“Since I’ve been in Paris,” Pissarro wrote to the critic and collector Julius Elias in 1902, “I’ve been able to work from my window incessantly; I’ve had winter effects that charmed me in their finesse. The view...is an absolutely exquisite and captivating subject” (quoted in The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro’s Series Paintings, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art, 1992, p. xxxviii).
Five years earlier, Pissarro had begun to spend the winter and spring months painting in Paris, returning to his home in rural Éragny for the summer and fall. Of the three hotel rooms and three apartments that he rented in the capital during his final decade, each of which provided the basis for an extended series of cityscapes, none offered him greater pictorial possibilities than the flat that he mentioned to Elias, on the second floor of 28 place Dauphine at the western tip of the Île de la Cité. During three campaigns between November 1900 and May 1903, the artist created some five dozen paintings of the spectacular panorama visible from the corner windows there, the largest body of work that he ever devoted to a single urban site. “By playing on the changes of season and the variations in the weather and light,” Joachim Pissarro has written, “by multiplying the angles of vision and utilizing canvases of different formats, he created a stunning range of effects” (J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts., op. cit., 2005, p. 826).
Pissarro painted the present canvas during the opening weeks of 1902, shortly after a snowfall during his second stay on the place Dauphine. Looking north, he depicted the Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge over the Seine, carrying a bustling throng of pedestrians and carriages between the Île de la Cité and the Right Bank. His elevated vantage point offered a plunging perspective over the scene, accentuating the steep differences of level between the rooftops, the bridge, and the river. The entire vista is unified, however, in the ethereal atmosphere of winter, the sky heavy with the promise of another storm.
Thirty years earlier, after the devastations of the Franco-Prussian War, Renoir had painted the Pont Neuf as the intact heart of the recovering city. Pissarro too emphasizes the enduring strength of the span, which slices diagonally across the composition. Its massive stone piers contrast with the constant flux of the crowds, as well as the diaphanous fog that dematerializes the newly opened Samaritaine department store—that great monument to capitalist, commercial Paris—at the far end of the bridge. “This juxtaposition of the new and the old, of tradition and modernity, of the transient and the eternal constitutes one of the principal connecting themes of Pissarro’s series,” Joachim Pissarro has written (exh. cat., op. cit., 1992, p. xlv).
This canvas is very likely one of thirteen recent paintings—eight from the place Dauphine series and five from the previous summer at Dieppe—that Pissarro opted to include in a widely acclaimed joint exhibition with Monet at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in February 1902, which fulfilled an ambition of exhibiting again alongside his old Impressionist colleague.