Jean-François Raffaëlli was famed for his realism, which encompassed all facets of life in and around Paris, including that of the urban poor. The present work depicts one of the many inhabitants of the shanty towns that sprang up after Baron Haussman's modernisation of Paris in the 1850. Haussman's creation of wide boulevards and open spaces led to a massive displacement of the urban poor, many of whom settled on the edge of the city in an area known at the time as "La Zone" or the "Fortifs". Created by the July monarchy as a defensive system of fortifications surrounding Paris, and itself surrounded by a wide ditch and a 250 metre open firing zone, the fortifications were eventually demolished in 1919.
The present work depicts a "zonard", one of the inhabitants of what was to become a city within a city. "Its inhabitants rapidly invented a complex, lively society, animated by ragpickers, small-scale artisans manufacturing commodities like baskets, and gangs of petty criminals known in slang as "Apaches". They created a variegated cartography replete with permanent dwellings, a street grid, underground cafés and garden plots." (Paul Cohen, Spacing Toronto - www.spacing.ca - May 2009) This landscape was widely chronicled not only by Raffaëlli, but also by writers and poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire and André
The authenticity of the present work has been confirmed by Galerie Brame et Lorenceau, Paris, and will be included in their forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.