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Jean Béraud (French, 1849-1936)
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Jean Béraud (French, 1849-1936)

Scène de Bistro

Jean Béraud (French, 1849-1936)
Scène de Bistro
signed 'Jean Béraud' (lower right)
oil on panel
17¾ x 14 5/8 in. (45 x 37 cm.)
Purchased directly from the artist on 1 July 1908 in Paris by Bernheim-Jeune, inv.no. 16722.
Anonymous sale; Hôtel des Ventes, Honfleur, 15 April 1979, lot 5.
with Richard Green, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 21 June 1989, lot 303.
Private Collection, France.
P. Offenstadt, Jean Béraud. 1849-1935. La Belle Époque, une époque rêvé. Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1999, p. 222, no. 279 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée Carnavalet, Jean Béraud et le Paris de la Belle Époque, 29 September 1999 - 2 January 2000, no 35.
Namur, Musée Félicien Rops, L'Absinthe: de la Fée verte à Notre Dame de l'oubli, 21 May - 21 August 2005, no. 42.
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Lot Essay

As an acute and dispassionate observer of his age, Jean Béraud was famous not only for his bustling Paris street scenes (see lot 34), but also for recording both the glamourous and seedy sides of Belle Époque Parisian life, often in moral tableaux such as the present work.

The ruinous effects of absinthe on the citizens of Paris was depicted not only by Béraud but also by artists such as Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (see fig. 1). Although these artists depicted the effects with less satire than Hogarth recording the scourge of gin in London 100 years earlier, the underlying moral message was the same: it led women to vice and men to brutishness.

Béraud painted at least 15 fully worked up compositions of men drinking absinthe in the company of women. These characters are inevitably depicted as stock types, the men dishevelled and in bowler hats, with the greenish tinge and stupefied expressions of the absinthe addict. In contrast, the women appear smiling or bored - but never stupid, the suggestion being that they can use their wits to turn the drunken state of their companions to their own advantage. This is particularly clear in the present work, in which the woman drinks only water.

The placement in the foreground of a copy of Le Rire, a famous scandal-sheet of the era, is not only a visual pun on the woman's expression (and thus an alternative, ironic title for the painting), but also adds to the overall impression of dissolution.

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