This work depicts Le Point du Jour, a river port on the Seine to the West of Paris which, once bustling with cafes and bars, was popular with artists and literati in the last decades of the 19th Century.
The artist, Louis Dumoulin, is now primarily remembered for painting in Japan and the Far East where he spent much of his adulthood. In his lifetime he was more well-known, a respected artist and the founder of La Societé Coloniale des Artistes Français - a significant force in the transmission of artistic ideas into the French colonial territories at a time of intense international political and cultural competition. He was also an intimate of some great figures of the period, including Eduard Manet and Paul Verlaine. As a young painter, he made visits to Manet's studio and was taught to observe closely different aspects of Paris. Manet later introduced him to the painter Henri Gervex, who also played a role in Dumoulin's artistic development.
More significant, in the context of this painting, is his relationship with Paul Verlaine - who in 1884-85 published a volume of poetry entitled 'Jadis & Naguere'. It contains an important work, 'L'Aube a L'Envers' ('Dawn in Reverse'), dedicated to Louis Dumoulin and commencing, 'Le Point du Jour avec Paris au large'.
In their book, 'Dictionnaire des Petits Maitres de la Peinture 1820-1920', Gerald Schurr and Pierre Cabane write that Dumoulin 'was linked to Verlaine who wrote a sonnet, 'L'Aube a L'Envers' after one of his works (Le Point du Jour)'. They provide no indication as to the whereabouts of this work but it seems possible (given the inscribed date of 1885) that this could be the painting that provided the inspiration for Verlaine's now celebrated poem of around the same date.
A recently published fictionalised account of some of Dumoulin's life by Michel Loirette makes reference to a later picture of Le Point du Jour, currently held by the Musee Carnavalet in Paris and dated 1890, which was painted (according to Loirette) in honour of Verlaine. Loirette makes no mention of any other known painting of Le Point du Jour by the artist.
The positioning of shadows in the picture further supports a direct linkage to the poem. 'L'Aube a L'Envers' relates to the pattern of activity in the late afternoon at Le Point du Jour - and the painting represents life at the river port at around that time with the sun in the West and the shadows lengthening.