Painted in 1903, Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut forms a part of Camille Pissarro's fourth and final series of views of Paris. This picture, which has recently gained much attention because of publicity surrounding its return to the heirs of publisher Brigitte and Gottfried Bermann Fischer, dates from what was to become Pissarro's last period painting in the French capital; although he later returned to Paris shortly before his death, it was during this earlier stay that he created his final views of the city.
Pissarro had painted some cityscapes earlier in his career, but it was only ten years earlier, in 1893, that he had first tackled the subject of Paris, the bustling cosmopolitan hub of so much life in France. And once he started, he returned several times to the city, specifically renting apartments for their views and outlooks. Indeed, Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut dates from the period during which he had rented rooms at 28 place Dauphine; that apartment benefited from windows facing in two directions, meaning that he was able to paint separate series of views, looking out over the Pont Neuf and also over the Square du Vert-Galant from the building, which was at the end of the Ile de la Cité. Very few of Pissarro's views from 1903 show these views, though; in fact, Pissarro had rented his rooms for three years, and by this stage had tired slightly of the repetition. Writing to his son Lucien, he complained, "I can't do the same Pont Neuf motifs yet again, I still have a year to go on the rue Dauphine flat, it's a bit of a problem" (Pissarro, quoted in J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 894).
The solution came relatively late during this last painting campaign in Paris, which lasted from 13 November 1902 to 29 May 1903. At the end of March, he announced with renewed enthusiasm that,
"At the moment I am doing a series of canvases from the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, the Pont-Royal and the Pont du Carrousel, as well as the houses strung out along the quai Malaquais, with the Institut and at the far end to the left the banks of the Seine, superb motifs of light" (Pissarro, 30 March 1903, quoted in R.R. Brettell and J. Pissarro, The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art, 1993, p. 159).
For just under two months, Pissarro painted from Room 32 on the third floor of the Hôtel du quai Voltaire, at 19 quai Voltaire in 7th arondissement. This would come to be his only series painted from the Left Bank. He took great advantage of the view that the room afforded, looking both up and down the Seine, resulting in pictures of the Pont-Royal, the Louvre and, as here, the Quai Malaquais. The Hôtel du quai Voltaire, which provided the vantage-point for this final series, had already secured itself a place in the cultural history of the 19th century as it was there that Charles Baudelaire had lived when writing Les Fleurs du mal, published in 1857; likewise, Wagner and Wilde had also spent time there. Pissarro's enthusiasm for the theme is clear in the 14 views of Paris, of which several are in museums (the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris and the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo). As is only fitting considering the fact that the artist stayed there during April and May, these works are all filled with a sense of hope, of renewal, of new leaves and new life, as is clearly the case in Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut, where the trees are draped in budding foliage thin enough that the Pont du Carrousel and even the Pont des Arts are visible spanning the river in the background (both of these bridges have since been rebuilt).
To the right of Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut is the street itself, with carriages and pedestrians giving a sense of urban activity; these details demonstrate what Gustave Geffroy would say of Pissarro later in 1903: that during the last decade of his life, he, "became finally what he had been only intermittently: a landscape painter of towns" (Geffroy, quoted in ibid., p. 51). Meanwhile, arching over the top is the sky, rendered, like the trees, with brushstrokes that perfectly illustrate Pissarro's status as one of the leading Impressionists. The deft ease with which he appears to have conjured these details through vigorous and frenetic brushstrokes adds to the intense immediacy of the painting, as does the lush impasto which articulates so much of the surface. This lush paint surface lends great detail and movement to the clouds, and is thrust into greater relief by the contrast with other areas of the picture where he has deliberately left the primed canvas in reserve, introducing a fantastic play of textures.
In part, the excellent condition of Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut appears to be a result of its history. This picture was recently returned to the heirs of Samuel and Hedwig Fischer, who had acquired it from Paul Cassirer in 1907. Samuel Fischer was the founder of one of Germany's most important publishing houses, Fischer Verlag. In 1936 the painting had been in the possession of his daughter Brigitte and her husband Gottfried Bermann Fischer, who had abandoned his vocation as a surgeon on his marriage and had gradually taken over the reins (and name) of Fischer Verlag, becoming a celebrated publisher in his own right. The authors he published and with whom he often corresponded included Thomas Mann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Hermann Hesse. Gottfried, seeing which way the wind was blowing, moved the company headquarters to Vienna in 1936 and, following the Anschluss, to Stockholm, before making his way to the United States with his family. Sadly, this move was less expected: Gottfried and his children hurriedly escaped to Rapallo by train, as Brigitte was holidaying there, taking only what they could. Thus the paintings on the wall of their apartment in Vienna remained behind: Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut hung in the dining room.
Along with several other pictures in the collection, Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut was confiscated by the National Socialists and then sold at the Dorotheum. Some of the pictures were there acquired by one of the directors of the auction house, and several were tracked down by Gottfried Bermann Fischer after the Second World War on behalf of Hedwig Fischer and after her death in 1952 on behalf of her heirs. Indeed, he even published a leaflet giving details of the missing works and asking for information, offering rewards for their return. Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut, however, remained beyond his grasp: it was bought by Eugen Primavesi on behalf of Hans W. Lange, who notoriously dealt in confiscated artworks. It was purchased from him by the equally notorious Dr. Bruno Lohse, an art dealer who worked as an art agent for Göring. Following the end of the War, Lohse was imprisoned by the Allies for several years; despite this, he was able to re-establish himself as an art dealer. Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut remained in his possession until 1978, when he transferred ownership to a Vaduz Foundation, Schönart Anstalt, which placed it in a bank vault in Zürich where it remained until summer 2008. After a long process, it was returned to Gisela Bermann Fischer, one of the heirs to the Fischer estate by which it is now offered for sale.
We are grateful to Professor Walter Feilchenfeldt for his assistance in cataloguing and researching the present work.