The Quays at Rouen, 1883 by Camille Pissarro

The Quays at Rouen, 1883 by Camille Pissarro
Courtesy of www.diego-velazquez.org

Pissarro's visit to the city of Rouen in October 1883 was very important to him. It gave him a new perspective on life which inspired a large number of oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and later etchings. This first visit may have been inspired by Monet's paintings of the facade of Rouen Cathedral, or it may have been encouraged by Pissarro's patron Eugene Murer, the Paris restaurateur and pastry chef, who befriended many of the Impressionists, and in whose hotel in Rouen Pissarro stayed. Murer, by enticing the hard-up painters with his delicious food, had by the end of the 1870s collected many fine paintings including twenty-five by Pissarro.

Having concentrated on landscapes and the lives of country people up to this time, Pissarro's work from this first visit to Rouen, of which thirteen paintings survive, was to anticipate the major theme of the last twenty years of his life. These were scenes of Rouen, Paris, Le Havre and Dieppe painted from the seclusion and shelter of an upstairs hotel room. This busy scene on the Seine, with barges lining the banks, loading and unloading their cargo, and smoking dock chimneys in the background, is typical of his later work. It is possible that the subject matter appealed to him as it related to his earliest drawings of cargo handlers in the port of Charlotte AmaJie.

Unlike his intimate studies of country peasants painted at about this time, these descriptive paintings show his desire to remain aloof from the busy workings of the town. In contrast to Renoir's close-up figure paintings, showing Parisians at leisure and play, Pissarro's townscapes. are populated with dark, faceless people - sometimes close to caricature - pursuing lives of drab monotony, many with the stooping shoulders of the world-weary.