I discovered Fernand Pelez at the Petit Palais in Paris. He lived from the 18th of January 1843 to the 7th of August, 1913 and was French, with Spanish origins.
Pelez was part of the naturalism movement in the 1880s. He used his art to portray scenes of street poverty, with an emphasis on street children. It’s a very sad subject, but Pelez wanted to push it into the limelight, to give it some attention, so that something might be done about it.
Here is one of his most famous works, the very large Grimaces et Misères.
I was struck by it’s size when I first saw it – it makes a for a jaw-dropping first impression. The second thing I noticed was its outstanding quality. Each character is sensitively observed in true-to-life detail, with capitvating facial and body expressions.
I think the most striking character is the clown in the middle because of his big costume, but then we quickly notice the unusual miniature man next to him, the Russian doll sequence of bored but colourful children, and lastly the sad orchestra on the right.
As I’ve already emphasised, the execution is beautiful. Its realism echoes the reality Pelez wanted to unearth; the wondrous circus is, in fact, made up of exploited, unhappy people. Even the composition of people in a line emphasises the subject as properly and deliberately presented to the onlooker.
Here they are, here’s how they feel; what are you going to do about it?