This painting has been requested by the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart for inclusion in the exhibition entitled Camille Pissarro und der Impressionismus, scheduled to open in December 1999.
Pissarro was engrossed in painting the landscape around the market town of Pontoise where he lived beginning from 1866. This view of the town is taken from Saint-Ouen-l'Aumne, across the Oise, looking upstream. Pontoise was the place where the corn harvest of Vexin, was transferred to boats on the navigable Oise. Pissarro arrived in Pontoise just as that nineteenth-century symbol of modernity, the railroad entered the town; although the life of its iron rail bridge was short-lived, destroyed by the Prussians in 1870. In Bords de l'Oise Pontoise the square steepled tower of Saint-Maclou is portrayed to the left of the composition; and to its right is the squat chimney of the sulphur water factory. By 1867, it was the smokestack of the Usine de Gaz, the gasworks, that dominated the skyline, which opened in October of that year.
Joachim Pissarro writes of the work:
"Emphasis has been placed on life, movement, atmosphere, cycles of energy exchanges, with a smokestack spewing smoke into and above the clouds. This smokestack and its column of smoke and the near-horizontal shadow projected by the poplar tree tend to frame two sides of a composition within a composition into which the lady in the black dress with a blue sunshade is thrusting, while the male figure, dressed in symmetrically opposite colors (a blue coat jacket and a black hat), stands just outside the inner square" (J. Pissarro, op. cit., p. 45).
An x-ray of the painting reveals a curious fact. Although Pissarro blocked in the forms of the trees on the right, the central clump of trees, the church tower, along with the main forms of the hill and buildings, he did not leave enough room for the smokestack. We are compelled to consider that the smokestack was added after the painting was conceived and is evidence of Pissarro's insistence in including a potent symbol of industrial progress in what would otherwise be a prosaic view of a country town.
Frances Weitzenhoffer comments on the industrial subject matter:
"Pissarro's matter-of fact inclusion of the signs of industry in Pontoise can be seen in his surviving paintings of the town, but two in particular are related to the Timken's (Mannheim, Kunsthalle; Tel Aviv Museum of Art). Of similar construction, showing a quay on the right with the buildings on the opposite shore closing off the view, they both feature the smokestack of the gasworks in the center. Figures on the quay function as they do in the Timken painting, to lock the various parts of the composition into place... These three pictures are eloquent testimony not only to Pissarro's enthusiasm for signs of industrial progress but also to his canny pictorial use of a new element in his beloved landscape (Timken Museum of Art, op. cit., p. 166).
Here is one of the first occasions when an Impressionist combines smoke with clouds, or Industry with Nature. Pissarro's use of a palette knife to blend these features and the poplar to the right of the composition would be adapted into a more feathery brushwork in the early 1870s, while in Louveciennes (see lot 7), and yet his treatment of the composition combined with his use of a palette knife links Courbet and Realism to the origins of Impressionism.
Pissarro made a careful pen-and-ink drawing of the scene (fig. 1), presumably truer to the actual appearance of Pontoise than Bords de l'Oise Pontoise. The smokestack, more precisely placed in the center of the composition, indicates that the drawing postdates the painting.
(fig. 1) Camille Pissarro, Pontoise, 1867.