Mr Pelez, painter of fin de siècle elegance
François Flameng depicts Pelez, his elder by 13 years, painting a clown on a canvas which is disproportionately wide in relation to his easel.
The converging lines draw the eye to a background consisting of a simple, fairly low horizon line. The painter, depicted in profile, sports a gleaming top hat and elegant frock coat on the lapel of which can be seen the ribbon of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur decoration. This uniform of the official 19th century painter contrasts with his tousled hair and unkempt moustache, echoed by a carelessly knotted black cravat around his neck. The canvas on the easel seems to hark back to Les Saltimbanques [The Entertainers], a famous painting by Pelez owned by the Petit Palais, both in subject matter and dimensions. This work was sufficiently striking for it to be associated in people’s minds with the artist. Pelez did not exhibit at the Salon in 1895 and was working on a larger format painting in his studio. Flameng is therefore trying to highlight the disparity between the vulgarity of the subject and the format of the work. It is not known what inspired him to produce this drawing, which could for example have been intended for the press.
Should we see in the title chosen by Flameng for this caricature of Pelez in his fine coat bearing the marks of official recognition and standing at his easel the contemporary echo of Velasquez depicting himself painting the “Elegance” of the Golden Age in Las Meninas [Young ladies of the court], proudly displaying the Cross of the Knights of St James?
Pelez is represented here as an artist-dandy, dressed very differently from the way in which he is usually depicted in photographic portraits. It is doubtless this disparity between Pelez’ success and the iconography of his painting during this period which inspired Flameng to paint him. Flameng received every accolade that a 19th century painter could dream of and emphasizes what appears to him in the light of a paradox without any trace of jealousy.