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  • Writer's pictureAnn Saul

PISSARRO: In Paris – A New Look

The Pont-Royal and the Pavilon de Flore, Overcast Sky, 1903
Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, PDRS 1493

The Pont-Royal and the Pavilon de Flore, Overcast Sky, 1903, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, PDRS 1493

In November 1902 when Pissarro returned to his apartment at 28 Place Dauphine in Paris, he knew he needed new motifs. “I can’t do the same Pont Neuf motifs yet again, I still have a year to go on the rue Dauphine flat, it’s a bit of a problem.”[1] As always, he came up with a solution and rented a room to use as a studio at the Hotel du Quai Voltaire from March to May of 1903. From his third-floor room, #32, he could see the Louvre, “the Pont Royal and the Pont du Carrousel, as well as the houses strung out along the quai Malaquais with the Institut [de France] and to the left, the retreating banks of the Seine, motifs where the light is magnificent,”[2] as he wrote his son Lucien.

Hotel du Quai Voltaire a few years ago; photo by author

Composing this painting, Pissarro looked slightly to his left including the Pont-Royal, a 17th century stone bridge, and the Pavillon de Flore of the Louvre. The overcast sky gives the ancient stone of the bridge a silvery look and softens the reflections in the deep blue-green water. A small boat glides silently by as the Seine flows peacefully through the four arches. In the distance are rows of tiny houses on the Rue de Rivoli, where Pissarro lived during previous winters in Paris. Because of the cloudy sky, it is impossible to tell if it is morning or afternoon, but it is an unusually quiet time on the Seine, which was then and continues to be a working river filled with boat traffic.

Photo of the motif a few years ago. by the author

Pissarro used the street level of the bridge to divide the canvas almost perfectly into top and bottom, with the right end just slightly lower than center. The Louvre creates a strong perpendicular at the right, and on the left, a barge makes an acute angle with the bridge. The only dark areas are the showy undersides of the four arches which create sideways “commas” across the canvas in circular contrast to all the lines and angles. The misty clouds create slight angles opposing the diagonal of the barge.  The large tree on the left gives balance to the heaviness of the massive building on the right. It seems to have no trunk at the bottom, but perhaps it is blocked by the stalls of the bouquinistes (booksellers) on Quai Voltaire. Pissarro pictured their stalls and people shopping in another painting with a similar view.

The Pont-Royal, Afternoon, Spring, 1903, Private collection, PDRS 1496

Later that year in August, Pissarro sent that painting and another one of the Pont Royal to an exhibition in Dieppe. An art critic wrote, “To a master all honours are due,” and after describing the two paintings, he concluded, “And all of this rendered with the prodigious mastery and stunning technique that characterize this wonderful artist: a rich impasto, a great sensitivity to colours, a tonal harmony, a depth and an atmosphere one never tires of marvelling at.”[3]

[1] Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro: Critical Catalogue of Paintings, 3 vols. (Milan: Skira Editore S.p.A., 2005). III:894.

[2] Ibid. I:313.

[3] Ibid. III: 903-4.

I am honored that my latest book, Abstract Pissarro, was included in a review by David Carrier for Hyperallergic

Abstract Pissarro is available online at Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

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