Thursday, 27 June 2013

Pissarro in harbours - Rouen

Pissarro in harbours - Rouen

This is a series of posts on the “Pissarro in harbours” exhibition that runs until 29 September 2013 at the Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux (MuMa) – Le Havre, France. In the previous post, we looked at worksdone in Le Havre and we now turn to Rouen.

The Cours-la-Reine or Banks of the Seine in Rouen (1884) – Print by Camille Pissarro

Pissarro spent time in Rouen, capital of Normandy, in 1883, 1895 and 1896. He came first to Rouen on the advice of his friend Claude Monet whose brother lived in the town.


My dear Lucien,

I am hard at work, at least I work as much as the weather permits.— I began a work the motif of which is the river bank in the direction of St. Paul's Church. Looking towards Rouen I have before me all the houses on the quays lighted by the morning sun, in the background the stone bridge, to the left the island with its houses, factories, boats, launches, to the right a mass of pinnaces of all colors.
In the evening I work at Le Cours-la-Reine on the motif you know about.

Yesterday, not having the sun, I began another work on the same motif in grey weather, only I looked more to the right.

I must leave you for my motif. I have a room on the street. I shall start on a view of the street in fog for it has been foggy every morning until eleven o'clock—noon. It should be interesting, the square in the fog, the tramways, the goings and comings.

In 1883, Pissarro painted 18 works in Rouen.

Twelve year later, in 1895, Pissarro came back to Rouen and painted some watercolours and oil paintings. The changing weather is a challenge and he get into the habit of painting from his hotel room. This gives him some interesting vantage points.

Wood Being Unloaded Quai de la Bourse, Sunset – Oil on canvas by Camille Pissarro

The Quai de la Bourse, Rouen in the Rain – Oil on canvas by Camille Pissarro

The Cours-la-Reine, Rouen, in Morning Sunlight – Oil on Canvas by Camille Pissarro

My dear Lucien,

[…] Here the weather is always changing, it is very discouraging. I am working on nine canvases, all of which are more or less well advanced.

The day after your departure I started a new painting at Le Cours-la-Reine, in the afternoon in a glow of sun, and another in the morning by the water below St. Paul's Church. These two canvases are fairly well advanced, but I still need one session in fine weather without too much mist to give them a little firmness. Until now I have not been able to find the effect I want, I have even been forced to change the effect a bit, which is always dangerous. I have also an effect of fog, another, same effect, from my window, the same motif in the rain, several sketches in oils, done on the quays near the boats; the next day it was impossible to go on, everything was confused, the motifs no longer existed ; one has to realize them in a single session. Yesterday I began to work on a charming motif, a view from the balcony of a cafe facing Le Cours-la-Reine, unfortunately it is only a canvas of about 21 x 18 inches. I shall do it over again, at least I can finish it.

[…] I work at my window on rainy days, I think the paintings I do then are my best work; not easy to sell, however. It is raining now, I ram to my window.

Using the hotel room as his studio shelters the artist from the rain and wind. It also saves him carrying arount his easel, paint box and canvasses.

[ROUEN] APRIL 19, 1895

My dear Lucien,

I am in Rouen with Dario de Rigoyos. I am going to look for a hotel on the quay, for thus I will be able to make some carefully done paintings without too much risk or fatigue. Carrying canvases 36 x 28 inches in size is very difficult now that I am old, and I have no money.

It is clear that Pissarro (like Monet did) was working at the same time on several canvasses, switching between them to follow the change of atmosphere and weather conditions.

The exhibition of Claude Monet’s Cathedrals of Rouen series is probably what motivated Pissarro to come back to Rouen in 1896 and work himself on a series of coherent paintings.

Pissarro greatly admired the Cathedrals of Rouen series. Monet's exhibition opened in Paris on May 10, 1895, showing twenty Cathedrals of Rouen and forty canvases in all. Pissarro praised the aesthetic research Monet embarqued on with this series: “Cezanne, whom I met yesterday at Durand-Ruel's, is in complete agreement with my view that this is the work of a well balanced but impulsive artist who pursues the intangible nuances of effects that are realized by no other painter. Certain painters deny the necessity of this research, personally I find any research legitimate that is felt to such a point.” (Letter to Lucien, Paris, May 26, 1895)

Pissarro wrote a few days later to his son Lucien: “This is a great pity, for the Cathedrals are being much talked of, and highly praised, too, by Degas, Renoir, myself and others. I would have so liked you to see the whole series in a group, for I find in it the superb unity which I have been seeking for a long time.” (Paris, June 1, 1895)

Pissarro came back one last time to Rouen in 1896. Because of his eye illness, Pissarro had to work indoor. He changed several times hotels to get different motives.

The Pont Corneille, Rouen, in Morning Mist (1896) – Oil painting by Camille Pissarro.


My dear Lucien,

But I am not thirty years old now, I have to be satisfied with a hotel window. I went to look at the Hotel d'Angleterre on the harbour, it is admirably located but very expensive: 8 francs a day for a room on the fourth floor. This place is less favorable, but I pay only 5 francs for a nice room on the second floor and another on the third, above the entresol 5 the view is beautiful.


My dear Lucien,

My pictures are advancing. I have eight things going, I am waiting impatiently for snow. Monet's brother assured me that Depeaux would take some before I finish them. That would suit me fine, the problem is to finish them successfully. One canvas, View of the Bridge [950], is about 36 x 28 inches. The theme is the bridge near the Place de la Bourse with effects of rain, crowds of people coming and going, smoke from the boats, quays with cranes, workers in the foreground, and all this in grey colors glistening in the rain. Lecomte found it very fine. I have one of fog with sun, but these effects are infrequent.

The Pont Boieldieu, Rouen at Sunset with Smoke – Oil painting by Camille Pissarro


My dear Lucien,

[…] I have begun no less than a dozen pictures, six canvases of 36 x 28 inches, if you please, of the others one is 21 x 1 8 inches, one is a sketch which I gave to Monet's son Jean, whom I often see, and five are canvases of 25 x 21 inches. . . . I have effects of fog and mist, of rain, of the setting sun and of grey weather, motifs of bridges seen from every angle, quays with boats; but what interests me especially is a motif of the iron bridge in the wet, with much traffic, carriages, pedestrians, workers on the quays, boats, smoke, mist in the distance, the whole scene fraught with animation and life. The picture is fairly well advanced. I am waiting for a little rain to put it in order. I hope these pictures won't be too bad, for the moment I see only their defects; at times
I have fits of hope that they will be good.

ROUEN, MARCH 7, 1896

My dear Lucien,

My bridge is completed with its effects of wetness, it is quite interesting, I think. I wanted to render the animation of the hive that is the harbor of Rouen. I have a painting of the misty Pont Corneille which should be pretty good, a canvas 36 x 28 inches also. But I see them too often to know what they are like.


My dear Lucien,

I am in Rouen. From my hotel window I have a different view of the harbour than from that of the Hotel de Paris. I am letting my view of the landscape resolve itself. Sensations don't come all at once—I shall stroll a bit first.

View of Rouen (The Cours-la-Reine) – Print by Camille Pissarro


My dear Lucien,

I just dispatched to Eragny fifteen pictures, in which I tried to represent the movement, the life, the atmosphere of the harbor thronged with smoking ships, bridges, chimneys, sections of the city in the fog and mist, under the setting sun, etc. I think that what I have done is bolder than what I did last year. I had the luck to have boats with rose-colored, golden-yellow and black masts. One picture is colored like a Japanese print 5 that won't please the neocatholics… But at least I painted what I saw and felt; perhaps I am deceiving myself for the motifs are fleeting, they don't last more than one, two, three days…

Pissarro executed a total of 69 paintings and some important series prints in Rouen.

The exhibition at the MuMa – Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux – Le Havre

“Pissarro in the ports” exhibition
From 27 April to 29 September 2013
2 boulevard Clemenceau
76600 Le Havre

Related resources

Letters to his son Lucien by Camille Pissarro – Free eBook that you can read Read Online, as PDF, on ePub readers or on the Kindle

If you prefer to read the correspondence on paper:

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