To be a fashionable painter in the city that set all fashions, for the whole world, at the height of the Belle Époque, is to undertake a not inconsiderable assignment, and, certainly during the years of his own vogue, Jean Béraud rose to the challenge. He went everywhere, knew everyone, painted everything.
Here Béraud is painting in a playful more purely imaginative vein than his usual depictions of Parisian beauties and their pursuers. Those bats, that unmistakably London street with its theatricalized fog and gaslight, is very different from the Paris he observed so acutely. The main subject of the painting, at first glance merely a fashionable dandy, is seen to be carrying an extraordinary walking stick made from a branch, with a large jewel improbably set into a handle that itself tapers off like a vine. And the shaft is seen to sport thorns!
All of these things suggest the character of Des Esseintes, Huysman’s fantastical protagonist for his ground breaking novel À rebours (1884) that took Paris by storm, creating a new archetype and ideal of the decadent aesthete as anti-hero.
Fashion, in other words. And Béraud at his slyest and funniest. Not for nothing did Maupassant call him "the most charming of the fantasists."
Canvas 14″ x 24″.