross the road, she reveals a flirtatious inch of ankle and a white hem of petticoat. Béraud uses touches of red to move the eye around the canvas: the red parasol is picked up in the ruddy faces of the coachmen and pedestrians and by a distant, sunlit parasol.
In the background, the Arc de Triomphe forms the architectural focus of the painting. It was begun in 1806 by Napoleon to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. Completed in 1836, it became a memorial to all Frenchmen who fought in defence of their country and to this day remains a powerful symbol of nationhood and one of the best-loved monuments in Paris.
Although a Realist painter in his approach to detail and sense of narrative, Béraud had affinities with the Impressionist movement in his handling of space and composition, for example in the strong geometric underpinning of this scene, which finds parallels in the work of Giuseppe de Nittis (1846-1884) and Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894). Sharp perspective emphasises the grandeur of the Boulevard, while the serried rank of slender trees and the neoclassical design of the Arc de Triomphe underlines the orderliness and grace of Haussmann’s Paris. The bold, decorative use of areas of empty space to the right and left of the central figure, contrasting with the richly crowded band in the middle distance, is influenced by Japanese prints.
St Petersburg 1849 - 1935 Paris
Jean Béraud was born in St Petersburg in 1849, the son of a French sculptor, Jean Béraud, who had probably moved to the city to work on the cathedral of St Isaac. His mother took the family to Paris after her husband’s death in 1853. Jean, like his future friend Marcel Proust, was educated at the Lycée Bonaparte (today the Lycée Condorcet). He briefly studied law at the University of Paris and in 1870-71 served in the Garde Nationale during the Siege of Paris. Abandoning law for art, in 1872-3 he studied in the studio of the portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Béraud exhibited two portraits at the Salon in 1873, showing there until 1889.
Béraud’s Salon exhibit of 1876, After the funeral (private collection), established his reputation as a chronicler of Parisian life in paintings which combine an Impressionistic freedom of brushwork with acute and witty observation of fashions, physiognomies, class and personalities in the ordered chaos of the teeming modern city. Once declaring ‘I find everything but Paris wearisome’, Béraud painted both high life and low life, from aristocratic salons and racing at Auteil to Insoumises in the lock-up, 1886 (private collection), which depicts prostitutes rounded up by the police in the cold light of dawn. A brilliant draughtsman and illustrator, Béraud sketched his Parisians from the windows of horse-drawn cabs.
Béraud’s work was greeted with great enthusiasm and he was welcomed into Parisian society, receiving commissions for portraits from famous figures such as the Prince d’Orléans and Prince Troubetskoy. Urbane and exquisitely dressed, he frequented the salons of the Countesses Potocka, de Noailles and d’Agoult, and in 1897 was Proust’s Second in a duel. Béraud, who never married, was also happy in theatrical company: his closest friend was the celebrated actor Coquelin the Elder.
Jean Béraud was a founding member and Vice President of the Sociéte Nationale des Beaux-arts, where he exhibited between 1910 and 1929. He was awarded a gold medal from the Society of French Artists in 1889 and a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in 1889. In 1887 he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur.
In 1891 Béraud caused a scandal by exhibiting at the Salon Mary Magdalene visiting the Pharisee (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), which transposed the Biblical story into a contemporary setting and shone a harsh light on modern morals. Several paintings of subsequent decades show the inhabitants of modern Paris taking part in the events of the Bible, such as the Mocking of Christ, or allude to the gap between rich and poor, such as The insurgence, 1896 (private collection). Béraud’s satires were coldly received, although he remained an important figure in the artistic life of Paris. Following his death in 1935, the Musée Carnavalet held a retrospective of his work.
The work of Jean Béraud is represented in museums in the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the National Gallery, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
 For comparable scenes of the Arc de Triomphe, see Patrick Offenstadt, Jean Béraud, 1849-1935: The Belle Epoque: A Dream of Times Gone By, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne 1999, p.140, no.125, Sur les Champs-Elysées, 1892 (with Richard Green in 2016; private collection), illus., and Offenstadt, p.144, no.134, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées, c.1882-85 (private collection), illus. in colour.
 Paris of Today, translated from the Danish by Olga Finch, New York 1891, p.73.