Pissarro moved to Louveciennes, a suburb to the west of Paris, in 1869. In September 1870, following the advance on Paris by the Prussian Army, he fled with his family to Ludovic Piette's farm in Brittany. He returned later the following year to find that the Prussian soldiers had requisitioned his house during their occupation of Louveciennes and had all but destroyed it. This time he was to stay for only nine months before he moved to Pontoise in August 1872.
Pissarro's paintings from these two short stays at Louveciennes between 1869 and 1872 can be viewed as his first concerted attempt to represent aspects of urban life, a concern that would dominate his work in later decades. The suburbs of Paris were rapidly expanding during the 1860s and 1870s, largely due to the arrival of the railways thirty years previously. Louveciennes, like Marly, Voisins and Bougival, was only a few minutes by rail from the Gare Saint-Lazare and offered bourgeois Parisians plenty of opportunities for pastimes on day trips from the city. The village atmosphere of these areas persisted but was fast being subsumed into a more urban environment. Pissarro's paintings from this time reflect an image of rural life but also document the gradual encroachment of Paris into the neighbouring suburbs.
Monet, Sisley and Renoir were all painting in the Louveciennes area when Pissarro arrived there in 1869 and there can be no doubt that the impetus to move from Pontoise came from the desire to mingle with this new generation of landscape painters. In Louveciennes Pissarro embarked upon the experiments in plein-air painting that would lead Cézanne to describe him some thirty years later as the first Impressionist. Within a year of his arrival, by 1870, the year in which the present painting was executed, his brushstroke had become looser and his palette more varied. All four of these artists began to show an increasing interest in light, colour and atmosphere as they were related to the times of the day and the changing seasons. Pissarro describes himself at this time as feeling the elation of reaching a peak of discovery. As he wrote to his son Lucien in April 1895, 'I remember that, although I was full of ardor, I didn't conceive, even at forty, the deeper side of the movement we followed instinctively. It was in the air!' (ed. J. Rewald, Letters to his son Lucien, New York 1943, p. 265).
Although in Paysage à Louveciennes one can see an element of the richer colouring that characterised his palette from the 1860s, Pissarro is beginning to integrate the effects of atmosphere into a firm composition, striking a balance between the movement of light and the solidity of the architecture. 'He sees his motifs broadly, establishes masses livened by vivid brush strokes, skilfully distributes accents, balances the elements of the composition and knows how to take full advantage of color schemes that - though frequently still earthy - have a tendency to become brighter in the contact with outdoor light' (J. Rewald, Camille Pissarro, London 1991, p. 19).
In contrast to Monet's preoccupation with effect over detail in the early part of the decade, Pissarro shares with Sisley an underlying reliance on composition and the solidity of form (see figs. 3 & 4). This is most apparent in the series of pictures he executed of the Louveciennes road just outside his house which also demonstrates his close working relationship with Monet at this time (fig. 5). 'Pissarro and Monet, however, approached one another more closely in the landscapes they painted along the Route de Versailles, Louveciennes in 1869-1870...Monet's compositions are less intricate than those of Pissarro, but a careful comparison reveals the extent to which Pissarro approached Monet's style. When Monet parted from Pissarro in 1870 for his trip to the north of France, Pissarro was involved in a series of pictures representing the street on which he lived, seen at different times of day and in all seasons, a series in which the probity and completeness of his vision transcended the brilliant, but fleeting pair of pictures executed by Monet on the same road' (R. Brettell, exh. cat. Camille Pissarro 1830-1903, Hayward Gallery, London, October 1980-January 1981, p. 20).