A Portrait Group of Paris Celebrities
Alfred Stevens, Belgian 1823-1906
SN 439. Oil on Canvas 1889

by Robert Anderson. 2000

Alfred Stevens was a distiguished Belgian portrait and genre painter who was born in Brussels in 1828. Best known in Belgium and France, he was chiefly active in Paris where he settled in 1844. He was at first a pupil at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and at a later date a pupil of Nevez in Brussels and of Rocqueplan in Paris.

From 1860 on, Stevens achieved success with his pictures of young ladies in elegant interiors dressed in the height of fashion. The carefully studied but simple poses exhibit a total lack of movement and a degree of emotional restraint.

After 1880 he painted marine themes in a free and Impressionistic style and became more interested in capturing the expressions of his female sitters.

He was a friend and supporter of Manet and influenced Whistler. In 1900 he was the first living artist to be given a one-man exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

The painting shows the identifiable portraits of 25 famous men and women of the century, 1789-1889. The list of notables is attached. Of particular interest are Sarah Bernhardt, Actress - Antonin Proust, Author - Jules Massenet, Composer and Georges Bizet, Composer.

This painting is a section from the original Panorama du Siecle ( Panorama of the century) which was created for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889. The original Panorama was 120 meters long and 6 meters high - the size of a football field. It contained 641 identifiable portraits of famous men and women of the century. and was installed in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. Unable to secure a permanent installation for the painting at the conclusion of the Paris Exhibition, Stevens cut it into sections which were then distributed to shareholders.

This section shows Sarah Bernhardt as the central figure of the decade 1879-1888.
She is dressed in the costume of her role as the Queen in Victor Hugo's play Ruy Blas, and is surrounded by prominant dramatists, writers and musicians - for example Proust in Top Hat, Massenet with hat in hand and Bizet in eye glasses.

In later life Stevens turned to teaching and Sarah Bernhardt was one of his pupils. He also painted several portraits of her.