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 incidents of city life firsthand. Journalist 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, firing 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 favorite passengers, because he at least doesn't wear their horses out" (Paul Hourie quoted in ibid., p. 9).
In showing the co-mingling of members of different social strata, Béraud captured the modernization of the city through the actions, dress and appearances of its inhabitants. Sur les grands boulevards shows a particularly bustling day on a Parisian boulevard, likely the Boulevard de la Madeleine. Distinctive characters occupy the scene; the waiter, perhaps calling out for a carriage for one of his clients; the well-dressed parisienne holding a bouquet of flowers and looking out toward the viewer; businessmen exchanging greetings; a workman in the classic blue jacket and a delivery person with a box strapped to his back. Dozens of figures are seen in the background and inside the horse drawn omnibus on the far right, the first form of organized urban public transportation. Béraud gives each of his figures an individual expression, but adds an element of psychological ambiguity in their distinct detachment from one another, inviting the viewer to become engaged in the mis-en-scène.
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