Fernand Pelez (1843 – 1913) was a French painter of Spanish origin who worked in Paris. As painter was part of a movement in art dealing with social issues.

He denounced the bleak underside of the belle époque. Critics spoke of him as “one of the most affecting portrayers of poverty”.

In the same vein as that of Émile Zola, his work’s heart-rending naturalism expands on the stories and novels depicting the society of the time written by Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, 1837) and Hans Christian Andersen (The Little Match Girl, 1845), while it simultaneously brings to mind the characters of Gavroche (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862) and Rémi (Hector Malot, Nobody’s Boy, 1878).

The child dressed in rags recalls paintings by Spanish painters: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jusepe de Ribera and Diego Velázquez. The artist was not attempting to induce pity through oversentimentality; on the contrary, he strove for realism. He preferred using vagabond children he happened upon while out walking as models rather than studio professionals.

Source: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts