Jean Béraud left us the most charming records of the boulevards and cafés of Paris during the Belle Époque. The Impressionists often treated the same subjects, but their emphasis on the surfaces of their canvases, on effects of light and color, took precedence over documentary concerns. Béraud wanted us to know how it felt to physically inhabit the places he painted. Like all academic painters, he concentrated on the drama of space, as a way of drawing us imaginatively into his images.
The painting above depicts La Pâtisserie Gloppe on the Champs Élysées in 1889. Béraud evokes the magical use of mirrors in the shop's interior, the behavior of its patrons, the bourgeois ordinariness of the scene. It is rooted in the here and now, which has become the there and then, and so oddly poignant, in a way the Impressionists rarely are. Béraud recedes into his work, creating a space for us to enter this bygone moment of a bygone age.
The image has something of the authority of a photograph and something of the intense subjectivity of the artist's desire to record just what he saw, just what he thought we might have seen if we had been with him that day in the shop, and no more.
He has created a profoundly democratic work of art, radically out of step with the neo-Romantic egocentricity of the 20th-Century modernist.