Much like his friend Edgar Degas, Jean François 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 a newly '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. In 1880 and 1881, Raffaëlli exhibited at the Impressionist exhibitions at Degas' urging despite, at the time, sharing few affinities with the group. Beginning in the 1890s, however, Raffaëlli changed course, focusing his attention on painting Paris' well-to-do.
The subject of the present work, the Boulevard des Italiens, with its cafés and shops frequented by elegantly dressed men and women, became much like an outdoor stage for Raffaëlli where he could view the city's elite. The vivacity of this particular boulevard had also attracted the attention of the Impressionists Camille Pissarro and Gustave Caillebotte, both of whom painted panoramic bird's eye views of this bustling cityscape. By contrast, Raffaëlli presents an intimate street-level scene. Élégante sur le Boulevard des Italiens, Paris with its strongly cropped central figure suggests more the influence of Degas than Pissarro or Caillebotte. Indeed, the psychological isolation of the figures, the careful attention to fashion and the sense of capturing a private moment in a public space are all hallmarks of Degas' style. Most notably, however, Boulevard des Italiens reveals Raffaëlli's central belief that the artist's duty was to render the essence of contemporary society in which he lived.
The authenticity of the present work has been confirmed by Galerie Brame et Lorençeau, Paris, and will be included in their forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.