Well known for his impressionistic depictions of ballet dancers, Pierre Carrier-Belleuse also produced exceptional works that document urban living in modern Paris. Train travel had an extraordinary impact on the lives of city-dwellers and many artists responded by producing artworks that included trains or train travel as their subject. Certainly it was a symbol of speed, modernity and the industrialization of Europe, but it was also an intimate public space where strangers were brought together and it provided rich material for artists and writers to explore. Artists like Honoré Daumier, James Tissot and Édouard Manet all found passengers on a train to be a poignant subject: arrivals and departures at the station afford emotional drama while depictions inside the train carriage created opportunities to represent social inequality and the stratification of social classes or simply humorous anecdotes of people forced to share a common space.
Carrier-Belleuse's The Vigil, also known as Les Fiancés, shows a man and woman in their seats, sound asleep and unselfconscious, despite the fact that they are being watched by a fellow passenger or chaperone – the ambiguity of her role almost certainly being intentional. Carrier-Belleuse was obviously interested in the social dynamics between people, and painted more than one of these railway carriage scenes. Another shows four commuters crowded side by side, each reading Le Figaro or Le Journal des Débats, but simultaneously taking an interest in one another.
While he was taught by his father, Emile-Auguste Carrier-Belleuse, a well-known sculptor and his brother, Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse, also a painter and sculptor, Pierre Carrier-Belleuse's confident painterly style and choice of subject shares a great deal with Jean Béraud. Both are creating cinematic images that celebrate, and draw humor from, everyday life.
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