The Belle Époque
Spanning the years between the end of France’s Second Empire (1852-1870) and the beginning of World War I (1914), the Belle Époque was an era characterized by growing economic prosperity, rapid urban development, and increased social mobility in cities across Europe and the United States. A center for fine art, shopping, and theater, as well as the international fashion capital, Paris was also where the world’s luminaries and literati flocked to see and be seen. Artists such as Jean Béraud, Giovanni Boldini, Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, Henri Gervex, and Paul-César Helleu captured the era’s iconic places and famous personalities; they painted boulevards, boisterous cafes, public gardens, and galleries at the Louvre, among other locales. An exceptional full-length portrait by Boldini leads this single-owner sale, which features fashionable portraits, scenes of modern life, and Salon-exhibited paintings by the leading artists working at the close of the 19th century who ushered in a new Gilded Age.
Style and Modernity in La Belle Époque
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By the dawn of the 20th century, Giovanni Boldini had become the quintessential society portrait painter of Belle Époque Europe, capturing the day’s most dapper gentlemen and glamorous doyennes. His fresh style was symptomatic of changes in the very meaning of both "society" and "portrait,” informed by the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Émile Zola, and Marcel Proust whose writings hailed a new world order where the new “high society” was not strictly aristocratic but rather the flamboyant and style-conscious nouveau riche, as well as bohemians, courtesans, actresses, musicians, and writers that averted to their passions and pleasures.
Paul César Helleu was highly sought after for fashionable pastel portraits, executed with a singular sense of vitality, enabled by the medium’s textural variability. As a student at the École des Beaux-Arts in the late 1870s, Helleu was introduced to Claude Monet, Giovanni Boldini, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent, all of whom had a significant impact on the young artist’s career in terms of both his subjects and technique. Helleu's bravura draftsmanship, moving effortlessly between sharp, energetic lines made with the edge of the stick and softer, scumbled passages distinguishes between various textures, from skin and silk to fur, capturing the likeness of each sitter as much as their individual sense of style.
Louise Abbéma was an accomplished French painter, sculptor, and designer. Born into a wealthy Parisian family, Abbéma began painting in her early teens, studying under Charles Chaplin and Carolus-Druan. She first received recognition for her work at the age of 23 when she painted a portrait of the actress and artist Sarah Bernhardt, her lifelong friend and long-time lover. Abbéma debuted at the Salon in 1874 and exhibited in forty-five exhibitions over the course of her distinguished career. In 1906 she was the fourth woman to be awarded the prestigious Légion d’Honneur. The sitter here is Renée Delmas de Pont-Jest (1858–1902), an actress and sculptor, who was also one of Abbéma's closest friends and a frequent sitter for the painter.
The sign reads en location 20 fr (for rent 20 francs), disclosing the price of the seat.
This sign indicates that the box is rented.
An advertisement for a popular guide book, Les plaisirs de Paris, written by the journalist Alfred Delvau and first published 1867, hangs on the back wall.
The woman’s wedding ring signals her marital status and, by extension, the appropriate nature of her conversation with the man at right, presumably her husband.
Paris en poche, another pocket guide book, is also advertised.