Luce painted just over a dozen versions of the west façade of Notre-Dame de Paris during the 1890s and the early 1900s. As befits this iconic subject, the Notre-Dame paintings are perhaps the most impressive works that Luce ever painted around a single motif (fig. 1). The painter Albert Dubois-Pillet, a close friend and fellow Neo-Impressionist, offered Luce the use of his studio at 19, quai Saint-Michel, which offered an excellent vantage point on the cathedral looking east across the Seine to the front portals of Notre-Dame. However, in the present painting and another canvas in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay (fig. 2), Luce left the confines of the studio, painting the cathedral from the embankment, immersing himself in the bustle of everyday life and taking in a slightly angled view that emphasizes the cathedral’s size and grandeur.
As his older Impressionist colleagues had done in their pictures, and as was standard Neo-Impressionist practice, Luce was extremely attentive in his Notre-Dame series to the state of weather conditions and the time of day. The present painting catches Notre-Dame after a passing rain storm, with a lone umbrella still raised in the foreground, and the fading sunlight reflecting off of the wet cobblestones. Luce’s divisionist brushwork lends itself beautifully to the depiction of the tonal qualities and atmospheric effects of the rapidly changeable weather over Paris. Bords de la Seine avec Notre-Dame sous la pluie showcases Luce’s love for the boulevards and buildings of Paris, and the great mass of people from all walks of life who moved among them. This view of Notre-Dame would continue to be a muse for many artists, including Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet who later had studios in the very same building that Luce worked in during this time. Luce wrote in a letter from late January or early February 1900; “I am still slaving away on Notre Dame…I would like to depict ceremonies, marriages, people coming and going, the crowds, in short Paris” (quoted in B. de Verneilh, "Maximilien Luce et Notre-Dame de Paris," L'Oeil, March 1983, pp. 25-26) .
(fig. 1) Maximilien Luce, Notre Dame de Paris, 1900. Sold, Christie’s, New York, 4 May 2011, lot 21.
(fig. 2) Maximilien Luce, Quai Saint-Michel et Notre-Dame, 1901. Musée d’Orsay.