Les Halles has been an important commercial area in Paris since the twelfth century, when King Philippe II Auguste expanded the marketplace and built a shelter for the merchants that came from all over to sell their wares. In the 1850s, massive glass and iron buildings were added and are depicted in Firmin-Girard's composition, out of which spills this bustling autumn market-scene behind the Église de Saint Eustache.
Firmin-Girard's attention to detail is evident here and it is one of his trademarks. This sometimes provoked criticism and one arts journal suggested that "one can count dead leaves on the ground, one can count ladybirds on dead leaves, and one can even give oneself the pleasure of counting the points on the ladybirds backs" (as quoted in Paul Girard, Firmin-Girard par son petit-fils, Orléans, 1998, p. 7).
Nonetheless, his acute observation of life in Paris and its environs prove that he is a true realist painter. His view of Les Halles with Saint Eustache depicts an aspect of modern life that invites a comparison to the work of Émile Zola, who put into words precisely what Frimin-Girard records in paint:
"At the crossway in the Rue des Halles cabbages were piled up in mountains; there were white ones, hard and compact as metal balls, curly savoys, whose great leaves made them look like basins of green bronze, and red cabbages, which the dawn seemed to transform into superb masses of bloom with the hue of wine-lees, splotched with dark purple and carmine. At the other side of the markets, at the crossway near Saint Eustache, the end of the Rue Rambuteau was blocked by a barricade of orange-hued pumpkins, sprawling with swelling bellies in two superposed rows. And here and there gleamed the glistening ruddy brown of a hamper of onions, the blood-red crimson of a heap of tomatoes, the quiet yellow of a display of marrows and the somber violet of the fruit of the eggplant; while numerous fat black radishes still left patches of gloom amidst the quivering brilliance of the general awakening" (Émile Zola, The Belly of Paris, 1873, p. 26).