It is somewhat surprising to realize that despite spending all but eleven years of his life in Paris, Robert made relatively few drawings of views of his native city whereas he continued to make images of and inspired by Rome long after his return from the Italian peninsula in 1765.
This rare view of Paris depicts its most iconic building, the cathedral of Notre Dame. It is shown from the unusual angle beneath the Pont au double also known as the Pont de l'Hôtel Dieu (replaced in 1883 with the current bridge). The cathedral is seen from the east with its two Gothic towers and flying buttresses. The imposing monumentality of the cathedral is tempered by the bridge which takes up nearly half the sheet. The main protagonists, the three fishermen in the lower left corner, while diminutive in comparison to the architecture do not fail to capture the viewer's eye either.
Strangely, and perhaps tellingly, Robert chose to emphasize the bridge rather than the Gothic church. Bridges, real or imagined were a frequent motif in Robert's oeuvre. Two paintings by him depict the transformation of two bridges in Paris: The demolition of houses on the Pont Notre-Dame in 1786 (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle), and The demolition of houses on the Pont-au-Change in 1788 (Paris, Musée Carnavalet). For a full discussion of bridges in Robert's work see Hubert Robert 1733-1808 und die Brücken von Paris (exhib. cat., Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, 1991).
The influence of his time in Italy and his many red chalk drawings of Rome and its environs can be seen in this view of Paris. The present drawing recalls the almost casual manner in which Robert depicted Romans living amongst massive ancient monuments and grand Renaissance and Baroque churches and palazzi. Here, he translates this dueling atmosphere of the quotidian and the magnificent into a Parisian setting, as if a continuation of his visual dialogue between man and architecture.
Another version of this drawing, in black chalk and measuring 307 x 398 mm. was in the Deglatigny sale (Paris, 28 May 1937, lot 86). It has fewer figures on the bridge, and the position of the angler at the left is slightly changed. A drawing in the sale catalogue of the Marquis de Biron and attributed to Jean-Honoré Fragonard appears identical to the present lot but in reverse and with slightly different dimensions (282 x 352 mm.) (Paris, 9 June 1914, lot 21). It is not clear if it is a reworked counterproof or if the photograph was accidentally printed backwards in the catalogue.