Text by Geoffrey Smith
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Pissarro was the only artist to take part in all eight Impressionist Exhibitions (though none of them bore the title which is now used). He fulfilled a pivotal role in the development of Impressionism and in the movements it later spawned, becoming something of a father figure and mentor to such artists as Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh, and enthusiastically supporting the aims of the Neo-Impressionists. In the autumn of 1883 Pissarro took a room in Murer’s Hotel in Rouen. For three months he worked on thirteen paintings of the city with the river Seine and the attendant commercial activities of the port as his principal motif. Thirteen years later he was back in the city to undertake one of the series of urban scenes which constituted much of Pissarro’s output during the last ten years of his life. These series paintings amounted to some three hundred canvases made up of views from a single vantage point, usually a hotel room high above the chosen scene. In retrospect, the canvases painted in Rouen in 1883, which can be divided into three groups of subjects, can be seen as his first attempt to create a series of cityscapes.
In this picture, as in his later urban series, he uses a raised viewpoint partly it seems in order to distance the viewer from the panorama presented by the artist and to create the feeling that we are voyeurs, detached from the lives of those engaged in the day-to-day activities of the city — lives from which a brief moment has been captured and frozen on the canvas.
Pissarro constructed his pictures at this time using a heavy impasto — small dabs and dots of colour are built up, dab on dab, to produce a surface which almost seethes with colour. Small flecks of lighter paint across the surface help to give the impression of occluded sunlight. Two years after his stay in Rouen, Pissarro met Seurat and Signac, after which he adopted, for a while, a pointillist style. However, this picture already exhibits aspects of a nascent pointillism and it seems that Pissarro would have needed little encouragement from them to adapt to full blown Neo-Impressionism.
1883 Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
1883 Arnold Böcklin, Ulysses and Calypso; Basel, Kunstmuseum