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Jean Beraud - Scene de rue Parisienne

Jean Beraud

Scene de rue Parisienne

Oil on panel: 14.6(h) x 21.5(w) in / 37.1(h) x 54.6(w) cm
Signed lower right: Beraud

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St Petersburg 1849 - 1935 Paris

Ref: BZ 288


Scene de rue Parisienne


Signed lower right: Beraud

Oil on panel: 14 5/8 x 21 ½ in / 37.1 x 54.6 cm

Painted circa late 1897-early 1898




M Tannenbaum sale, Mendelssohn Hall, New York, 1st March 1906, lot 24 (as On the boulevards) Mitchell Collection Private collection, North America; their sale, Christie’s New York, 23rd February 1989, no.112 (as Une avenue Parisienne)

Barney Eastwood Collection, Ireland



Patrick Offenstadt, Jean Béraud 1849-1935, The Belle Epoque: A Dream of Times Gone By, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne 1999, p.120, no.72, illus. in colour



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 are vivid pieces of street theatre, painted in a style which combines an Impressionist virtuosity of brushwork with precise and witty observation.


On a misty winter day, a fashionable woman, swathed in furs against the chill, pays a cab driver. Breath steams from his patient horse, while other horse-drawn vehicles clatter down the Boulevard des Capucines, dwarfed by tall buildings marching into the grey distance. The Grands Boulevards were cut through the medieval tangle of Paris streets in Baron Haussmann’s urban regeneration of 1853-70. Under his plans, buildings were set well back from the wide streets and required to be of uniform height. Ground floors provided retail space for a burgeoning consumer economy, while the upper floors were apartments.


The woman will no doubt turn towards the Café Américain at the right of the painting, where a waiter is bringing a glass of beer to a hardy outdoor customer. The Café Américain was in the same building as the Théâtre du Vaudeville, another favourite subject of Béraud[1]. An American writer commented in 1896: ‘bankers and brokers predominate at the Café Riche…actors are numerous at the Café de Suède’, while at ‘the Café Américain congregate literary men and painters’[2]. Respectable in the day, the Café was a more louche venue at night, warned a British visitor: ‘with regard to the clientele of this famous house of entertainment, “the evening and the morning are not one day” ’[3].


At the centre of the painting a bright colonne Morris lights up the winter gloom, echoing the cheerful trim on the lady’s hat. Invented by the printer Gabriel Morris, the colonnes stored street sweepers’ equipment and displayed advertisements for all the temptations of the Belle Epoque city. Always with his pulse on contemporary life, Béraud paints clearly legible posters, including one for Jules Massenet’s opera Sapho, which premiered on 27th November 1897 at the Théâtre Lyrique, with Emma Calvé in the title role.


At the head of the colonne is the word Fragson, advertising the Anglo-French music hall star Harry Fragson, born Léon-Philippe Pot (1869-1913). Also visible is Passe, advertising Georges de Porto-Riche’s play Le Passé, on the theme of an eternal triangle of a wife, a husband and a lover. It opened at the Odéon on 30th December 1897. Béraud was deeply involved with the theatrical life of Paris and a close friend of the famous actor Cocquelin the Elder. The topicality of the playbills place the production of this painting in late 1897-early 1898.






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.








[1] See for example Devant le Théâtre du Vaudeville (private collection); Offenstadt, op. cit., p.118, no.67, illus. in colour.

[2] ‘Paris’, Johnson’s Universal Cyclopaedia, vol. VI, New York 1896, p.442.

[3] My Paris Notebook, Philadelphia 1894, p.80.


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