This is one of Béraud’s early street scenes, for which he was famous in the 1880s. So precise is his rendition that this spot can be located on a map. It shows the central market of Paris, Les Halles, on the left and the church of Sainte-Eustache (built 1532-1637) on the right, viewed from the rue Baltard where it meets the pointe Sainte-Eustache. Les Halles, one of the splendid Second Empire projects, was designed by Victor Baltard and employed the most advanced construction technology of the time, iron and glass. “The belly of Paris, ” as the market was called by Emile Zola, was one of the symbols of the city’s modernity.
The produce market next to the enclosed sheds is alive with activity and brightly colored vegetables. As is usual in Béraud’s painting, a pretty woman in a fashionable dress is an important focal point. The artist’s attention to the individuality and movements of the other customers and workers reveals differences in character and behavior, while class distinctions are clearly indicated by clothing. The confrontation of the hefty peasant woman and top-hatted gentleman, to the left, and the maid of a few steps behind her mistress, in the center, are cases in point.
Beyond the market itself, Béraud offers glimpses of the bustling streets, where pedestrians mingle with horse-drawn vehicles. In the center is an omnibus, a mode of public transportation introduced to Paris some forty years earlier.
Like the Impressionists, Béraud was interested in showing specific time and place. Thus, upper-class people wear the latest fashions, trees are sparsely leafed, suggesting early spring, and umbrellas are held, some open, some closed, implying that a light rain has just ended or is just beginning.