Blanchon came to fame in 1880 when he won first place, together with the now-better-known Henri Gervex, in a major competition to select painters to decorate new town halls throughout Paris. On the basis of their designs emphasizing the daily activities of the city instead of traditional scenes from mythology or history, Blanchon and Gervex were awarded the largest project, a series of wall and ceiling paintings for the XIXth arrondisement. Among their distinctly modern topics for the town hall was a memorable image of a butcher leading a steer to the slaughterhouse; and Blanchon's decision to exhibit a scene from Les Halles in 1884 would be a reminder to the Salon audience of the artist's on-going work for the Paris city government.
The porters of Les Halles, les forts or the 'strong men' of the market -- were licensed to carry inspected merchandise to and from the daily auctions of fish, fowl, meat and vegetables (note the auctioneer in the background left) and they controlled the bustling traffic of the marketplace with all the authority of French officialdom. Scenes of Les Halles became particularly popular in the decade following publication in 1873 of Emile Zola's Le Ventre de Paris, one of his novels set in and around Les Halles and celebrated food and all its meanings for those who prepared, handled and sold it.
We are grateful to Alexandra Murphy for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.