Camille PISSARRO | Pont Boïeldieu, Rouen, sunset, misty weather [Le pont Boïeldieu à Rouen, soleil couchant, temps brumeux]

West Indies 1830 – France 1903

Pont Boïeldieu, Rouen, sunset, misty weather
[Le pont Boïeldieu à Rouen, soleil couchant, temps brumeux]
oil on canvas
canvas 54.0 (h) x 65.0 (w) cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, on long-term loan to the from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris , Accepted in lieu of tax 1983
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Pissarro stayed at the Hôtel de Paris in Rouen from 20 January to 29 March 1896. From his studio on the third floor he painted different views of the Pont Boïeldieu over the Seine: at sunset, on an overcast day, in the fog. The bridge joined the old Gothic city in the north with the new southern industrial areas of Sainte-Sever. On the far bank we see boats docking and unloading cargo, with the urban landscape in the distance. Pissarro captures the transitive effects of the mist and smoke, a sense of fugitive movement in the city’s activity. He was attracted to Rouen, describing it as having terrific character and being just as beautiful as Venice.1 Indeed, this juxtaposition between old and new is part of what makes Pissarro’s urban paintings so intriguing.

A great admirer of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, Pissarro painted several views of the quays in Rouen in 1883.2 From October to November, he worked en plein air, in the streets and around the harbour. However in 1893, following treatment on an eye, his doctor warned him not to expose himself to dusty conditions. By working from the window of his hotel room, Pissarro found a lasting solution to the problem of capturing the hustle and bustle of the city, its linear and aerial perspectives, without the impracticalities of installing oneself in the street. In Pont Boïeldieu, Rouen, sunset, misty weather the tilt of the bridge, as well as its sweeping angle across the canvas, allow him to make the most of presenting the busy pedestrian and carriage traffic.

This was one of eleven Rouen paintings exhibited at Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris in April–May 1896. The exhibition was well received: several critics described the Rouen works as some of his best to date. The works sold, thus providing the artist with some financial security at long last. Buoyed by this success, Pissarro returned to Rouen in September 1896—this time to the Hôtel d’Angleterre on the other side of the bridge, where his fifth-floor room offered panoramas of the city’s three bridges. In 1898 he travelled to Rouen for the fourth time, painting more views of the bridges, as well as of the Gare d’Orléans and the Quai de la Bourse. His forty-seven views of Rouen vastly exceed the numbers of any other series he painted and ensure that cityscapes dominate his oeuvre.3

Lucina Ward

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Letter to Lucien Pissarro, Rouen, 2 October 1896, letter 1306, Janine Bailly-Herzberg (ed.), Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, vol. 4, 1895–1898, Paris: Presses universitaires de France 1989, p. 266, quoted in Richard R. Brettell and Joachim Pissarro, The Impressionist and the city: Pissarro’s series paintings, New Haven: Yale University Press 192, p. 6.
  2. Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro: critical catalogue of paintings, Paris: Wildenstein Institute Publications; Milano: Skira 2005.
  3. The spectacular combination of atmospheric sky, solidity of the stone bridge, and mirror-like river in Pissarro’s Rouen works did not, however, impress all of his clients. One of the bridges, painted during the 1896 campaign, was the subject of a letter to the artist from the then owner, Edmond Decap: ‘I have the pleasure to inform you that I own your two beautiful paintings of Rouen, Morning effect, Pont Corneille and Evening effect, Pont Boïeldieu. There is a small error in the latter, which I allow myself to call to your attention: the bridge’s first pier is not straight. Everyone who has seen the painting has noticed this defect. Would you rather correct it in Paris or shall I send it to Eragny.’ It is not known whether Pissarro responded; if so, his reply has not been preserved. In any case, the pier of the bridge remains ‘crooked’. (The first work is in a private collection, and the second at the Birmingham Museum and Gallery, Birmingham; see Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, vol. 3, cats 1117 and 1125, pp. 706 and 710.)