Lot 75
  • 75

Jean Béraud

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Jean Béraud
  • Le Pont Neuf
  • signed Jean Béraud (lower right)

  • oil on canvas
  • 15 1/2 by 18 7/8 in.
  • 39.3 by 47.9 cm


Sale: Paris, Hôtel Drouot, March 1, 1926, lot 42
Jacques Kugel, Paris (and sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, January 25, 1980, lot 20, illustrated)
Private Collection


Patrick Offenstadt, Jean Béraud, 1849-1935, The Belle Époque: A Dream of Time Gone By, Catalogue Raisonné, Köln, 1999, p. 158, no. 162, illustrated


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting is in perfect condition. The canvas is unlined. The paint layer has most likely never been removed from its original stretcher or cleaned, varnished, retouched. The canvas has relaxed quite noticeably, which could be tightened. The paint layer could also be cleaned and lightly varnished to great effect. No paint losses are evident and this picture is clearly in very good condition.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Jean Béraud, intrigued by all aspects of la vie parisienne, was its scrupulous and devoted observer; the quintessential chronicler of Belle Époque Paris. Following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Béraud abandoned previous plans to become a lawyer, and instead studied portraiture with a leading artist of the Third Republic, Léon Bonnat. Emulating Bonnat's choice of subject, Béraud painted portraits of women and children, as well as genre images of Italian peasant women.  Béraud began to branch out from portraiture around 1875, developing an interest in representing modern life in Paris.  The spectacle of public spaces was a popular subject for French artists in the nineteenth century. Haussmannisation (1852-1870) – the urban planning commissioned by Napoleon III and lead by the Baron George Eugene Haussmann – introduced a public element to private life through wide boulevards for transportation and strolling; innumerable green spaces and several large parks; and overall better street conditions which lead to improved health. In showing the co-mingling of members of different social strata in these newly accessible public settings, artists such as Béraud could capture the modernization of Paris through the actions, dress, and appearances of its inhabitants.  

To create his finished paintings, Béraud traveled the boulevards of Paris in a mobile studio, a converted carriage designed specifically so that he might observe the mundane, transient incident of city life firsthand. Belle Époquejournalist Paul Hourie described the pains which Béraud took: "When you paint scenes from everyday life, you have to place them in their context and give them their authentic setting.  This means that, in order to be sincere, you have to photograph them on the spot, and forget about the conventions of the studio.  As a result, Jean Béraud has the strangest life imaginable.  He spends all his time in carriages. It is not unusual to see a cab parked at the corner of a street for hours on end, with an artist sitting inside, fireing off rapid sketches.  That Jean Béraud, in search of a scene, drawing a small fragment of Paris.  Almost all the cab drivers in the city know him. He's one of their favourite passengers, because he at least doesn't wear their horses out" (as quoted in Patrick Offenstadt, Jean Béraud, The Belle Époque: A Dream of Times Gone By, Köln, 1999, p. 9). Unlike his Impressionist contemporaries whose compositions were defined by abbreviated brushwork, Béraud tended to produce highly finished works.  The Impressionists would reduce figures to almost abstract shapes, in the way that a camera would capture moving objects on film; Béraud, however, not only gave his figures individual expressions, but would add to those expressions an element of psychological ambiguity inviting the viewer to become engaged in the mis-en-scène.  

Unlike many of Béraud's paintings which depicted the French capital as sparsely populated, rain drenched and exhausted, Le Pont Neuf shows a lively early fall day on the rue du Louvre; golden leaves punctuate the grey sidewalk, while just above their green counterparts cling delicately to the branches. Distinctive characters of Parisian life occupy the scene; the tidy schoolboy with his books in tow; the well-dressed parisienne; the resting butcher with a sharpening-steel tied around his waist; the painter in his blue smock; the well-to-do gentleman reading the paper. Dozens of figures, primarily men, are lined across the bridge, peering below onto the Seine River. In the distance on the right, two horse drawn omnibuses make their way onto the bridge. The "omnibus" (meaning "for all" in Latin), created by Stanislas Baudry in 1828 in Nantes, was the first form of organized urban public transportation. He took his idea to Paris and in 1853 the first double-decker omnibuses were created; the upper level was cheaper and, as seen in the far right of the composition, often uncovered. In 1913, the last of the horse drawn omnibuses were officially replaced by their motorized equivalent. 

Many artists painted the Pont Neuf. The oldest bridge in Paris, it was built under Henry III in 1578 to facilitate communication between the Louvre and the Saint-Germain des Prés Abbey. The Pont Neuf was immediately popular among strollers who marveled at the architectural innovations on both sides of the quai. Since its inception, the bridge has been greatly celebrated and the elegant lamp posts in Béraud's work were designed in the nineteenth century by Victor Baltrad. In the present work, looking across the Seine onto the île de la Cité, one can see in the composition (from left to right): the tour de l'Horloge; the dome of the Tribunal de commerce, the Conciergerie (the medieval part of the Palais de Justice); and the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle.