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Fernand Pelez

Street Child

Artist

Fernand Pelez
Paris 1843 – Paris 1913

Title

Street Child

Date

1880

Materials

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

95.3 x 79.1 cm

Credits

William F. Angus Bequest, inv. 1952.1072

Collection

Western Art

Fernand Pelez was part of a movement in art dealing with social issues. He denounced the bleak underside of the belle époque. Critics spoke of him as “one of the most . . . affecting portrayers of poverty . . . most certainly the one whose sympathy for those classes suffering in our midst is expressed with the most deeply moving power.” Ironically, he was ranked among the “indefatigable eulogists of begging.” In the same vein as that of Émile Zola, his work’s heart-rending naturalism expands on the stories and novels depicting the society of the time written by Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, 1837) and Hans Christian Andersen (The Little Match Girl, 1845), while it simultaneously brings to mind the characters of Gavroche (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862) and Rémi (Hector Malot, Nobody’s Boy, 1878). The child dressed in rags recalls paintings by Spanish painters: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jusepe de Ribera and Diego Velázquez. The artist was not attempting to induce pity through oversentimentality; on the contrary, he strove for realism. He preferred using vagabond children he happened upon while out walking as models rather than studio professionals.

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