Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris
signed 'J F RAFFAËLLI' (lower left)
oil on canvas
2538 x 2258 in. (64.5 x 57.5 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 28 October 1982, lot 66, as St. Étienne-du-Mont, near the Panthéon, Paris.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 23 May 1989, lot 97.
with Galerie Michael, Beverly Hills.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 20 December 2000.
Brought to you by

Lot Essay

A true Renaissance man, Jean-François Raffaëlli was an accomplished actor, musician, printmaker, draftsman, sculptor and author as well as an innovative painter. Though Raffaëlli did not consider himself a part of any one movement and rejected all attempts to classify his art, he was above all a realist whose central belief was that an artist’s duty was to render the essence of the contemporary society in which he lived. ‘My subject is all Paris, I aim to paint the beauty of Paris as well as its wretchedness’ ('A Talk by Mr. Raffaëlli,’ The Art Amateur, April 1895, p. 135).
In 1880 and 1881, at the urging of Edgar Degas, Raffaëlli exhibited in the Impressionist exhibitions despite having little affinity with the movement. Even though his work was for the most part either overlooked or not understood within the context of the exhibition, not everyone found Raffaëlli’s singularity within the Impressionist exhibitions undesirable. In reviewing the 1881 Impressionist exhibition, Le Petit Parisien noted, ‘M. Raffaëlli seems to us to differ noticeably from the artist known as Impressionists: he paints with an extreme meticulousness, leaves out no detail…’, while the reviewer for L’Art commented that the artist ‘does not content himself with the approximate. He pursues to the very end what he undertakes’ (quoted in M. Young, ‘Heroic Indolence: Realism and the Politics of Time in Raffaëlli’s Absinthe Drinkers,’ Art Bulletin, June 2008, vol. XC, no. 2, pp. 237-238). It is in fact this distinction which so startled participants, viewers and critics of the Impressionist exhibitions that in time led to Raffaëlli’s enduring appeal. Indeed, Raffaëlli’s inclusion in the 1881 exhibition upstaged the works of those artists who had helped found the new movement and regarded themselves as bona fide Impressionists.
In the early 1890s, Rafaëlli produced numerous views and street scenes of the French capital, many of which were exhibited at the Salon between 1890 and 1907. Each is painted with verve and finesse, providing a showcase for the artist’s confident brushwork and sophisticated palette. The present painting depicts the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont on the Montagne Sainte Geneviève in the 5th arrondissement near the Panthéon. The painting depicts the square in front of the ancient church, regarded as one of the most beautiful in Paris, and the open space serves as an outdoor stage for the artist upon which the denizens of Paris, from the elite and fashionable to the lower working classes, play out an endless pantomime. In the forefront, and slightly to the right of the composition, an elegant woman dressed in a rich, brown costume strolls toward the viewer, followed by her maids, one holding her umbrella. To the left, a street cleaner trudges toward the sidewalk, his shovel resting on his shoulder. A rag picker with her bundle moves across the square while just behind her, a group of schoolgirls walk in their lines, preceded by the schoolmistress and accompanied by two nuns. Raffaëlli is clearly using the church square as a metaphor for the divisions and intersections of the social strata of Parisian life. Dominating the composition is the imposing façade and soaring tower of the church itself and the elegant facades of the buildings to either side. With Raffaëlli, the viewer always knows where he is in Paris. Unlike Pissarro’s views from above, Raffaëlli has chosen a vantage point at ground level, in order to more completely focus on specific landmarks and to draw the viewer into the spirit and mood of all aspects of life in the French capital.
We are grateful to Galerie Brame & Lorenceau and the Comité Raffaëlli for confirming the authenticity of this work. The work will be included in their digital Raffaëlli Catalogue critique, now in preparation.

Related Articles

Sorry, we are unable to display this content. Please check your connection.

More from
European Art
Place your bid Condition report

A Christie's specialist may contact you to discuss this lot or to notify you if the condition changes prior to the sale.

I confirm that I have read this Important Notice regarding Condition Reports and agree to its terms. View Condition Report