400,000 - 600,000 USD
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- Jean Béraud
- Les Grands Boulevards (Café Américain)
- signed Jean Béraud. (lower left)
- oil on panel
As a testament to the vital role of the café in Paris society, Johnson’s Universal Cyclopaedia’s 1896 entry for the city carefully described each establishment and its patrons: the “bankers and brokers predominate at the Café Riche; at the Café de Madrid is the headquarters of journalists; actors are numerous at the Café de Suède and the Café des Variétés” while at “the Café Américain congregate literary men and painters” (“Paris,” Johnson’s Universal Cyclopaedia, vol. VI, New York, 1896, p. 442). Once located at 2 boulevard des Capucines in the same building as the Théatre du Vaudeville (now a movie theater), the Café Americain, like many others, welcomed a group of neighborhood regulars and foreign visitors, guidebooks in hand. The Cyclopaedia warned of boisterous activities after the sun went down (the café was recommended for a good drink rather than a fine meal), with a British visitor noting “I wish to add that with regard to the clientele of this famous house of entertainment, ‘ the evening and the morning are not one day’” (My Paris Notebook, Philadelphia, 1894, p. 80). Either due to the early hour or the chill in the autumn air, in the present work, few patrons gather at the tables outside the Café Américain, a bussing waiter ignored as boulevardiers stop and chat. At the center of Béraud’s composition stands one of Paris’ most recognizable cultural landmarks, a colonne Morris, which takes its name from the company that received the exclusive order for advertising columns from Baron Haussmann in 1868. Gabriel Morris, a printer and typographer, had invented the columns in 1860 as an ingenious method to both display playbills and allow street-sweepers to store their equipment in the hollow core (Offenstadt, p. 103). Various colonnes Morris appear in a series of Bérauds works, and the artist legibly recorded many of the playbills advertising the most popular entertainments of the Belle Époque. In the present work, at the bottom of the column, one poster reads Rothomagö, one of the féeries, which were theatrical spectacles with advanced stagecraft and a magical storyline, popular in Paris since its debut at the Châtelet in 1862. Just above is an announcement for a performance of Manon, Jules Massenet’s most popular opera, which premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1884; through performances in England and the United States, Manon helped define the joie-de-vive of the Belle Époque for a global audience. At the very top of the column are the names of two of the more intriguing figures of popular culture of the late nineteenth century, Bob Walter and Paulus. Bob Walter (1853-1907), despite the name, was a woman who found fame as a singer, mime, lion tamer and as a serpentine dancer, famous for her rhythmic movements in a dress with long panels transforming herself into a butterfly, snake or other sensuous forms, while a light show of various colors was projected against her during performances at the Théâtre La Bodinière. Paulus (born Jean-Paul Habans, 1845-1908) gained popularity through his café-concert performances, and in 1897 he appeared in a series of five short films by George Méliès which were projected on a screen, behind which Paulus would sing, providing the illusion of sound.