In the present painting, the Roman Catholic church, the Église de la Sainte-Trinité, rises above a bustling Parisian street. Rather than a declaration of piety on the part of the artist, the church stands here as a symbol of the 'Haussmannization' of Paris: the city's 19th-century transformative modernization project. Completed between 1861 and 1867, the church was built as part of Baron Georges Haussmann's dramatic restructuring of the city which replaced congested medieval streets with grand open boulevards crowned by opulent buildings, such as the Église de la Sainte-Trinité. In addition to transforming the city's streets, 'Haussmannization' also brought many innovations to Paris such as the widespread installation of gas street lamps that literally lit up the City of Light. Raffaëlli makes reference to that new public program in the lower right corner where a man stands on a ladder lighting a street lamp.
Much like his friend Edgar Degas, Raffaëlli embodied what the French critic Charles Baudelaire famously described as 'the painter of modern life.' A detached observer amidst the crowds on the grand boulevards of 'Haussmann-ized' Paris, Raffaëlli captured the spectacle of public life. In his early career, Raffaëlli's work tended towards Realism as he frequently painted the urban poor with a notable sense of compassion (see lot 14). As the critic Albert Wolff said in his review of the artist's work in Le Figaro on 10 April 1881, 'Like Millet he [Raffaëlli] is the poet of the humble. What the great master did for the fields, Raffaëlli begins to do for the modest people of Paris. He shows them as they are, more often then not stupefied by life's hardships.'
Beginning in the 1890s, however, Raffaëlli changed course, focusing his attention on painting Paris' more well-to-do denizens, exemplified by the present work. Often intermingled within Raffaëlli's well-heeled crowds, however, are the urban laborers who sustain the lifestyles of the rich. Reminders of Raffaëlli's earlier depictions of rag pickers, chimney sweeps and garlic sellers, these men appear in Place de la Trinité in the form of the street sweeper, gas lamp lighter and carriage driver. More visible, however, are the smartly dressed men, women and children who saunter across the newly broadened boulevard. With its stage-like street, where the rich cross paths with the poor, Place de la Trinité reveals Raffaëlli's central belief that the artist's duty was to render the essence of contemporary society in which he lived.
We are grateful to Galerie Brame et Lorenceau and the Comité Raffaëlli for confirming the authenticity of this painting.