Jean Béraud began his artistic training in the studio of Leon Bonnat and began to exhibit regularly at the Paris Salon in 1873. He continued to contribute to the official Salons until 1889, and his work was always well-received. In 1887 he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur and five years later was promoted to Officer of the Order. In 1889 he was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition universelle.
Béraud's images of Parisian life earned him the high praise of being 'Le Boilly de fin de siècle' from his contemporary Roger Ballu (Le Salon illustré, July 1889). Béraud clearly loved the city, and his pictures chronicle the customs and fashions of his era with precise detail. Belle Époque journalist Paul Hourie wrote: 'When you paint scenes from everyday life, you have to place them in their context and give them their authentic setting. This means that, in order to be sincere, you have to photograph them on the spot, and forget about the conventions of the studio. As a result, Jean Béraud has the strangest life imaginable. He spends all of this time in carriages. It is not unusual to see a cab parked on a corner of a street for hours on end, with an artist sitting inside, firing off rapid sketches' (Offenstadt, op. cit., p. 9). Béraud was the perfect flâneur, 'a passionate spectator whom we might liken to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself' (V. Steele, Paris Fashion - A Cultural History, New York, 1988, p. 90). Béraud's Paris and its denizens were always captured with the accuracy of a camera lens.
Béraud was particularly fond of capturing the effects of the elements on the various mondaines of Paris. No one could portray the unique effects of Paris in the rain like Jean Béraud. The city itself is bathed in the cool, silvery light of the overcast sky while the hustle and bustle of urban life goes on despite the weather. One figure, almost completely obscured by his umbrella, dashes across the street, while a fashionably dressed lady saunters slowly in the opposite direction, apparently non-plussed by the rain. She gazes straight out at the viewer from under her umbrella, defiant in her belief that a little weather could not for a moment temper the urban commotion that takes place on the Parisian boulevards on an autumn afternoon. Hackneys and private carriages continue their parade up the broad boulevard des Poissonière, a street sweeper toils away, and the gentlemen and ladies continue to stroll up the sidewalks, bobbing along beneath their umbrellas.
A version of this painting is now in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (fig. 1). Café Brebant still stands on the corner of the boulevard Poissonière and rue de Faubourg-Montmartre (fig. 2) although its name has changed.
(fig. 1) Jean Béraud, Boulevard Poissonnière sous la pluie, Musée Carnavalet, Paris (Courtesy Marc Charmet The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY).
(fig. 2) Brebant Restaurant, Boulevard Poissonière, Paris.