On January 20, 1896, when Pissarro arrived for his second extended stay in Rouen, he was already enraptured by "the beautiful motifs of the quays, which will make famous paintings." This is one of several views of the busy port that he painted from the window of his room at the Hôtel de Paris. Across the river in the background may be seen the wharves and warehouses of the working-class Saint-Sever district.
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Title:Steamboats in the Port of Rouen
Artist:Camille Pissarro (French, Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas 1830–1903 Paris)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:18 x 21 1/2 in. (45.7 x 54.6 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Arthur J. Neumark, 1958
The Painting:Steamboats in the Port of Rouen belongs to the body of work Pissarro produced in the Norman city in the first three months of 1896. But it is slightly different from most of the series in that he omitted the bridges crossing the river Seine. The artist focused on another motif of particular interest to him: the center of maritime activity downriver from the Hôtel de Paris and just beyond the Boieldieu Bridge on quai de la Bourse, which he could observe from his hotel window. The sharp angle he selected affords a contracted, close-up look at the warehouses on the opposite bank, in the commercial district of Saint-Sever, south and west of the old city. A patch of gray-green suggests trees beyond, and there is an indication of hills in the distance. The prow of a large cargo vessel occupies the center foreground. It is square-rigged with furled sails on two masts, a cabin, and a tall smokestack that emits oily gray smoke. (Such a vessel would have been large enough to cruise the coast or cross the channel.) In front of it are two smaller craft: a barge with a short smokestack and a crane loading or unloading another barge that lies alongside. A quantity of freight, barely indicated but surely barrels—all the same size (wine and cider are two of the principal commodities shipped through Rouen)—, occupies space on the quai at the lower right, above Pissarro’s signature and the date. The picture is distinguished by the volume of steam rising from the various boats at their moorings. The steam merges with the clouds and mist hovering over the industrial suburb under a pale sky reflected in the water. The colors are primarily gray, pink, mauve, blue, and pure unmixed white. The brushwork in the sky is agitated.
The subject of this painting is a departure from Pissarro's characteristic pastoral views and scenes of labor in the countryside. This picture and a group of closely related works made in Rouen are the closest Pissarro came to treating the modern industrial landscape.
A Related View: A larger canvas in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, The Port of Rouen, Saint-Sever (RF 1972 31), bears a close relationship to The Met’s picture, as it shows the same place, but in a wide view and in fair weather. A cargo vessel with one furled sail on each mast stands in the same position on the quai, a freight barge just in front of it lies beside a small boat with a crane, and there is a fixed crane in the foreground. On the opposite bank at the left are an enormous warehouse and an open holding area, with various warehouses beyond. Pissarro employed diminishing perspective to offer more extensive information about what the port facilities along the riverbank looked like. On April 11, 1896, Durand-Ruel bought seven canvases, including the Orsay picture, which he sold on May 13 to the collector of Impressionist paintings François Depeaux (1853–1920). A significant portion of Depeaux's collection is today in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Rouen.
Related prints: Pissarro was a gifted print maker. He captured the scene—with the addition of the entrance to the Boieldieu Bridge—from a seemingly higher vantage point in a lithograph (Royal Academy, London, 07/201) that is presumed to date to 1896 as well. A masted cargo vessel stands at the same location with another boat and the fixed crane; at the lower left corner, a horse cart and driver gain entrance to the bridge. The buildings and hills on the opposite bank are rendered schematically. Pissarro took pleasure in making lithographs in Rouen in 1896 and regretted that they did not sell well.
Katharine Baetjer 2022
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): C.Pissarro. 96
[Georges Petit, Paris, until 1933; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 15, 1933, no. 103, as "Les fumées dans le port de Rouen," for Fr. 16,000, to Deville]; Deville (in 1933); Alphonse Bellier, Paris (by 1939–51; sold January 1951 to Salz); [Sam Salz, New York, 1951; sold February 1951 to Neumark]; Arthur J. Neumark, New York (1951–58; life interest, 1958–d. 1966)
Paris. Galerie de l'Elysée. "C. Pissarro: Tableaux, pastels, dessins," April 24–May 8, 1936, no. 14 [see Snollaerts 2005].
Bellingham, Wash. Whatcom Museum of History and Art. "5000 Years of Art: An Exhibition from the Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," December 4, 1976–October 2, 1977, no. 67.
Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 86.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. "A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro, and Gauguin in Rouen," June 4–September 26, 2010, no. 80 (as "The Seine at Rouen, Saint-Sever, Smoke").
Ludovic Rodo Pissarro and Lionello Venturi. Camille Pissarro, son art—son œuvre. reprint ed. 1989. Paris, 1939, vol. 1, p. 214, no. 958; vol. 2, pl. 194, no. 958.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, p. 20, ill., note that it belongs to a series made in the fall of 1896 in Rouen when Pissarro was interested in studying one subject under changing conditions of weather and light, and that many were painted from his room at the Hôtel d'Angleterre on the Cours Boïeldieu.
Christopher Lloyd inRetrospective Camille Pissarro. Exh. cat., Isetan Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 1984, p. 137, under no. 54, identifies the scene as a view of the warehouses along the Quai de Salle, looking upriver away from the Pont Boieldieu, and lists other paintings from 1896 with the same view (PV 946, 957, 959–60, 965, 967–69).
Richard R. Brettell and Joachim Pissarro. The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings. Ed. Mary Anne Stevens. Exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art. New Haven, 1992, pp. 4, 27, 209, no. 18, ill. (color), state that it was painted between January 21 and March 30, 1896; describe the work as depicting the Quai du Havre in the foreground, overlooking the left bank and the Quartier Saint-Sever, with the cropped building on the left being the docks; note that smoke and steam partly conceal the activity and that it is overcast.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 440, ill.
Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts in Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts. Pissarro: Critical Catalogue of Paintings. Milan, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 380, 403, 412; vol. 3, pp. 708–9, 955, 958, no. 1123, ill. (color), calls it "The Seine at Rouen, Saint-Sever, Smoke;" dates it to Pissarro's second stay in Rouen, from January 20 to March 30, 1896.
Marie-Claude Coudert inA City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro, and Gauguin in Rouen. Ed. Laurent Salomé. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. Paris, 2010, pp. 292, 302–3, no. 80, ill. (color).
This work belongs to a series of paintings that Pissarro made during his second sojourn in Rouen, from January 20 to March 30. All of them are thought to have been painted from the window of his room in the Hôtel de Paris, located at 51 quai de Paris, between the Boieldieu and Corneille bridges. One of the canvases, now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, shows a quite similar view looking diagonally across the river toward the Saint-Sever district, with the quai de la Bourse in the foreground (Pissarro and Venturi 1939 and 1989, no. 957; Pissarro and Snollaerts 2005, no. 1122).
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