Pissarro's sweeping vista of Rouen presents one of France's most modern cityscapes at the brink of the 20th century. Pissarro painted this urban landscape in all of its industrial splendor in the summer of 1898, only four years after Monet completed his famous series of the façade of the Rouen's gothic cathedral. This was Pissarro's fourth trip to the city, and during his three month stay from July through October he painted twenty canvases with similar motifs, mostly panoramic views of the harbor and the Corneille and Boieldieu bridges that crossed the Seine (fig. 1). The present view, illuminated with the brilliance of sunlight, captures the urban energy that Pissarro found so intriguing. Every element of the composition is charged with activity, from the river traffic chugging down-stream to the grumbling of the factory towers with their great plumes of blue-gray smoke. As opposed to other depictions of this same view as seen from the Quai de la Bourse, Le Pont Boieldieu et la Gare d'Orléans, Rouen, soleil presents a closer view, with sharper depictions of the classical architecture along the riverbank.
Le Pont Boieldieu et la Gare d'Orléans, Rouen, soleil, also known by the title Saint Sever, Rouen, après-midi, presents France as it was at the turn of the century – frenetic, ever-expanding, and a leader of industry in Europe (fig. 3). Pissarro, perhaps more so than most of his Impressionist colleagues, was fascinated by the industrial changes taking place throughout the country. There is a subtext of national pride in these compositions, with their unobstructed views of a city teeming with life. Pissarro made no secret of his sympathies for the working class, and depictions of cities were a perfect opportunity for him to celebrate the accomplishments of an urban proletariat. In this picture, for example, the activity of the factory works and ferrymen bring the composition to life.
Writing in Art et Littérature in 1901, the critic Robert Moret had the following to say about Pissarro's extremely modern portrayal of the Rouen waterway: "...[T]he subject it depicts is extremely interesting. It reproduces modern life in all its busy intensity; this is no longer the calm, primitive landscape that induces dreams of repose and invites to rest, it is the humming beehive where everything sings of productive work. Factory chimneys furrow the river, carts trundle on the embankments; everywhere we see action observed in real life situations with an extraordinary acuity" (quoted in J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snoellaerts, op.cit., p. 767).
Durand-Ruel purchased the present work directly from the artist's studio in 1899, almost immediately after Pissarro finished it. Pissarro depended on the support of the dealer, who gave him suggestions on what to paint and who was unwaivering in his financial support through the peaks and valleys of Pissarro's career (fig. 2). This picture, which is considered the best of the series of the Boieldieu bridge, was clearly the favorite of Durand-Ruel, who frequently exhibited it over the course of the 20th century.
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Tableaux de Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1899, no. 70
25 1/2 by 31 7/8 in. 65 by 81 cm
Julien Leclercq, "Petites expositions. Galerie Durand Ruel," La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, Paris, April 15, 1899, p. 131
Adolphe Tabarant, Pissarro, Paris, 1924, illustrated pl. 36
J.C. Holl, "Pissarro," L'Art et les artistes, Paris, February 1928, illustrated p. 167
Charles Kunstler, Camille Pissarro, Paris, 1930, illustrated pl. 21 (Rouen – Saint-Sever)
Ludovic-Rodo Pissarro & Lionello Venturi, Camille Pissarro. Son art – Son oeuvre, vol. 1, Paris, 1939, no. 1050, catalogued p. 227; vol. 2, no. 1050, illustrated (titled Rouen, Saint Sever, après-midi)
Gotthard Jedlicka, Pissarro, Bern, 1950, illustrated pl. 42
Thadée Natanson, Pissarro, Lausanne, 1950, illustrated pl. 42
John Rewald, C. Pissarro, Paris, 1974, illustrated at no. 39
Christopher Lloyd, ed., Studies on Camille Pissarro, London & New York, 1987, referenced in note 61, p. 93
Richard Brettell & Joachim Pissarro, The Impressionist and the City. Pissarro's Series Paintings (exhibition catalogue), New Haven & London, 1992, fig. 17, illustrated in color p. 26 (titled Rouen, Saint-Sever, après-midi)
Joachim Pissarro & Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Critical Catalogue of Paintings, vol. III, Milan, 2005, no. 1227, illustrated p. 766
Paul Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist on October 21, 1898)
Thence by descent