This group of wedding guests clustered around a bride and groom on a quiet street epitomizes the facility of Hervé at observing and reproducing the ordinary commerce of daily life in Paris and his home town of Langres. He is often categorized as working in the style of the Impressionists, but his ability to summarize characters and group them tellingly might be seen, ironically, as more akin to a sunny, colourful version of Daumier; he certainly has more empathy with his staffage than, for instance, Pissarro. Here, the bride and groom have been pushed to the extreme right-hand of the painting; we are aware of further festivities – and possibly the church and priest – just out of the frame, and can catch the mood of the waiting knots of people. On the left, a prosperous-looking bourgeois couple with his son and daughter (a bridesmaid?) stands at ease, hat pushed back and hands in pockets, while his wife remains sternly erect at the front of the group, and a bonne amuses a small boy at the back. Larger children gather to gawp, balancing the reporter in a soft hat on the right, and providing depth and recession to the frieze-like scene. The palette is muted, full of soft greys, blacks and whites, but illuminated by lemon-yellow and tints of opal.
Jules René Hervé was born in Langres in the Haute-Marne region of France, where he first began to train as an artist – initially with his uncle, Jules Alfred Hervé. He attended the Ecole Nationale superieur des Arts décoratifs in Paris from 1908, and then the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; he also studied at the Atelier Cormon, where earlier students had included Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. He first exhibited at the Salon in 1910, at the age of 23, and began himself to teach from 1911 – a career which lasted for more than 30 years. He was awarded a médaille d’argent at the Salon in 1914, and a médaille d’or in 1925; in 1937 he received another médaille d’or at the Expo universelle in Paris. His academic career was crowned by election as Vice-President of the Salon; he also served on the selection committee.
His subjects are taken from the street life of Paris and also of Langres; he depicts its rainy streets and sunny squares, its book and picture stalls; its fountains, bridges, playing children and strolling lovers. Hervé is the master of every climatic change and variation in the tree-filled boulevards and fickle skies of his adopted city and its environs; one of his many skills is his ability to mass and animate groups of figures to express the mood of pedestrians in an October shower, hunters in a sun-lit forest, old men playing cards, ballet dancers, or children sailing boats on an urban pond. His brushwork is loose, spontaneous and graphic, conjuring character in four or five fluid marks, and employing a range of subtle neutral tones lit by touches of pure colour. His work can be found in many private collections, and in those of provincial French museums.