With his diners sitting on café terraces and dancers embracing, Steinlen painted the joyous exuberance of a ball in a colourful and incisive style.
The painter assembled a whole host of familiar figures from popular Paris and its underworld for this celebration of the 14th of July: workers, craftspeople and household staff, but also pimps and crooks, who were nicknamed Apaches at the time.
The street decorated with French flags acts as a backdrop to this night-time party in the light of the paper lanterns.
Based in Montmartre since 1881, the Swiss artist Steinlen was familiar with this joyful popular event. Since its introduction in 1880, France has celebrated the fall of the Bastille on the 14th of July. It symbolises the overthrowing of monarchic power, and is a moment of crystallisation of national identity. Over the years, the events spread to the suburbs of the capital, which were decorated for the occasion with triumphal arches, garlands of leaves, flags and paper lanterns. A keen reader of his friend Zola, Steinlen became known for his illustrations and social and political caricatures, which appeared in the press. But like his Daumier, his senior, painting was the most secret and free part of his creation. In November 1959 the Ball on the 14th of July featured in the Salon’s autumn retrospective devoted to Steinlen. This painting, which is one of the largest painted by the artist, then joined the collections of the City of Paris.