Lot 147
  • 147

JEAN BÉRAUD | Sur les grands boulevards

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Jean Béraud
  • Sur les grands boulevards 
  • Signed Jean Béraud. (lower left) 
  • Oil on canvas
  • 15 1/4 by 22 1/8 in.
  • 38.7 by 56.2 cm


Private Collection, New York (acquired by 1930) 
Private Collection, Ohio (by descent from the above)
Thence by descent


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is stretched on its original stretcher. The paint layer is in beautiful condition, showing no retouches or damages. The cracking in the upper right in the sky is slightly raised, but the surface is otherwise good. It is recommended that the lining be reversed, and it is possible that the canvas can be left unlined. The work could also be hung in its current state.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Unknown to scholars until recently, Sur les grands boulevards represents an important rediscovery within Jean Béraud’s oeuvre. The opulent spectacle of Paris, and the city’s people in particular, was Béraud's subject of choice. Whether promenading on the city’s grand boulevards or the banks of the Seine, in carriages in the Bois de Boulogne or the city’s atmospheric bars and bistros, it is the endless parade of characters who animate Béraud’s splendid and idiosyncratic vision of Paris, and bring the subject life. Abandoning his early ambitions to become a lawyer, Béraud studied portraiture with Léon Bonnat, alongside such well-known contemporaries as Gustave Caillebotte and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. While Béraud initially emulated his master's choice of subject and painted portraits of women and children, he was quickly drawn to representing modern urban life and developed his own inimitable style. Béraud’s affection for Parisians granted him notoriety and popularity; Marcel Proust described him as "a charming creature, sought in vain, by every social circle" and he was alleged to be a perfect gentleman, impeccably dressed and above trends and fashion (quoted in Patrick Offenstadt, Jean Béraud 1849-1935, The Belle Époque: A Dream of Times Gone By, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1999, p. 7). He was intrigued by all aspects of la vie parisienne, and once wrote to fellow artist Alfred Roll "I find everything but Paris wearisome" (quoted in ibid., p. 14). 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 inhabitantsSur 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

We would like to thank Patrick Offenstadt for kindly confirming the authenticity of this lot which will be included in his forthcoming supplement to the Jean Béraud critical catalogue.