Jean Béraud and Parisian Pop Culture in the 19th Century

Launch Slideshow

Explore the stars and spectacles advertised on the posters of the Colonne Morris in Jean Béraud‘s Les Grands Boulevards (Café Américain).

19th Century European Art
18 May | New York

Jean Béraud and Parisian Pop Culture in the 19th Century

  • Jean Béraud, Les Grands Boulevards (Café Américain).
    Estimate $400,000–600,000.
    Jean Béraud meticulously recorded the sights of city life and in this painting he highlights one of Paris’ most recognisable cultural landmarks, a colonne Morris. Papered with colourful posters, it advertises the celebrities, circuses and performances of the era, and Béraud’s legible representation gives insight into life in Belle Époque Paris. While these entertainments may be forgotten today, the following posters, playbills and souvenirs, bring the popular culture of the period to life.

  • Albumen silver print, A colonne Morris with posters advertising theater performances, 39 Avenue de l’Observatoire (now Avenue Georges-Bernanos), Paris, 1876.
    The colonne Morris 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. In this painting , several of the posters plastered on the colonne Morris are easily legible and at the very top are the names of two of the more intriguing figures of popular culture of the late nineteenth century, Bob Walter and Paulus.

  • Late 19th-century advertising poster for the Théâtre de la Gaité, Paris and the performance of Bob Walter (the caged dancer) and Georges Marck (her accompanying lion-tamer).
    The bold font of the poster at the top of the colonne Morris reads Bob Walter (1853-1907), 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, a light show of various colors was projected against her during performances at the Théâtre La Bodinière.

  • The Danses Serpentines in performance with colour light projection from off-stage illuminating the costume in motion.
  • Poster, designed and drawn by famous Belle Époque caricaturist Sem (Georges Goursat) of Paulus, 1891.
    Another headliner displayed on Béraud’s colonne Morris is Paulus (born Jean-Paul Habans, 1845-1908) who 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.

  • French advertising poster for a Paulus performance, 1886.
  • The cover of the illustrated “special program” for an 1877 performance of Rothomago at the Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris.
    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 Théâtre du Chatelet in 1862.

  • A page from the “special program” of the 1877 performance of Rothomagö at the Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris, illustrating the elaborate and fantastic costumes, which earned the play its lasting appeal.
  • Belle Époque souvenir postcard featuring scene from Jules Massenet’s Manon
    Just above the poster for Rothomagö 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.

  • Belle Époque postcard of the Café Américain (at left) and the Théâtre du Vaudeville, 2 Boulevard des Capucines, Paris.
    Just as a souvenir postcard, Béraud’s Les Grand Boulevards (Café Américain) captures the everyday life of Belle Époque Paris, the bustling boulevardiers rushing past the colonnes Morris and their advertisments. The Théâtre du Vaudeville is now a multiplex cinema, a colonne Morris remains in place, the love of popular culture, its glittering stars and sensation entertainments linking the audiences of the Belle Époque with those today.  


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