Jean-François Raffaëlli was an eloquent chronicler of his age and a dispassionate observer of both the high and low life of the Belle Époque in and around Paris. His narratives merge objectivity with a piercing empathy and humanism, a characteristic which is particularly striking in his gritty paintings of the common people, but which also translates very well into portraiture.
The present work is particularly extraordinary in scale, subject and technique. Despite being larger than most of the artist's expansive city views, the work is private and intimate, painted with a light and tonal Impressionist palette quite different to the darker hues so normally characteristic of the artist. Indeed, the painting could almost be described in Whistler-like terms, as a symphony in white, while the paint handling is reminiscent of Renoir. The pink and white roses echo both the bedding and the healthy complexion of the sleeping girl, while the table cloth, bedding and nightdress merge into a soft, all-enveloping whole.
Who is this young woman, apparently the very image of sleeping innocence? A variant of the present work, La belle matinée, exhibited by Raffaëlli at the Salon of 1887, in which the bed is clearly larger than first suggested by the present composition, struck a highly ambiguous tone, highlighted by the great novelist and critic
J.-K. Huysmans, in Certains, a collection of essays published in 1889:
'In a plumped up Louis XV bed of white lacquered wood, a woman sleeps; the book she had been reading is open, on the empty side of the bed, dropped besides the pillow next to her; the man has gone -- no doubt fled. Tired, the woman has gone back to sleep. What thunders through this work is the extreme veracity of this woman who, her head slightly thrown back, breathes quietly, her hair untied, her neck slightly stretched, her eyelids closed, her limbs weary; and then the tousled jumble of sheets and pillows strikes the perfect pitch. It's a white hymn, a hymn in which the painter has betrayed the symbolic colour of chastity, and imbued the freshness of communion colours with voluptuousness....It's a work of controversial distinction, deliberate, precise, of absolute radicalism, astutely observed, and imbued with an intense vigour, which jars with its proclamation of a libertine hosanna'.
The present work will be included in the catalogue raisonné on Jean-François Raffaëlli currently being prepared by Galerie Brame & Lorenceau.