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

Au café

Jean Béraud (French, 1849–1936)
Au café
signed 'Jean Béraud' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21 ½ x 25 ¾ in. (55 x 66 cm.)

Bought directly from the painter by Berheim-Jeune, Paris, 22 December 1909 (inv. no. 17862).
with Galerie Tanagra, Paris, 1986.
P. Offenstadt, Jean Béraud 1849-1935. The Belle Époque: A dream of times gone by. Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1999, p. 221, no. 275 (illustrated).

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

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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, but also for recording both the glamorous and seedy sides of Belle Époque Parisian life.

In this painting, Béraud has laid out a dissolute display of the myriad vices that plagued society: absinthe, prostitution and gambling, the ruinous effects of which were displayed not only Béraud, but also by artists such as Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Although these artists depicted the effects of these vices with less satire than Hogarth recording the scourge of gin 100 years earlier -- indeed perhaps with a certain detachment -- the underlying moral message was the same: they led men to brutishness and women to vice.

This painting is one at least 15 fully worked up compositions by Béraud of men drinking absinthe in the company of women. These characters are usually depicted as stock types, the men dishevelled and in bowler hats, with the pale greenish tinge and stupefied expressions of the absinthe addict. In contrast, as here, the women appear resolutely sober, and never stupid, the suggestion being that they can use their wits to turn the drunken state of their companions to their advantage. In this painting, the discrete but interested glance that the woman throws at the man holding the billiard cue (who, from his complexion, appears also sober) suggests that they are working as a team to fleece the man on the left, who is slumped, barely coherent, over his glass of absinthe.

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