Late 19th & early 20th Century Paintings & Decorative Arts Gallery Level 2, NGV International
On 8 February 1897, after a discussion with his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, the Éragny-based Camille Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien: 'When I was last here [in Paris], I made some small paintings of the rue Saint-Lazare, showing the differing effects of rain and snow, with which Durand was very pleased. He thinks that painting a series of views of the boulevards would be a good idea, and I'm interested myself in mastering this subject'. Two days later Pissarro checked into the Grand Hôtel de Russie at 1 rue Drouot in Paris, where over the next two months he painted fourteen canvases of boulevard Montmartre as seen from his hotel windows.
In these fourteen canvases, the artist is less concerned with topography than with observing and capturing the constantly changing effects of light and weather. In addition, the fixed viewpoint afforded by his hotel’s upper-storey window allowed him to record the ever-shifting configurations of the crowds and traffic below. In his letters, Pissarro describes being at his post from early morning until afternoon, recording the same scene each day, through winter into early spring.
In this later period of his career Pissarro had developed an eye irritation that made working outside uncomfortable; viewing scenes such as the boulevard Montmartre from behind the protective glass of a hotel's windows was thus beneficial to his health, while also providing a useful framing device for his compositions. Pissarro threw himself into work with gusto, working on multiple canvases at once, switching from one to the other as the light and atmosphere outside his hotel room shifted with time and climate. On 28 March 1897 he lamented to Lucien: 'My paintings are coming along, but I am delayed by certain effects ... I am now only able to work only two hours in the morning, and two hours in the evening, sometimes less'. Each of Pissarro's fourteen depictions of the boulevard Montmartre was a triumph of atmospheric accuracy, populated by a wealth of tiny individualised Parisian characters, an astonishing feat given the minute scale with which they are represented.
This painting, which survives in pristine condition, was the first Impressionist work to be acquired for the National Gallery of Victoria, entering the Melbourne collection in 1905, only two years after Pissarro’s death.
Right of reverse of canvas
TOILES a PEINDRE a COULEURS FINES/P.CONTET/ PARIS/34, Rue Lafayette, 34