Jean François Raffaëlli
1850-1924 | French
Oil on paper laid on canvas
Signed "JF Raffaëlli" (lower right)
This thoroughly modern view of Les Champs-Élysées was composed by the celebrated French painter Jean François Raffaëlli. The delicate oil captures a common scene from late 19th-century life in Paris: a popular avenue on a cool autumn day is traversed by groups of social elite, each dressed in the fashions of the age. Exploring the climate of the city, Raffaëlli's mature works capture the energy of the great parks and boulevards of the new Paris that emerged at the turn of the century. His colorful legacy documents the realities of urban life during his age, all chronicled in his distinctive brushwork and sophisticated palette.
Raffaëlli was not the only artist of his era to devote his canvases to the urban landscape. Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Gustave Caillebotte and others composed significant works on the subject of the urban milieu. On the whole, it was an entirely new kind of painting, and it was largely influenced by the work of social engineer Baron Haussmann beginning in the 1850s. At the request of Emperor Napoleon III, Haussmann designed and carried out a large-scale urban renewal program, erecting landmarks and tree-lined thoroughfares throughout the city to create a unified and socially-centered urban aesthetic. The city became a glittering stage for modern advancements and bourgeois pleasure, which paved the way for a new kind of subject that was eagerly adopted by the Impressionists and artistic avant-garde.
While Raffaëlli was never fully accepted as a member of the Impressionist group, his works display a similar affinity for capturing the transient moments of modern life. Like Edgar Degas, his figures exude a sense of being suspended in time, as though they are part of some subtle narrative that is both restless and harmonious. Perhaps more aligned with Naturalism than Impressionism, the visual effect of Raffaëlli's composition is one of carefully composed spontaneity that makes manifest the joie de vivre of the age.
Born in Paris in 1850, Raffaëlli first studied theater and music before turning to painting in 1870. That same year, he submitted a landscape painting to the Salon and was accepted. Aside from just three months studying with the Academic great Jean-Léon Gérôme, Raffaëlli was self-trained, developing his own unique style that brought together Realism, Naturalism, and Impressionism. While he managed to exhibit works at both the Salon and the Impressionist exhibitions, he was never formally accepted by the Academy or the avant-garde movement. His democratized style and subjects, however, made him remarkably popular with the public. Today, his works can be found in important public collections worldwide, including the Musée d'Orsay (Paris), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), and more.
This important work is illustrated on page 147 of Jean-François Raffaëlli: Peintre Graveur et Sculpteur, 1909, by A. Alexandre.
Canvas: 25" high x 36" wide
Frame: 38 3/8" high x 45 7/8" wide
Collection of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, San Francisco
Thence by descent
Private Collection, Texas
Private Collection, Netherlands
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans